Harrow Borough 3 -1 Wealdstone
3 - 1
Gordon Bartlett’s thunderous expression as he left the pitch after the final whistle with his exhausted troops trudging to the Earlsmead dressing room on Easter Monday summed up the feelings of huge disappointment, and, perhaps a realisation that the play-off dream is now fast slipping away from a season of exciting progress but perhaps ultimately unrealistically high expectations. Stones now plummet to 11th in the table, 6 points off the lowest play off position, but still with 3 crucial games in hand – games that have to be won; realistically there is now no room for further defeat. This is a gigantean ask but Stones have faced such odds before and overcome them, but time and the opportunity is now fast running out.
The pre match build-up for this important derby game – both sides needing a win for differing reasons – had been unusually low key and flat, and this lack of tension and atmosphere seemed to transfer to the pitch, particularly from the Wealdstone perspective. These derby games always appear to mean so much more to the Stones faithful who are demonstrably more passionate and vociferous in far greater numbers than their Red counterparts; but this contest had become just a little too predictable in their eyes as Boro have over past seasons almost become cannon fodder and the novelty was perhaps wearing off for supporters wearing blue.
Football, though, is not a haven for complacency, statistics or for honest lethargy and Stones duly received a nasty boot up the backside as former Stone Rocky Baptiste finally delivered for the Reds in a derby clash and the 38 year old striker gave the away side a compelling lesson in finishing power.
Wealdstone, it has to be said, after a spirited first half when at least five or six decent chances were either spurned or saved by the goal keeping enigma that is Andre Baptiste, looked dead on their feet in a torrid and massively frustrating second half showing. And despite having had the ‘luxury’ of over a weeks rest prior to this encounter, Stones looked sluggish, desperately leaden footed and drained of energy levels against a Boro side far more eager and physically strong – this despite doing their best to gift the contest to the away side with some dreadful defending for most of the first period. Once Boro had cancelled out Callum Martin’s opener, in the final minute of 4 minutes first half added time they never looked back and were ultimately worthy winners on the day.
Stones started with Greg Ngoyi up front with Callum Martin; Kieron Forbes also started but centre half Alan Massey was not included on the bench for this match as his recovery from injury continues. Adam Logie slotted in at right back.
Wealdstone certainly started brightly enough and Danny Spendlove had a powerful strike saved by Andre Baptiste in the first few minutes of play. Then a great run and cross by Callum Martin was pulled out of the air by the Boro custodian as his defenders began to look increasingly shaky under pressure.
With the strong and blustery win in the favour of the away side Stones increasing cranked up their play although the build up appeared laboured at times. However with the pacy prompting of Kieron Forbes Stones looked more threatening and likely to make the break through.
Harrow were restricted to runs down the flanks and their crosses were dealt with well enough by the central pairing of Jimmy Gray and Marvin McCoy who had another excellent game in his new centre half role. Rocky Baptiste was always a handful on the ball though and shot wide of Sean Thomas’s far post on 14 minutes.
But, finally, on 24 minutes, Stones found the net in almost comical circumstances. Callum Martin was expertly put through on goal with only Baptiste to beat; Martin thought he had rounded the Boro keeper but somehow he got a leg to it and it span away – only for the talented striker to cheekily back heel the ball into an empty net as Baptiste looked on helplessly.
Martin then shot just over as Stones looked to quickly expand their lead. Then Forbes lined up a ferocious strike that seemed destined for the back of the net but the shot was blocked and ballooned harmlessly over the bar.
But Boro hit back as the half was closing and were winning some free kicks in good positions. From one of these Sean Thomas went down with a nasty looking injury and from which he was not to reappear in the second half.
And from a Stones attack that should have doubled their advantage with a Ryan Ashe shot again blocked after a scramble, Boro rapidly countered and only a great save by an impaired Thomas prevented an equaliser.
Then Greg Ngoyi won the ball from an under pressure Wayne Walters and with the diminutive striker clear on goal his firm strike was somehow deflected away by the over worked Baptiste for a corner that farcically was not initially given by the officials. But the chance was again lost and Stones were made to pay a heavy price with a sucker punch from the Reds.
In the closing seconds of added first half play, Rocky Baptiste got up high to send a great looping header into the far top corner of the net with Thomas unlucky with a great effort to save but he only succeeded in pushing it onto the post and into the net.
A fit again Sam Beagle replaced Sean Thomas in the away goal from the restart.
The Reds, buoyed by the psychological boost of the late first period equaliser, soon signalled their intent and following a period of prolonged possession Baptiste shot just wide of Beagle’s far post.
Stones were visibly struggling as they laboured all over the park and couldn’t find the spark to lift them to any real forward momentum. Greg Ngoyi was booked for kicking the ball away when he was caught offside when put clear in a rare incisive move for the away side.
Boro were growing in confidence and significantly were now winning the second ball at will in the midfield as Stones legs looked tired and this looked ominous for the defence as Jimmy Gray was being out run. Boro’s Louis Cook was causing increasing problems down the right flank with some last ditch defending from Lee Chappell and McCoy keeping the rejuvenated home side out.
Beagle held a decent strike as Boro pressed hard and sensed that they could take the lead. Louis Lavers then replaced a tiring Kieron Forbes as Stones management looked to inject some fresh legs and energy into the midfield.
But on 63 minutes the seemingly inevitable happened as a missed tackle by Jimmy Gray allowed Rocky Baptiste to break free and this was to prove fatal for Stones. The Rangy striker needed no further assistance as he turned and struck majestically past a stranded Sam Beagle from 20 yards out.
Stones huffed and puffed and offered little or nothing in attack despite the massed Stones faithful’s constant positive urging on the terracing behind the goal.
Charlie Mpi was thrown on as an extra forward as Stones desperately sought an outlet for their midfield that was just not able to function to any real effect.
Ten minutes from time Boro rubbed salt into Stones wounded efforts and from a corner Danny McGonigle stole in to effectively end the game as a contest to give the home side the local bragging rights and, further, to the delight of their permanently exiguous support, the probability that they had effectively ended Stones play-off hopes.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Chappell, Gray, Logie, Ashe, Forbes, O’Leary, Ngoyi, Martin, Spendlove. Subs used: Beagle (GK) Lavers, Mpi. N/u: Osborne, Locke.