Wealdstone 2

Maidstone 1

WEALDSTONE will sit top of the Ryman Premier League tree on Christmas Day after making it fourth time lucky against Maidstone on Saturday.

A draw against their fellow high-fliers on the season’s opening day had been followed by a gut-wrenching stoppage-time replay exit after two gripping FA Trophy clashes.

But with league leaders AFC Hornchurch’s game having been called off and a place at the summit up for grabs, there was a feeling in the rain-filled air at The Vale Gordon Bartlett’s men were owed a win against their title rivals.

In truth the victory had a large slice of good fortune attached when Tom Pett’s mis-hit cross floated in with nine minutes to play, but the home side earned the luck for a dominant second half in which they came from behind to take the points.

Bartlett made two changes from last Saturday’s win at Bognor, Jonathan North resuming goalkeeping duties after returning from a business trip to the US, while having served a one-match suspension James Hammond relegated Scott McCubbin to the bench.

The pitch while heavy was perfectly playable, though the persistent heavy drizzle made conditions all the more difficult, this and the importance of the occasion perhaps accounting for a cagey start in which Pett and Maidstone’s Zac Attwood fired narrowly wide at their respective ends.

Twenty-four minutes had passed before Wealdstone came close to breaking the deadlock twice in a matter of seconds.

Pett’s astute through ball deflected behind of Mills and when Sean Cronin rose superbly from the resulting corner his header was cleared off the line. Pett was first to the follow-up, but his effort too was scrambled clear by Rory Hill and five minutes later it was Maidstone who stole in front from a rapier-like counter attack.

A sweeping ball from right to left found Attwood in far too much space 20 yards out and his sweetly struck rising shot gave North no chance.

Bartlett’s men were briefly stunned and Tom Mills could have added a second four minutes later when the hosts struggled to clear a free-kick, but his shot from the edge flew over.

Heads now cleared Wealdstone might have gone to the break level, Cronin heading narrowly wide from Elliott Godfrey’s excellent free-kick delivery before Jonny Wright beat Maidstone keeper Lee Worgan to another flick on by the former AFC Wimbledon man only for the ball once again to drop the wrong side of the post.

It was a nervous half-time break as Stones fans contemplated their need of a comeback, but the home side emerged early from the tunnel and made a dream start to the second period.

Just 38 seconds had elapsed when Luke Pigden forced his way into the box to be bundled over by Jack Parkinson, though it later emerged the referee gave the penalty for handball by the defender when he was prone on the ground having made the challenge.

Skipper Cronin stepped up knowing he had missed his last penalty away at Kingstonian less than a fortnight previously, but normal service was resumed as he larruped the spot-kick into the bottom corner sending Worgan the wrong way.

With the home support now in full voice Wealdstone dominated the next 20 minutes without grabbing the vital second goal. Wright just could not climb high enough to head home one delicious cross from Scott McGleish, while Godfrey’s sumptuous half volley from a 58th minute corner was inches wide.

Maidstone though are not among the frontrunners for nothing and briefly fought back, but when Frannie Collin got his body shape all wrong to spoon over with 18 minutes to play you just a feeling their chance of victory had gone.

Watford loanee Alfred ‘Bobson’ Bawling was thrown on by Bartlett with 15 minutes left in a bid to stretch a Maidstone defence, who having pressed magnificently in the first half had found themselves unable to get forward up the slope in the second as they faded in the energy-sapping conditions.

Nevertheless, Stones needed fortune to smile upon them to take the points with nine minutes to go.

Bawling and Pett combined well out on the right, before the latter hit what was intended as a deep cross towards the lurking McGleish at the far post.

Whether or not the ball caught on the wind, Worgan was caught too far forward and the ball looped over him and nestled in the corner.

Wary of the fact Maidstone had snatched a late leveller in the FA Trophy tie back in November, Wealdstone pushed for a third and should have had it when McGleish proved too strong for the last defender to reach a long ball ahead of the advancing Worgan and toe poke into an empty net, only for the officials to rule he had fouled the keeper and chalk the effort off.

The striker was booked for his protests, but was soon on the goal trail again with a cracking drive, brilliantly parried to safety by Worgan.

Typically, there was still one heart-stopping moment at the other end when North raced from goal to bring down Jack Harris, but he escaped with a yellow card and Wealdstone held on for three huge points.