Wealdstone (0) 3 Bath City (2) 3 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 10 November 2018 – Grosvenor Vale
An astonishing finale in Middlesex saw Wealdstone somehow claim a point in torrential rain at Grosvenor Vale, with 77th-minute substitute Elliott Charles’ cameo paving the way for a comeback they won’t forget in a hurry. The concluding quarter contained an own goal, a penalty and three goals in four minutes during a breathless spell when it looked certain that Bath City were going to see off their determined opponents, having been given an early advantage through a Ross Stearn brace. All this was after a moving ceremony before the match, where Wealdstone, playing in black-and-white hoops to signify their first colours after the end of World War I, paid tribute to those associated with the club who lost their lives in conflict. Stearn was back in the side in place of Ryan Brunt, with the injured Kevin Amankwaah replaced by the returning Jack Batten.
And it only took four minutes for the midfielder to make his presence felt. Frankie Artus’ powerful midfield play was replicated by Adam Mann’s strength, seeing him tee up Stearn 15-yards out, and he sweetly struck across Jonathan North into the bottom corner. The Romans revelled in this early advantage, and nearly doubled it seven minutes later. A wonderful, intricate move eventually saw Michee Efete’s whipped cross headed narrowly over by the onrushing Joe Raynes. They were only momentarily perturbed by this. Again, the high pressing of City paid off, with Raynes finding Stearn on the edge of the box, and he found space to wrong-foot North with a precise low strike, giving the long-serving Welsh stopper no chance. The return of Sean Rigg helped add spark to the Bath midfield. His maturity and intelligence on the ball lit up proceedings on a foul day, and he nearly added to the tally with a low strike wide of North’s post. A near own goal from Godfrey Poku, who put through his own net against City for Oxford two years previous, concluded a fine half for Jerry Gill’s charges.
Wealdstone introduced Danny Green and Fumnaya Shomoton at the break for both Brads, messrs Hudson-Odoi and Bubb, and started the brighter after the interval, with full-backs Rhys Tyler and Joe Payne almost used as wingers as they attacked down the slope. Throwing caution to the wind – and rain – left gaps at the back, and City were denied a killer third on the counter by a fine North parry. A flowing move involving Robbie Cundy, Rigg and Mann ended with the latter’s perfect centre for the unmarked Raynes, but his first-time strike brought out the best of the home keeper, who tipped his low effort behind the post. Having coped so well with Wealdstone’s deliveries in the opening 75 minutes, the final 15 saw City’s defence become frantic, albeit coupled with better deliveries from the home side, in particular Green. A foul conceded by Batten saw Green’s dangerous free-kick inadvertently headed home by captain Anthony Straker, in his attempt to nod it out of harm’s way. Only fine reactions from Ryan Clarke prevented another own goal swiftly after, this time Cundy sliding towards his own goal. The legs of the stopper kept it out, who also had to be at his best to thwart Simon Mensah with the rebound. Whereas Cundy’s luck was in then, it was completely out on 86 minutes. Another Green free-kick bounced in front of the centre-back, who was deemed to have deliberately handled the ball skipping off the surface. It appeared to be a harsh call from otherwise excellent referee Chris O’Donnell, but with Wealdstone having already squandered five penalties this term, celebrations weren’t quite as exuberant as expected. They were 30 seconds later when Charles stepped up and slammed it down the middle. Rather than dwell on this misfortune, City remarkably regained the lead within a minute. Attacking straight from the restart, James Morton’s teasing ball was touched in at the far post by Stearn to seal a hat-trick, the first City player to score one away from home in the league since Stuart Douglas at Newport in March 2009. There was still more time for drama. Another free-kick from Green caused chaos, with Batten’s looping header bouncing back off his bar. In the ensuing scramble, Charles found space to turn and shoot past an unsighted Clarke, whose fingertips only helped flick the ball into the post and agonisingly over the line. A few brief openings for each side came to nothing in stoppage time as a pulsating ending drew to a close. Losing a 2-0 and 3-2 lead away from home in such circumstances will undoubtedly hurt the players and management, but a repeat of this performance will almost certainly see the Romans cement a top-seven spot. And if they’re put through more frantic finishes like that, there could be some more grey hairs come May on the terraces.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke, Efete, Straker (c), Cundy, Batten, Artus, Morton, Rigg (Smith 69), Mann (Brunt 83), Raynes, Stearn. Subs not used: Wiles-Richards, Rees.
Scorers: City – Stearn (4, 13, 87); Wealdstone – OG (74), Charles (pen 86, 90)
City Bookings: Batten (74)
Officials: C O’Donnell, A Loe, B O’Sullivan