The feasting festive period of Christmas and the New Year in which seasons are often thought to be decided. Four games in such a short space of time – and therefore twelve points available which can see a (near) bottom-feeder rise into the glorious realms of ‘just outside the play-offs’ and can, conversely see an over-performing early season starlet slip back into lower mid table whilst looking forward to a summer of rebuilding.
That is all, of course dependent on the weather which can soon destroy the intensity of so many games in such a short space of time. The rain / fog / snow in varying degrees have also in the past derailed many a promising season, but may, in this post apocalypse winter more suited to Noah and his two-by-two compatriots, actually have done Wealdstone a favour…
The four games planned for this winter solstice were:
Lewes at home – a tough game no doubt as Lewes seem capable of beating Stones no matter what the current form and league position say. Not least as they always seem to get the rub of the green in terms of decisions from the men in black.
H*rr*w B*r* away – Stones recovered from the hex this local rival had over them in some style in recent years with some big midwinter victories, however last season with Stones battling at the top of the table and the B*r* languishing lazily just above the division’s Tench, the away fixture produced an inglorious 0 – 0 draw.
Leiston away – a new club to the division who Stones dispatched with a slightly stuttering 2 – 0 victory early in the season, but who have re-shaped their side and invested a few quid as they try and escape the clutches of the clogging mud of relegation at the foot of the table. Six games undefeated has helped their cause so another difficult encounter was likely to ensue.
Wingate and Finchley at home. Another club that promised much but to be honest delivered little early season. Last year they visited the Vale and went home with the points, Stones winning the reverse fixture with some ease. Still in transition with a new manager and a number of recent (and on paper decent) signings, it would be no walkover, but nor should it be too much to ask to dispatch then to a pointless New Year.
Results did not go as planned. Postponed, drew 0-0, postponed and lost 2-3 mean that Wealdstone picked up one point from a possible 12 and the two best results were undoubtedly the postponements. Yes, it means fixture congestion and yet another long mid-week away trip as the remainder of the season plays out, but on the form showed in the two fixtures that were played, at least that is better than two defeats. The wheels most certainly haven’t fallen off, but there does appear to be an increasing trail of wheel nuts laying in the road behind the Wealdstone rollercoaster and little time to pit-stop for repairs if this is not to become a pointless New Year.
At H*rr*w, Stones were slow out of the blocks against limited opponents and to be fair could have been three down in the first ten minutes, good fortune and good goalkeeping combining to keep the score level as B*r*’s long ball and fast forwards unsettled the back line. As the game progressed, Stones took control at the back but were well marshaled by a stoic home defence. They weren’t the greatest on quality but on the day they didn’t have to be, as Stones struggled to impress. Though their attacks were sporadic, the home side did create the better chances throughout on a pitch that was a compliment to the groundsman, showing no sign of the recent deluge that caused so many postponements.
The point gained was perhaps the most that could be expected and was made sweeter by some of the top of the table rivals suffering post-Christmas defeats, combining to raise the expectations in some quarters of a couple of following wins and top of the table on New Years Day.
Wingate too posed similar problems as it turned out. Quick forwards that were content to chase and harry a back line on a greasy surface – turning defenders will never be as fast or as sure footed as quick forwards, but that was something Stones failed to exploit at the other end. Good fortune and good goalkeeping again kept the visitors at bay in the early exchanges, one particular double save from Banskie worthy of far greater plaudits than it received at the time.
Stones were a little more effective going forward though at times lacking conviction, and the visitors ‘keeper also made a couple of excellent saves, this time good fortune on their behalf as the officials saw one particularly good effort tipped over the bar – and then awarded a goal kick!
A game changing incident saw Jolly break through the back line and chase a through ball from Dyer. Almost at the edge of the box albeit running a diagonal, with only the keeper to beat, his heels were clipped by the chasing defender. No intent, no doubt, but still a free kick and a yellow card if not the red that many Stones fans felt was due. The officials though saw that he fell/dived/tripped over his own feet/whatever and waved play on. Minutes later and the visitors took the lead only for Stones to see an almost immediate equalizer ruled out for offside.
Another double save from Banksie proved to be in vein as, with the low sun in his eyes, his two blocks were outstanding, the second though fell into no man’s land – no man in blue that was – as the visitors reacted quickest, Brown slotting home his second goal of the match.
The second half saw a similar struggle as Stones, far from the top of their game, battled on in vain creating chances but failing to find a way through. The performance was poor by any standards, yet on another day Pett may have scored twice, Chris Moore may have found another, while with the accuracy shown earlier in the season Jolly may at least have bagged a hat-trick. Alex Dyer too would have had claims on the match ball with a little more luck, hitting the crossbar, shaving a post and also seeing a couple of efforts blocked or saved.
It all sounds much better on paper than it looked on grass.
Stones were poor yet created enough chances to win by a margin on a day when mediocrity would probably have been enough, as proved by a frantic spell with ten minutes to go. Wingate had extended their lead to three and Stones finally played with a conviction missing from the previous 170 minutes. Jolly scored with a powerful volley and within minutes substitute Nathan Webb both miskicked and scuffed an effort goalwards from the edge of a crowded penalty area. It bobbled, bounced and rolled forward – at least aiming for the corner of the goal, but by no means certain to get there – it beat a despairing grasp from the keeper and then was slow enough for the defender on the line to complete his ‘clearance’ before the ball arrived. Almost in some Six Million Dollar Man slow-mo it continued unperturbed and undisturbed en route to the onion bag.
For all their staleness and possibly over indulgence, Stones were back in the match with a couple of minutes plus four minutes added time to play. There were chances to equalize, but that would probably have been unjust – more importantly, everyone would be celebrating the glorious comeback, paying no heed to the real issues of how or why, in two games, the side had significantly underperformed. There is no doubt in some corners the judgement will be harsh. That is the standard set by the squad last season, and though a little unfair, it is the standard that as yet has not been reached in anything more than flashes so far this.
The squad is good enough but not consistent enough and perhaps in some areas, not Wealdstone enough, as there is a special intensity required in a club like this; one where, before some of the current squad were out of nappies, the fans were fighting to keep their club alive. That was a battle that was won and those same fans are the ones that have seen and vociferously supported a slow steady rise, in the most part over-achieving for nigh on twenty years with limited resources and, until recent seasons, no ground. The highs are there to be enjoyed and the lows when the club simply aren’t good enough will be endured but this squad are far from not good enough – now is the time to step up to the mark.
Looking ahead, there needs to be a response. The @Wealdstone_FC Twitter feed was alight after the game with “must do better” summaries from fans and players alike, but the truth is that this is not a great division and it will not take world class performances every week to win it – is it five or six league leaders so far this season? What it will take is a team that have the passion and the belief to push themselves and their teammates to the limit on the bad days, not a team that believes it only has to turn up.
Talented enough? No doubt.
Got the cojones for it?
Thanks to Steve Foster/Wealdstone FC for the use of the images in this post – see more at the Wealdstone gallery.