Wealdstone 0 – 2 Tooting & Mitcham United
0 - 2
The harsh realities of Ryman Premier football came crashing home on Tuesday evening when the South London side visitors handed Stones a lesson in sharpness and decision making and deservedly repeated their victory, if not the scoreline, of last season at The Vale.
Wealdstone looked short of ideas and creativity for long periods of this sometimes frantic match and despite a considerable improvement in their play following Gordon Bartlett’s bold three man substitution early in the second half, Stones couldn’t get their act together sufficiently to claw a way back into contention. This was a disappointing evening but on the evidence of the quality of the players brought it raises some interesting questions about future selection.
The match was preceded by a minute’s applause in the memory of former player Jomo Faal Thomas who tragically passed away earlier this month.
Stones started with Charlie Mpi up front with Greg Ngoyi with Ben Alexander not featuring in the line up on the night. Both players struggled to make an impact but with Ngoyi lacking match sharpness following injury and Mpi adjusting to the physicality and pace of Ryan league football it is hardly surprising.
Nevertheless Stones started brightly enough and won two corners in the first 5 minutes. But United looked sharp and broke quickly and former loanee Stone Aaron Goode, playing in midfield was causing problems just as he did last season.
And it was the menacing and energetic Goode for the away side that opened the scoring, ironically following a decent period of possession by Stones. James Gray, who will not want to remember this fixture with relish, failed to clear a forward ball and Goode swept past him to fire past Sean Thomas who had no chance to save.
Danny Spendlove then had a decent penalty shout as he appeared to be held back in the box, but another Goode effort flew over Thomas’s bar, as Wealdstone looked vulnerable to the counter attack and were not being allowed to settle anywhere over the park as United’s defence looked solid.
Stones best move of the half proved that playing the ball to feet can pay dividends and a great passing exchange ended with Ryan Ashe just squirting a shot wide.
Mpi and Ngoyi worked hard but had no space to work openings as Tooting’s uncompromising central defence closed them down. Flank play was called for but was not penetrating enough – even though the pacey Marvin McCoy did his level best from the back all night long.
Tooting continued to break quickly and with purpose and Colin Hartburn miscued a great chance to increase their lead. A Ryan Ashe strike was cleared but it was the away side that had the effective possession as the half ended.
Gordon Bartlett decided that enough was enough after only 15 minutes of the second half and boldly brought on all available substitutes in a bid to spark a change of fortunes. On came Jamie Osborne for Greg Ngoyi, Mark E’Beyer for Danny Spendlove and Calum Botham for Chris O’Leary.
This dramatic change almost paid immediate dividends as Botham looked to make real progress down the left flank and E’Beyer started to win effective possession in the middle.
Tooting’s Matt Yorke somehow cleared an E’Beyer strike off the line as the crowd assumed the equaliser was in the onion bag.
Stones enjoyed then enjoyed by far their best spell of the entire match but needed to do one crucial thing – score a goal – and they just couldn’t make it happen despite a much higher tempo to their play.
The clear danger was the sucker punch counter attack and the inevitable almost occurred when Paul Vines contrived – somehow- to knee over the bar from 3 yards out.
But Tooting ensured they would collect all three points as Sean Thomas blotted his copy book by going for a high looping cross he had no right to claim and after the ball was dramatically initially cleared it fell to an unmarked Jamie Byatt in front of an open goal who smashed in his side’s second with 4 minutes to go to end a miserable home opener for Stones.
Perhaps this is a timely early warning for Stones who are capable of much better and must now sharpen up their act for the visit of Maidstone to The Vale on Saturday
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Chappell, Gray, Massey, Ashe, Forbes, O’Leary, Mpi, Ngoyi, Spendlove. Subs used: Osborne, Botham, E’Beyer. N/u: Fitzgerald, Beagle (GK)