Wealdstone 2 – 3 AFC Hornchurch
2 - 3
Mercifully the rain stopped, the sun shone and it was game on for Wealdstone at the St George’s Stadium at The Vale on Saturday. That was the good news. Then stalwart centre-half Alan Massey turned up on crutches following a training injury on Thursday having ripped his ankle ligaments and the Stones faithful were reminded that they were also going to be without suspended pair Lee Chappell and Chris O’Leary. Injuries, suspensions, a ridiculous succession of matches and the inexperience of a youthful side are taking its toil, and, on Saturday, this was all too evident despite commendable effort and work rate.
But the really bad news was that Wealdstone once again seemed to forget how to defend and hold the ball up in this untidy affair, and doing this against an experienced and physically capable side like AFC Hornchurch you will get punished. For most of this match Stones were simply second best and in truth the Urchins fully deserved the three points despite some blatant time wasting tactics that could ultimately have cost them dear, but Stones failed to capitalise on an added 5 minutes of time when the away side were for once under some real pressure.
New signing Louis Lavers who will never contend for a sumo wrestling competition looked sharp and had a sound debut in the left back position, kicking and distributing well under pressure.
Stones lost the toss and kicked down the slope and although Charlie Mpi won an early corner it was the away side that quickly gained the better possession and counter attacked effectively. The soft pitch caused both sides a few control problems – Danny Spendlove and Charlie Mpi seemed top struggle most with the conditions.
Elliot Styles for the Urchins, who had replaced Jonathan Hunt in central midfield, began to get his foot in and bullied the midfield area. But Ryan Ashe put a free kick over the bar and Callum Martin took off on some decent runs without finding any real openings.
Sean Thomas got lucky with a poor kick as the ball span out kindly to a team mate and increasingly Stones found the ball coming back onto their defence. Urchins failed to take full advantage as they were continually caught offside in the first period.
The away side were looking increasingly dangerous as Jo Flack hit the side netting when put clear as his colleagues upped the physical anti – too much at times for referee Robert McKay who made the first of several bookings. Urchins broke well from Stones loss of possession and seemed only a matter of time before they made the breakthrough.
The Urchins first goal duly arrived after 29 minutes following a goal mouth scramble. The ball ran loose and was poked home by an alert Ross Wall.
Stones finally stirred and started to play with more width down the slope as Mpi went close with a flicked effort that almost caught out AFC keeper Darren Behcet.
And just 4 minutes before the break Stones found a chance to draw level when Danny Spendlove was clumsily brought down in the box by Michael Spencer for a penalty. Ryan Ashe blasted home the spot kick expertly for 1-1 and Stones were given a vital boost at just the right time.
The away side came out looking determined to get back on the ascendancy and looked threatening from the first whistle as Stones did themselves no justice in the midfield or in defence with some silly errors and loss of possession at times turning offensive moves into back tracking defensive ones.
Rob Fitzgerald only just denied Jo Flack who held the ball up consistently well all afternoon. But Stones last ditch defending was never going to hold out and The Urchins took the lead again only 7 minutes into the second period when slack defending allowed a loose ball to be lashed in by Micheal Spencer who atoned for the earlier penalty.
Adam Logie was desperately unlucky to see his header smash against the upright as Stones moved quickly back up field but disaster struck only a few minutes later as Jamie Dormer latched onto a mis headed clearance that completely wrong footed the home defence and the game looked dead and buried with still 30 minutes or more to play. It could have got worse but for a outstanding Sean Thomas save late on.
James Gray replaced an injured Darren Locke and then a quiet Mark E’Beyer was subbed by a fit again Greg Ngoyi. Ryan Ashe then completed all of the available changes as loanee David King entered the fray for the final 15 minutes.
In between some desperate defending in the final 5 minutes, Callum Martin carved out a striking chance for himself cutting in from the left and hitting home with power and accuracy through a crowd of players for 2-3 but it was too late for Stones to salvage a point as effective forward possession in an added 5 minutes was frittered away.
Wealdstone now have an absurdly hectic programme this coming week of Tuesday (Ashford, home), Thursday (Kingstonian, away) and Saturday (Billericay, home) matches to contend with and makes the squealing of Premiership Managers about ‘too many matches’ for their massively remunerated and pampered stars sound quaintly pathetic.
Stones Manager Gordon Bartlett said after the match: ‘We need to start enjoying our football again and the pressure needs to come off what is a very young side. We will pick ourselves up and go again on Tuesday’. The weather may once again intervene but Stones now need some breaks of right kind.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Lavers, Locke, Fitzgerald, Ashe , E’Beyer, Logie, Mpi, Martin, Spendlove. Subs used: King, Gray, Ngoyi. N/u: Osborne. (No 5th Sub)