Horsham 1 – 3 Wealdstone
3 - 1
Whilst many may have already written off Wealdstone’s play-off chances their players clearly have other ideas on this dogged performance. On a lovely sunny day in West Sussex at the fag end of a long, hard season it would have been all too easy for players to relax, take their foot off the pedal and go through the motions. But this team are made of sterner stuff and just when it seems that this young and developing Stones outfit appear to be down and out for the count they come back fighting.
Two brilliant long range goals from young Wycombe Wanderers starlet Matt McClure, whose name conjures up images of a western gunslinger, lived up to that billing with a classic sharp shooting performance. And an equally important strike from man of the match, Chris O’Leary, eased Stones through to a significant win.
As a result Stones can now continue to dream the impossible dream for at least one more match when newly crowned champions call in at the St Georges Stadium on Tuesday evening.
On day when most things went to plan, Stones Manager Gordon Bartlett’s tactics of playing Matt McClure as the main striker with the returned Ryan Ashe playing just behind in a ‘Christmas Tree’ formation worked a treat.
The Goring Mead surface resembled NASA’s images of the surface of the Moon and was in a disgraceful condition and it a credit to both sides that any football was played at all and no player appeared to sustain jarring injuries although many spinal columns were no doubt sore at the end of a gruelling 90 minutes.
After an untidy start with Stones adjusting to the bone hard and rutted surface, they began to gain a foothold with Kieron Forbes, now looking like his old self, making some penetrating runs from the midfield.
And after the Hornets signalled their intent when Pat Harding headed over the cross bar on 6 minutes, the game became something of a war of attrition. Ryan Ashe who was gradually finding some space when control and surface allowed had a good chance but his shot lacked power and was collected by home keeper Josh Pelling.
Stones soon became the more dominant force and the lively Lee Chappell was making good progress down the left flank with his boundless energy and enthusiasm for the challenge. The battle continued to be joined with the pitch as much as with the opposition as judging the bounce and direction of the ball was a complete and utter lottery at times. Balls were cleared every which way for fear of loss of possession and one almighty and memorable clearance by Darren Locke was sent high enough into the stratosphere to collect a quantity of Icelandic volcanic dust.
But on 19 minutes Wealdstone took the lead with a peach of a goal that defied the conditions. Matt McClure needed no second invitation as the ball sat up nicely for him to arrow the ball beautifully over a back peddling Pelling from 20 yards.
Horsham battled on and brought a good save from Sean Thomas on 34 minutes as Stones fought hard to protect their precious lead. But with the away defence looking again in a no nonsense mood and Chris O’Leary winning virtually every aerial ball in the midfield for some excellent flicks on to McClure they held firm
After an equally scrappy start to the second period, Stones gradually cranked up the gears and again took the game to the Hornets. Forbes launched off on a 30 run and was unlucky that this effort went unrewarded before Adam Logie was booked for punching the ball away after the whistle.
But 10 minutes into the half sharp shooter McClure struck again with an even more spectacular half volley. The Hornets were slow to close the ball down and the McClure’s great effort fizzed past Pelling into the far corner to double Stones advantage.
To the home sides credit they suddenly woke up and started to put some sustained pressure on Wealdstone’s back line for the first time. In an entertaining spell of play and within 5 minutes of conceding they had pulled a goal back with a great flicked effort over Thomas from Pat Harding after a great mazy run from Tony Nwachukwu had not been shut down
But instead of retreating into their defensive shell with this set back, Stones hit back almost immediately from the restart.
From a Lee Chappell long throw Chris O’Leary challenged for the ball in the air and was quickest to react to the loose ball hitting a low snap shot with his right foot past Pelling from 10 yards to make Stones lead secure.
And despite some pressure from the home side with a double substitution, Stones defence looked watertight with Alan Massey and Darren Locke again dominant in the centre supported by an aggressive midfield.
Ben Andrews almost pulled a late goal back from a corner for the disheartened home side but Stones saw the game out comfortably enough courtesy of an all round very solid performance.
As a result of this victory Stones remain in 8th position in the table, three points behind 5th placed Aveley, with 3 matches left. And so a mouth watering clash with Dartford is next up as the season enters its final, compelling week.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Chappell, Locke, Massey, Ashe, Forbes, O’Leary, McClure, Logie, Lavers, Subs used: Osborne, Mpi. N/u: Ngoyi, Fitzgerald.