Wealdstone were denied a second half comeback as hardworking Oxford City had the final say at Marsh Lane on Saturday afternoon.
Oxford goals from Joe Oastler and Elliot Benyon either side of half-time left the table-toppers two goals behind. Jacob Mendy and Adam Coombes’ quick-fire finishes bought the Stones level before Finn Tapp’s header sealed the three points for the Hoops.
Stones Manager Dean Brennan made no changes from the side that beat Slough Town on New Year’s Day. Luton Town extended the loan of goalkeeper Harry Isted this week, he kept his place for the National League South leaders.
The hosts Oxford forced a save out of Isted within the first two minutes, Kevin Berkoe struck a low left-footed strike towards Isted’s near-post and the former Oxford loanee made a strong stop.
Both sides were working each other out throughout the first half, the tempo of the game was slower than the standard that Wealdstone fans have been used to from their side this season.
The main highlight for the Stones in the first half fell to top scorer Ross Lafayette, curling wide after Billy Clifford bought the ball down in the penalty area.
Wealdstone full-back Michee Efete injured his ankle and was substituted after half-an-hour; midfielder Ashley Charles was brought on by Brennan as Michael Phillips dropped into right-back.
Oxford held the Stones well and hung back before striking on the stroke of half-time, Zac McEachran’s out-swinging corner met the head of Captain Oastler to give the home side the lead before the break.
The league leaders struggled to threaten the Hoops in the first half, the possession was dominated by the away side in the opening period but were unable to unlock the Oxford defence.
There was still hope for the Stones entering the second half before Benyon’s individual brilliance. He struck low from the edge of the box to double Oxford’s lead two minutes after the interval.
Wealdstone needed to find similar brilliance to get back into the game, new Oxford United loanee goalkeeper Max Harris was untested throughout the first half.
An opportunity for set-piece specialist Jack Jebb to provide it arose from 25-yards, his free-kick lacked power and went straight into the Oxford wall.
Jebb was substituted for Coombes as Brennan’s side began to send passes more direct towards the wingers and two strikers.
Brennan’s change paid off straight away as Mendy fired in a half-volley from Clifford’s lofted through ball into the penalty box; the Stones were back in the game on the hour-mark.
It was double delight for the league leaders as the game had been turned on its head, Coombes rose highest in the area to net his first goal for the Stones and put Brennan’s men on level terms.
The momentum had shifted towards the away side but Oxford came back stronger from the setback, Kyran Lofthouse burst down the right channel and forced Isted to push his strike onto the near-post for a corner.
Before the Stones knew it, they had gone behind again. The resulting corner was out-swung in again by McEachran and was clinically headed into the top corner by Tapp.
Wealdstone would not go down fighting as Coombes and Dennon Lewis both saw chances go begging in the final 10 minutes.
Substitute and former Stone Stefan Brown had a penalty appeal waved away by referee Sunny Gill in stoppage time however, the damage was already done as Wealdstone dropped more points on the road.
The Stones have not won away from home since October 2019 and their lead at the top of the National League South is now cut to four points.
Report by Dec O’Reilly
Wealdstone are away from home in National League South action on Tuesday night when the Stones travel to Billericay Town, kick-off is at 7:45pm.
Wealdstone: Isted, Efete (Charles, 32), Edjenguele, Clifford, Stevens, Okimo, Phillips, Mendy, Lafayette, Jebb (Coombes, 57), Lewis (Green, 83).
Subs not used: North, Smith.