RYMAN LEAGUE PLAYOFF SEMI-FINAL
WEALDSTONE have no trophy to show for an outstanding season after suffering a gut-wrenching stoppage-time defeat to Lowestoft in the Ryman League playoff semi-final last night.
The FA Trophy semi-finalist’s hopes of Blue Square South football were sunk by a penalty in the sixth of seven minutes of added on time at Crown Meadow.
To make matters worse, there was the inescapable sense Stones had pressed the self-destruct button after two moments of madness inside the last quarter of an hour saw the dismissals of Chris O’Leary and Sean Cronin.
This after they had fought back from a goal down and being out-played in the first half to looking the more likely winners.
Stones were on the back foot early on and skipper Wes Parker was at the heart of penalty claims by the hosts on nine minutes following a challenge on Joe Francis, but play was waved on.
The visitors were undone on 22 minutes when Scott Mitchel’s cross saw ALAN Massey at sixes and sevens in his attempts to clear allowing Chris Henderson to fire Lowestoft in front.
Michael Frew could have doubled the lead five minutes later, but miskicked with a clear sight of goal.
It took Gordon Bartlett’s men 37 minutes to register a shot when after good interplay between Richard Jolly and Scott Fitzgerald Chappell’s effort from the left of the area was blocked to safety.
Scott McCubbin was hurt in the build-up by a late tackle from Andrew Fisk who escaped punishment despite the official identifying the perpetrator – a decision which would prove significant when the same player picked up a yellow for a similar offence early in the second half.
Stones started brightly after the interval and Jolly was only a whisker away from applying a finishing touch to Chappell’s ball in from the left, while at the other end Frew’s rasping drive warmed the hands of Jones.
Bartlett made a bold move on 62 minutes bringing Pett on in place of Massey and 60 seconds later Stones were level.
Chappell attacked down the left and when he crossed to the far post Fitzgerald out-jumped the keeper Jake Jessup to head home, the assistant confirming the ball had crossed the line.
Chappell’s next ball in saw Jessup flap and miss once more with the ball narrowly clearing the crossbar, before at the other end Henderson fluffed a great headed chance to restore the Trawlerboys’ lead.
Then on 78 minutes, with flashes of lightning adding to the drama, O’Leary and Mitchell clashed on the touch line, the red mist descending on Stones’ midfield enforcer as he shoved his opponent to the floor.
Having already been booked he was given a second yellow and sent to the dressing-room.
Worse was to come two minutes later when the otherwise excellent Cronin joined his team-mate in the showers after being shown a straight red for a two-footed lunge on Dean Sinclair.
A touchline fracas broke out in the aftermath of the second dismissal, leading to Stones’ coach Mark Gill being ordered from the dugout.
The nine men might still have won it with Sam Gaughran almost putting into his own net after a mix-up with Jessup.
But the killer blow came with 90 seconds of stoppage-time left on the clock. Lubomir Guentchev latched onto a cross from the left and was upended by Scot McCubbin, leaving Sinclair to send Ashlee Jones the wrong way from the spot.