Wealdstone made a shock exit from the FA Trophy after BetVictor Southern Premier Central side Royston Town won 3-2 in a thrilling tie at The Vale on Saturday afternoon.
A brace from Brandon Adams, accompanied by Josh Castiglione’s first half finish, denied the Stones a place in the First Round after Ross Lafayette and Jerome Okimo netted in the brief second half comeback.
Top scorer Lafayette returned to the Stones line-up for his first start in a month, while the rest of the starting 11 remained unchanged following last weekend’s defeat at Hampton & Richmond.
The National League South leaders were offered the first golden chance of the afternoon, winger Dennon Lewis was slipped in on-goal by Billy Clifford and struck an effort low onto the far-post within five minutes.
Early pressure was sustained by Wealdstone as defender Connor Stevens rose highest from Clifford’s deep corner, heading the ball goal-bound before Royston made the crucial block.
Following early dominance from the home side, it was Royston who took an early lead as Adams leaped and met Luke Warner-Eley’s cross after 11 minutes.
Royston took advantage and began to pile on the pressure, Adams looked certain to add to his tally when he skipped past Stones goalkeeper Jonathan North before Stevens made a crucial challenge.
Matters got worse for Dean Brennan’s men on the half-hour mark, Castiglione latched onto Matt Bateman’s flick-on and riffled a strike into the roof of the net to double Royston’s lead.
Wealdstone were getting overran in midfield and surrendering the ball to Royston in dangerous areas of the pitch, panicking before the well-needed half-time interval.
Brennan switched the formation of the Stones at half-time, forwards Jacob Mendy and Dejon Noel-Williams looked to make an instant impact on the game.
Mendy went on a mazy run down the right and create early danger less than five minutes after coming on, squaring the ball to Noel-Williams who tried to flick the ball goalward with no success.
Wealdstone gained confidence and new signing Jack Jebb came on to make his home debut, making an impact as he pulled the strings behind the front-line.
The pressure on Royston was finally broken on the hour-mark, full-back Michee Efete recovered the ball expertly before laying off Lewis on the right.
Lewis took on Warner-Eley and found a yard of space on the right his looping cross found Lafayette in space inside the penalty area, firing a volley into the net on his return.
The good work from the Stones in the second half to half the deficit could have been undone by Castiglione and Bateman’s link-up play.
Bateman flicked through Castiglione and caught North in no man’s land, getting past the Stones ‘keeper and found Bateman free in the middle in-front of an open goal before midfielder Michael Phillips made a heroic last-ditch tackle.
There was a possibility that this luck was owed to Wealdstone following their FA Cup exit last month; luck turned into goals when Clifford’s corner was punched to Okimo who smashed home the equaliser.
It looked like the result was only going to Wealdstone following Okimo’s crucial equaliser, with 10 minutes to go the possibility of the Stones advancing rose drastically.
In dramatic fashion, Stones hearts were broken six minutes from time when Royston substitute Claudio Ofosu found a clinical Adams and made no mistake to instinctively fire in the winner, flying the Crows into the FA Trophy First Round.
Report by Dec O’Reilly
The Stones return to action on Tuesday at The Vale when their Middlesex Senior Cup campaign begins against Hayes & Yeading, kick-off is at 7:45pm.
Wealdstone: North, Arnold (Jebb, 53), Efete, Clifford, Stevens, Okimo, Phillips, Smith (Noel-Williams, 45), Lafayette, Green (Mendy, 45), Lewis.
Subs not used: Everett, Charles, Shomotun, Saunders.