Bedford Town 1- 1 Wealdstone
The Stones crashed out of the F A Cup in the cruellest fashion, losing out on penalties to Bedford Town after the score remained at 1-1 following extra time at the New Eyrie.
Having fought their way back into the tie on the Saturday at The Vale with the introduction of speed youngsters Ben Clarke and Nick Salapatas, it was mildly surprising that Gordon had opted to start the replay with the formation that had struggled to make an impact for much of the home tie. Arguably this proved costly as the first half followed a very similar pattern to that of the first game in which the Stones dominated possession but rarely brought Eagles keeper Mike Armitt into serious action.
The game started disastrously for the Stones when a hesitant defence allowed Saturday’s two goal hero Andrew Phillips to sprint on to a through ball, only to be upended by a diving Sean Thomas. Referee Groves had no hesitation in awarding a penalty and booking Thomas. Rob Miller stepped up to spank the ball past the keeper to give the home side a valuable lead.
The pattern was then set with the Stones piling forward, particularly down the flanks where Marvin McCoy and Lee Chappell were enjoying the space being afforded them. But all to often the final ball failed to pick out a Wealdstone man in the box and, it must be said, neither Ben Alexander nor Stephen Hughes were getting any change out of Eagles central defenders Jon Darby and Stuart Wall. Ryan Ashe and David Hicks were busy and both at different times worked themselves into good shooting positions but failed to test Armitt in goal. Apart from the goal conceded, the only thing the Stones had to show at half time were bookings for Sean Thomas for the penalty incident and Kieron Forbes and David Hicks for late challenges.
Ben Clarke came on in place of Marvin McCoy for the second half and once again brought some dash and life to the blunt Stones attack. Nick Salapatas joined the fray on 55 minutes in place of Ben Alexander and started tearing into the Eagles defence. Poor Ashley Blake was twisted and turned by young Salapatas so often he might have considered the need for a hip replacement after he was substituted. Crosses were flying in from the right all angles but the final touch continued to elude the Stones forwards. And The Eagles almost doubled their lead on 62 minutes when Steve Gentle was left with a free header that he placed wide of a stranded Sean Thomas, but also wised of the post.
This proved costly when 3 minutes later a wonderful through ball from Ryan Ashe was latched on to by Ben Clarke who took a couple of steps before drilling the ball past Armitt for the equaliser. The Stones now had a real spring in their step and went all out for the winner. And just 3 minutes from time they might have clinched the tie when Lee Chappell, having run on to a high bouncing return ball from Salapatas, was unceremoniously shoved over in the penalty area. There was fury amongst the away players and fans alike as Mr Groves saw nothing wrong in the challenge.
With the score remaining 1-1 at full time the two sets of tiring players fought out a low key additional 30 minutes in which neither team looked like breaking through. And so to penalties in which the Bedford players held their nerve while poor David Hicks struck the bar with his spot kick and Nick Salapatas had his saved.
There were some fine performances posted this evening. The defence was solid, with Alan Massey as impressive as ever and Carl Martin simply majestic at times. Ryan Ashe and David Hicks buzzed in midfield and youngsters Ben Clarke and Nick Salapatas brought genuine cut and thrust to the side. For long periods the team played some delightful football, but there is a bluntness in front of goal that is costing them dear, and in this case has resulted in their exit from the F A Cup at the first hurdle. It hurts.
Team. Sean Thomas, Marvin McCoy (s Ben Clarke 46mins), Alan Massey, James Gray, Carl Martin, Ryan Ashe, Kieron Forbes, David Hicks, Ben Alexander (s Nick Salapatas (s 55 mins), Stephen Hughes, Lee Chappell. Subs not used Chris O’Leary, Gary Burrell, Derek Quaye, Luke Woods