RYMAN PREMIER LEAGUE
It proved a case of ‘Groundhog Day’ for Wealdstone as they squandered the chance to go clear at the top for 24 hours at least on Monday night, writes Jon Batham.
For much of this top of the table clash with the Ryman Premier league’s only other unbeaten team Lewes Stones were in cruise control and led 2-0 into the last 10 minutes thanks to goals from Chris Moore and Tom Pett.
However, chances to kill the game off were frittered away allowing The Rooks to pull a goal back before evoking memories of events at AFC Hornchurch less than two weeks ago by snatching a point deep into stoppage time.
Before there is too much blood letting or gnashing of teeth by Stones’ mass ranks we should reflect if boss Gordon Bartlett had been offered 23 points from the first 11 unbeaten games for a team still in transition he would have bitten your hand off.
There are so many positive signs. Jonathan North is back to something close to the keeper he was prior to the broken leg suffered 18 months ago, Sean Cronin has picked up where he left off last season and Chris Moore cannot stop scoring.
However, Stones are clearly as Bartlett likes to point out ‘work in progress.’
This was the second time this season they have thrown away a two-goal lead at home and as alluded to earlier the second time in a fortnight two points have been lost to a goal in stoppage time.
The latter is not a new failing as those who witnessed last year’s playoff semi-final will testify.
Stones were hungrier, classier and more fluid than their south coast visitors, who admittedly were disrupted by the early loss of Sam Crabb with what looked a bad hamstring tear.
However, they were not clinical and lacked the ruthlessness to go for the jugular when they had Lewes on at their mercy in the 20 minutes after half time.
And perhaps more crucially, in the absence of Glen Little, confined to the bench with the niggle picked up at Hornchurch, and Stefan Bailey (ill), Stones lacked the man-management in midfield to see the game out.
Bartlett made just one change to the side which finished Saturday’s 2-0 win over Thamesmead with Kurtney Brooks filling the void left by Bailey’s absence.
Crabb’s injury apart there was little action of note early on and 19 minutes had passed before a poor headed clearance from Jay Siva gave another of Lewes’ three Crabb’s (Matt) a clear sight of goal and Jonathan North had to dive full length to palm behind.
It was slightly against the run of play when the hosts grabbed the lead on 26 minutes. It came from the first decent cross of the night by Siva from the left and when it arrived in the box it was that man Moore again who took a touch to control before firing passed Wealdstone’s No 1 of last season, Rikki Banks into the roof of the net.
It was the former Brentford man’s ninth of the season.
Pett was close to a second with a shot on the turn from 25 yards which had Banks beaten but went wide of far post.
The diminutive winger’s next effort on 36 minutes was more decisive. Scott McGleish flicked on a North free-kick to Moore who played in Pett for a left foot shot which went in off the far post.
North fisted away a threatening attack at the other end, but Stones were in the ascendancy and when Pett released Scott McCubbin down the right a minute from the break his fizzing cross was just inches from McGleish’s outstretched boot.
Bartlett’s half time mantra would have been something along the lines of 2-0 is a dangerous lead and the next goal is vital yet Stones squandered many an opening after the break.
Six minutes in McCubbin stole the ball and surged into the box only to fire across the goal and wide – a big chance gone begging.
McGleish then headed wide from another corner earned by McCubbin and Elliott Godfrey headed weakly at Banks after a long throw as Lewes showed little sign of mounting a comeback.
The best chance of all to seal matters came on 64 minutes when McGleish beat Banks to Brooks’ ball in and squared it back for Pett who blazed miles over from just a few yards out. It was a miss which came back to haunt the hosts in those closing minutes.
Lewes then lost Nathan Crabb to injury, Nick Wheeler taking his place, but they fashioned a decent chance with 16 minutes left when substitute Ade Olorunda’s overhead had North scrambling to claw it to safety.
Scot McGleish came off with 15 to go giving Jonathan Wright another chance to catch the eye, but it was Lewes who hit back with eight minutes left when Stones failed to cut out an attack down the right and although North blocked Fraser Logan’s first effort from the cross the midfield man bundled in the rebound.
Stones were suddenly nervous, trying to run down the clock rather than trust the football instincts which had carried them that far.
They paid the price in the third of four stoppage-time minutes when Banks pumped a free-kick into the box which Stones failed to get a clean headed clearance on and when it broke to Jay Lovett he thumped it into the far corner.
In the celebrations which followed Ross Treleaven was sent off for a second yellow for kicking the ball away, but the damage for Stones had been done.