Wealdstone 2 – 1 Barrow AFC
2 - 1
A superbly heroic performance saw Wealdstone advance to the last 16 of the FA Trophy in a highly dramatic game at The Vale on Saturday. Backed by an excited and vociferous crowd, Stones took the game to Barrow, playing some breath taking football in what was an historic day for the club and everyone associated with it.
Goals from Richard Jolly and Britt Assombalonga grabbed the headlines, but it was a superb all round team performance with Wealdstone outplaying a side two divisions higher and more than deserving their victory. There were outstanding performances all over the park and although terrace hero Assombalonga was handed the man of the match award, it could have been awarded to any number of Wealdstone players.
But what made this victory all the more impressive was that Stones had faced a major player crisis prior to the match when key defender Alan Massey was declared unfit to play following the reoccurrence of his hamstring injury. And with centre back partner and captain Wes Parker suspended, this meant that Manager Gordon Bartlett was forced to reshuffle the back four significantly; full back James Hammond was drafted into the centre alongside Sean Cronin.
Barrow had the first meaningful effort on five minutes as they tested Wealdstone’s makeshift defence with danger man Adam Boyes hitting a powerful effort into the side netting following a long ball forward.
The home side began to settle and almost took the lead with nine minutes on the clock; Connor Smith hitting a vicious effort from the edge of the box which was palmed away by ‘keeper Danny Hurst. The loose ball fell to the feet of the lurking Richard Jolly whose effort from an acute angle rebounded off the post before the Barrow defence was eventually able to clear.
Smith came close again ten minutes later, hitting an effort back across goal as he ran near post from a David Hicks corner. Smith’s goal bound strike was well cleared by a Barrow defender.
The Bluebirds then had a decent shout for a penalty turned down a minute later when Andy Cook’s pass appeared to hit the arm of Hammond in the box as he tried to clear; the referee waved play on.
The Stones showed no fear against the Blue Square Premier side, with Assombalonga having a great chance when he met Jolly’s cross with a powerful effort which Hurst bravely blocked turning the ball away for a corner. In saving the shot, Hurst suffered what appeared to be a serious head injury. Urgent medical attention was sought and the game was held up for 25 minutes whilst an ambulance was called to take the stricken goalkeeper to hospital.
With substitute ’keeper Shaun Pearson coming on, Wealdstone looked to test the replacement stopper straight away with Assombalonga hitting a 25 yard effort straight at him. The Watford youngster powered down the left and flashed a ball across the face of goal which just missed the onrushing Jolly.
Assombalonga was causing the Barrow defence major problems and Pearson did well to get to the ball first as the striker darted into the box on the 30 minute mark
Smith then came close at the other end, hitting a powerful dipping effort from 20 yards which just cleared the Wealdstone cross bar, the away side’s best chance so far.
Stones were then nearly caught out with a high ball into the box five minutes before half time, Andy Cook heading the ball back across goal to Boyes who couldn’t quite turn the ball home with Cronin in close attention.
Stones were rocked when Barrow seized upon a rare failure of their defence to clear their lines. And three minutes before half time Adam Boyes threaded the ball through to Richie Baker who stabbed past North.
The second half got off to the best possible start for Stones on 51 minutes as they grabbed the contest by the scruff of the neck and deservedly pulled the tie level. Lee Chappell launched a trademark throw into the box, which was headed out to the edge of the box where Richard Jolly was perfectly positioned to slam home a majestic volley which flew into the top corner giving Pearson no chance. This was a touch of class from Jolly, with the talismanic striker demonstrating to the 722 crowd why he is held in such high regard.
The goal gave Stones a massive lift and two minute later Assombalonga burst into the box before laying the ball across the box which just missed Jolly at the far post. Stones pressing game again paid off on 60 minutes. After Assombalonga’s cross had been cleared behind, David Hicks stepped up to take the resultant corner. It was a great delivery from the former Spurs man and Assombalonga stole in at the back post to smash the ball home from an acute angle.
Despite being in front, Stones continued to press and Jolly should have done better with a close range header, sending the ball over after a Hicks free kick before Cronin missed a guilt edged chance from close range after another superb delivery.
Substitute Joe Jackson then came within inches of pulling the tie level, heading just wide of the post from Paul Smith’s cross.
Barrow were now beginning to enjoy far more possession although they still had to be alert for the Stones counter attack, with Smith releasing Assombalonga with a great forward ball and the winger unfortunately mis hitting his shot as he homed in on goal.
Chris O’Leary, who had been immense in the middle of the park all afternoon, then sent a looping header onto the bar ten minutes from time as Stones worked to make the game safe.
The final ten minutes were a predictably nervy affair with the Bluebirds pushing forward, and Cronin had to be alert to clear a cross from Paul Smith with Jackson in close attention.
The referee signaled a generous four minutes of added on time during which Barrow forced a number of free kicks around the edge of the Wealdstone box, but they were unable to make any of them count.
The referee’s final whistle sparked scenes of wild celebration as fans and players alike toasted what had been a memorable afternoon.
Wealdstone’s next game is on Tuesday night as they face Met Police at The Vale as they look to continue their promotion quest against the Ryman League high fliers. Kick off is at 7:45
Wealdstone: North, McCubbin, Hammond, Chappell (c), Hammond, Cronin, Brooks, Smith, Hicks (Fitzgerald 90), O’Leary, Jolly, Assombalonga. Subs not used: Poniskaitis, Martin, Dean, Ellams.
Man of the Match: Britt Assombalonga
By Stuart Warren