Wealdstone 0 Ramsgate 1
On a hugely frustrating afternoon at the Vale on Saturday for Wealdstone’s players, management and supporters, Ramsgate came away with all the points, just as they did last season using unsophisticated but effective direct play.
This performance from Stones was all the more disappointing given the sparkling display only fours days previously against arguably far superior opponents. And without the expertise of goalkeeper Sean Thomas the damage could well have been worse.
An unchanged starting Stones line-up started brightly enough though and passed the ball with accuracy and vigour. An early snap shot from Stephen Hughes was with all they had to show in terms of strikes but all appeared to be heading in the right direction as confidence levels initially appeared to have transferred from the midweek heroics.
But strangely, following a lengthy hold up in play after centre half James Gray went down twice for different injuries, Stones midfield started to malfunction, passes went astray and service to Hughes and Callum Martin was increasing laboured.
Ball possession from Stones was simply not retained long enough for any sustained positive forward play.
Ryan Ashe and David Hicks were struggling with a creative vision although their work rate was always admirable.
Keiron Forbes was the pick of the midfielders for Stones and was very effective with some eye catching surging runs into the heart of the Rams defence, but this possession was sadly not used to effect by the forwards who time and again in this match struggled to link up.
Despite all of this, Stones' defence was solid for the most part with Alan Massey, James Gray and Carl Martin very self assured as a unit, covering well for Sean Thomas who was faultless throughout.
In fact Thomas saved superbly in added time at the end of the first period by tipping over a fiercely driven shot from distance.
Rams play was direct and well organised, as usual, and with the newly re-signed Steffan Ball they had a big awkward outlet on the right flank. The game cried out for some spark of creativity and hopes were high that it would be delivered in the second half as the first ended in stalemate.
Heavy rain during the interval made the surface more slippy in the second period and this made play increasingly unpredictable, although the newly laid surface at the Vale held up extremely given the enormous amount of rain during the week.
Ben Alexander came in at the turnaround for a tiring Callum Martin who also seemed to have pulled a thigh muscle.
Alexander looked as though he could make a real difference and started well, holding the ball up with his strength and bringing midfielders into play as Stones made some decent forays up the slope.
Thomas saved well again on 55 minutes but Stones countered with a great run through the middle from the hard working Forbes, with Alexander at least providing more options.
Stones' manager had seen enough and rung the changes with Nick Salapatas and Ben Clarke replacing Hughes and Hicks.
The aim was clearly to provide some spark and pace and to some extent this worked with Clarke looking very lively; again however play broke down with little or no end product to some promising moves.
Clarke shot wide when composure was he needed and struggled to keep his footing at key moments.
Ashe then had a good chance from a super Forbes through ball but again lashed wide – not for the first time.
The game appeared to be heading for a goalless stalemate but the resilient Rams had other ideas and looked the more likely to make the breakthrough and finally did so on 88 minutes when their substitute Aaron Firth stole in when Stones failed to clear a loose ball from a good cross into the box.
With four minutes added time there were still opportunities for Stones to snatch a point but two set plays came to nought and the players were left to reflect on a frustratingly misfiring performance.
They know that they can do much better and will need to show far more consistency as they face tough games this week – AFC Hornchurch on Tuesday (09) and a key FA Cup qualifying match at the Vale on Saturday with Southern League Premier Division side Bedford Town.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Massey, Gray, Carl Martin, Ashe, Forbes, Hicks, Cullum Martin, Stephen Hughes, Chappell. Subs used: Alexander, Salapatas, Clarke. N/u: Burrell, O’Leary.
Stones MoM: Alan Massey
Stones frustrated by Rams
On a hugely frustrating afternoon at the Vale on Saturday for Wealdstone’s players, management and supporters, Ramsgate came away with all the points.
Wealdstone 0 Ramsgate 1