Wealdstone 1 – 0 Croydon Athletic
Greg Ngoyi scored a dramatic 90th minute winner on Thursday evening to book Wealdstone’s place in their first senior League Cup final since the 1982 Southern League glory season. That is a long time coming; but it will be well worth the wait if Stones can lift some serious silverware and mark another milestone in what is turning out to be a remarkable season.
Stones, not unsurprisingly, fielded a much changed line-up for this Championship Manager Cup semi-final with little choice but to do so with vital away league games on Saturday at Hastings United and then as soon as Monday at Tooting & Mitchum.
But the gamble paid off with the many youngsters in the side performing solidly and delivered up a tremendous work ethic. Sixteen year Reece Yorke looked very assured at right back and Sam Blennerhassett, making his first full start, performed commendably in the midfield against a physical, unrelenting and well drilled Croydon side.
A sour note on the night was a nasty injury to goal keeper Sam Beagle who had been given his first starting slot since February 4th and he sadly left the ground on crutches. Mario Bianchi went in two footed in a mindless lunge on Beagle only a minute after having received a yellow card for a similar outfield challenge, and was promptly sent off to leave his side playing with 10 men for two thirds of the match.
In a cup-tie that will be remembered more for work-rate and defending rather than sparkling creative football, Stones rolled up their sleeves and got on with it from the off. Sam Blennerhassett had a great chance on 5 minutes to mark his full debut but headed over with the goal at his mercy after Lee Chappell had picked the young midfielder out in the box.
Croydon broke well on the odd occasion but concentrated on breaking play up rather than creating anything more ambitious going forward. Stones back line of Chappell, Fitzgerald, who was skipper for this match, Locke and Yorke all did well and snuffed out virtually everything that was thrown at them. The threat of Athletic’s prolific marksman Gary Noel simply didn’t, and wasn’t allowed, to materialise.
Stones front pairing of Greg Ngoyi and Charlie Mpi ran and toiled but struggled to hold the ball up effectively.
A long and untidy spell of play was suddenly stopped by the injury to Beagle and the subsequent sending off of Bianchi with over 10 minutes of the first half still to go. Sean Thomas replaced the unfortunate former Cambridge United stopper.
The half ended with Wealdstone’s second gilt edged opportunity when Darren Locke attacked the ball with gusto from a good cross but his header bounced over the bar to the relief of keeper Andy Little.
Croydon soon brought on two substitutes in an attempt to change the pattern of play and adjust for their reduced numbers. But the game was crying out for some clinical creativity in the midfield that was in short supply throughout, although Louis Lavers to his credit began to force some openings down the left flank with some tenacious and direct football.
A let-off for the home side after 65 minutes when from defending a corner, Lavers almost put past his own keeper but the stanchion saved his blushes.
Mark E’Beyer was replaced by Seny Diedhiou and once he settled down he began to perk up the midfield with some decent passing moves. But Wealdstone still contrived to give away far too many free kicks and there was a feeling that sooner or later a set piece play might produce something for the Division 1 South side as they kept plugging away.
Finally, as the tie seemed to be drifting towards a seemingly evitable period of hugely unwanted extra time, Wealdstone started to get their attacking act together. A glorious chance for Ngoyi went begging after he was put clear by an Mpi through ball but he shot at the keeper who just cleared with the aid of his legs.
Then a Chappell free kick on the left flank was just touched away from an on rushing attacker in a perfect position to score.
But with the referee checking his watch, the move of the match produced the winner. Rob Fitzgerald picked up the ball with pace in the midfield and swept it out majestically to Charlie Mpi; his shot was blocked but Greg Ngoyi made no mistake with the loose ball from 15 yards out.
The final will take place against Leatherhead at Met Police’s Imber Court ground on Wednesday March 24th. The scheduled home match on that night will now be rearranged.
Wealdstone: Beagle, Yorke, Chappell, Fitzgerald, Locke, Logie, Blennerhassett, E’Beyer, Mpi, Ngoyi, Lavers. Subs used: Thomas (GK), Diedhiou. N/u: O’Leary, McClure, Osborne.