Wealdstone 3 -1 Bishops Stortford
3 - 1
Wealdstone players and fans breathed a collective sigh of relief as a moment of magic helped clinch a first win of the season against Bishop Stortford.
After six games for just a single point and in the wake of Saturday’s disappointing loss at Sutton, Scott Davies and Josh Hutchinson combined for the vital goal 14 minutes from time which hopefully will prove the springboard for better times ahead.
It restored a lead initially given to Stones by Tom Hamblin first-half header, one cancelled out by a similar effort from Anthony Church after the break.
Substitute Jefferson Louis injury-time penalty settled nerves and sealed the points, lifting Gordon Bartlett’s side out of the bottom three in the process.
Bartlett shuffled the pack in the wake of Saturday’s 5-2 defeat with recalls for Jonathan North after suspension, new dad Elliott Godfrey, Connor Calcutt and Josh Hutchinson.
Kicking towards the Bulla stand in the first half the home side were grateful for Josh Urquhart’s headed clearance from a first minute corner and there was another scare five minutes later when Stortford had an effort chalked off for offside.
Matt Ball flashed a header wide at the other end and while the visitors continued to probe there was plenty of commitment from the Stones rearguard, typified by Urquhart’s two full-bloodied challenges within a matter of seconds. The interventions were typical of an outstanding display by the summer arrival from Harlow, who was richly deserving of the man of the match award.
That spirit spread through the team and it was the hosts who took the lead on the quarter-hour when a series of corners ended with Tom Hamblin heading powerfully into the bottom corner.
More pressure followed with shouts for a penalty for handball waved away six minutes later when Scott Davies’ cross struck a defender, but it needed a smart save by North from Mason Walsh to preserve the lead midway through the half.
Nevertheless, Stones nearly doubled the lead on 26 minutes when Bradley Hudson-Odoi’s deflected shot was kicked off the line.
Stones were though still having problems retaining possession and they were nearly made to pay four minutes from the break when Kieran Bywater’s curler left North rooted to the spot only to canon to safety off the post.
That was one warning and another followed in stoppage time when in-form Elliott Buchanan’s sweet drive smacked against the post with North again beaten, but Stones went to the break a goal to the good.
A quiet start to the second period ended when Davies’ delicious outside of the foot pass released Hudson-Odoi who teased his defender inside and out before firing a right foot shot parried by the diving Tom Lovelock at full stretch.
The response was swift as Michael Thalassitis’ shot forced North to tip over, Parker’s excellent header seeing the resulting corner to safety.
Bywater was cautioned for a late tackle on Ball, but the tide of the game was now with Stortford with Stones unable to hold the ball up.
Walsh’s shot was deflected wide after a jinking run and Parker headed another effort over, but from the resulting corner the pressure told as Church stooped to head the equaliser.
Jonny Wright came on for Calcutt before the restart and just as it seemed the tide had turned Stones regained the lead with 14 minutes to play.
The excellent Hudson-Odoi held up a clearance and was fouled just beyond halfway on the left touchline. Davies’ long free-kick was perfect and Hutchinson lost his marker to arrive right on cue and head into the roof of the net.
The rattled visitors then saw Christian Smith booked for an outrageous tackle on Ball and substitute Matt Fanimo escaped altogether for another late challenge on Urquhart.
Pressure followed as Stones tried to protect the three points, but the home back four stood firm and Louis came close to sealing things in the final minute of normal time with a shot saved by Lovelock, the rebound smashed over the bar.
The veteran striker was not to be denied and when he was felled in the final minute of stoppage time he picked himself up to send Lovelock the wrong way from the spot.
It wasn’t pretty, or without a slice or two of luck, but it is a start.
William Hill Man of the Match – Josh Urquhart.
Team: North, Urquhart, Parker, Hamblin, Watts, Ball, Godfrey, Davies, Calcutt (Wright 67), Hutchinson, Hudson-Odoi (Louis 80)
Subs not used: Lucien, Corcoran, Martin.
Report by John Batham