League leaders Wealdstone entertained third place Havant & Waterlooville at The Vale on Saturday afternoon, in the highly anticipated top-of-the-table clash.
A first half goal from talisman Ross Lafayette gave early frontrunners the Stones a promising start, but goals from Jonah Ayunga, Adam Drury, Alfie Rutherford, and Danny Kedwell sealed an emphatic comeback for the Hawks.
The Stones started the match in rampant style, dominating proceedings from the outset as Jerome Okimo scored within four minutes of play, only for the linesman to flag for offside.
Pace setters Wealdstone were duly rewarded in the 11th minute for their early cohesive play, as goal machine Lafayette seized on a teasing cross from Billy Clifford, to power home a magnificent header past Hawks’ goalkeeper Ross Worner, for his tenth goal of the season.
Against the run of play, Havant levelled four minutes later, as Ayunga pounced on a poor clearance from Stones’ goalkeeper Aston Oxborough, charging down the ball and deflecting it into an open net.
Table toppers Wealdstone were tantalisingly close to regaining the lead in the 20th minute. Clifford produced another fantastic delivery to Lafayette in the box, with the number nine volleying first time, only to be denied by a brilliant reaction save from Worner.
The Hawks were equally close to gaining the lead in the 28th minute, as Nicky Bailey clipped the woodwork directly from his driven corner kick.
Seven minutes later, the visitors assumed the lead through Adam Drury, who pounced on a loose ball to slot home into an empty net, after Oxborough had saved Ayunga’s initial effort.
On the stroke of half time, the Stones nearly went into the break on level terms as Dennon Lewis squared to Clifford, but the midfielder’s strike rose marginally over the crossbar.
The second half saw the pendulum swing in the Hawks’ favour, as Alfie Rutherford broke through the Stones’ defence for a one-on-one with Oxborough in the 47th minute, but the home side’s goalkeeper produced a fabulous save to prevent the Hawks extending their lead.
Havant’s dominance was illustrated three minutes later as Rutherford broke the offside trap again to clinically convert past Oxborough, increasing the Hawks’ advantage.
In the 58th minute, the visitors were close to notching another goal as Ayunga was played through; but, Oxborough was quick off of his line to close down the angle and produce another high quality save.
The Stones continued to search for a way back into the tie, with Lafayette unfortunate not to profit from Danny Green’s header down, as his effort rose over the crossbar. A minute later, Lafayette was again close to securing his brace, latching onto Lewis’ through ball to fire towards goal, but Matt Casey was on hand to make a vital clearance for the Hawks.
The visitors stretched their lead further in the 68th minute, as captain Kedwell powerfully converted from the penalty spot, after Michael Phillips was adjudged to have committed a foul.
Wealdstone persisted in the pursuit of another goal, and were close to achieving this feat in the 71st minute, as Lewis latched onto Nick Arnold’s pinpoint cross, only to see his effort rise over the crossbar.
The Stones’ fortunes took a further dent as substitute George McLennan, who had make a bright introduction on his first outing at The Vale, suffered an injury in the 75th minute, reducing the home side to ten men for the remainder of the match.
Nevertheless, Wealdstone valiantly battled on, and were close to reducing the deficit in the 85th minute as Arnold whipped in another excellent cross to the far post, but Okimo’s effort was just off target.
Havant closed out the match for a convincing victory, inflicting on Wealdstone only their second defeat of the season, as well as putting an end to their unbeaten home record.
The Stones begin their Middlesex Charity Cup campaign at The Vale this Tuesday as we welcome CB Hounslow United, kick-off is at 7:45pm.
Wealdstone: Oxborough, Arnold, Efete (McLennan, 69), Clifford (Watt, 73), Stevens, Okimo, Phillips, Smith (Mendy, 53), Lafayette, Green, Lewis.
Subs not used: Ringer, Coker.
Report by Nicole Cho-Yee