Wealdstone 2 – 2 Bedford Town
2 - 2
Despite an enormous amount of possession and the creation of numerous chances in this FA Cup first qualifying match at the Vale on Saturday, Wealdstone incredibly found themselves having to claw back a 0-2 half-time deficit equalising dramatically 5 minutes from time courtesy of a Stephen Hughes penalty to earn a replay on Tuesday evening.
Stones line-up featured one change from the Ramsgate match with Ben Alexander coming in as striker replacing the long term injured Callum Martin. And they again started very brightly and quickly began to dominate the midfield with the familiar back line of Massey, Martin and Gray looking solid and comfortably snuffing out early Bedford probing. Stephen Hughes was off target with a decent srike from a David Hicks cross after 6 minutes and Marvin McCoy’s lighting pace down the right flank was causing headaches for the Eagles slowish looking defence.
Hicks, who couldn’t quite ignite all afternoon, then drove a fierce shot at goal and Eagles keeper Mike Armitt could only parry away to safety. Lee Chappell then underlined Stones dominance with a smart header that saw Armitt relieved. But entirely against the run of play Stones showed naivety and their youthful lack of experience in losing possession in dangerous areas of the park and paid a heavy price. Bedford striker Andrew Phillips lashed in a shot from just outside the area that gave Sean Phillips no chance. This was literally the Eagles first strike on goal and it gave them an unlikely but crucial lead.
As in recent matches, it was Stones back players that often showed more forward penetration as the game developed – the dynamic Alan Massey almost created a goal from a great run that Ryan Ashe couldn’t quite convert. Stones growing frustration was then compounded when a reasonable penalty shout for handball was waved away by referee Alex Groves who was replaced through injury at half -time.
But Stones continued to have the lion’s share of the ball, with Keiron Forbes doing his best to prompt openings through the middle, and, surely, it was just a matter of time before the equaliser was struck. But the home faithful were stunned when Bedford scored a controversial second goal as half time approached. Massey appeared to have desperately hooked the ball off the goal line and Referee Groves shook his head to the Eagles vigorous appeals, but they succeeded in convincing him to consult with his assistant who confidently adjudged the ball to have crossed the line. Stones were now looking squarely down the barrel and facing the earliest of exits from the Cup.
The pattern of play showed little signs of changing after the turnaround but Stones play appeared increasingly fractious and tense. Gamesmanship from Bedford’s keeper, when he appeared to drop like a stone possibly attempting to induce a booking for Ben Alexander, livened up the crowd of 312. Fortunately the officials were not fooled but this and other incidents made play more aggressive.
Stephen Hughes struck the far post from a rasping drive on 63 minutes but increasingly it looked as though Wealdstone’s efforts and dominance would come to nothing. But when Manager Gordon Bartlett decided to throw on all three substitutes it was make or break time and on came Nick Salapatas, Gary Burrell and Ben Clarke. The course of the game almost immediately changed – the reason – an injection of real pace. The result was goals.
On 68 minutes, the youthful and energetic Salapatas slung over a great cross on the right for skipper James Gray to power a header past a helpless Armitt. Game on and suddenly Stones had real hope.
Stones pressed hard for the equaliser as the clock ran down with Clarke and co running the Eagles ragged with their fresh, quick, legs. The equaliser was fashioned by the grit of James Gray who was walking back on side with a painful looking arm injury; he received the ball whether he wanted it or not as a promising attack developed. Gray shook off his pain to put a great ball into Ben Clarke who was sent skywards in the box by the hapless Jon Darby. Hughes stepped up to smash in the penalty kick for an exciting and much deserved equaliser with 5 minutes to go.
Wealdstone pressed hard for a spectacular winner but the relief was audible at earning a replay at Bedford that was the least that was merited for such dominance and positive play. Somehow, though, Stones simply have to start finding the net their approach work deserves and play with a far more ruthless touch.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Massey, Gray, Martin, Ashe, Forbes, Hicks, Alexander, Hughes, Chappell. Subs used: Burrell, Clarke, Salapatas. N/u: Quaye, Woods.