In one of the most memorable away performances in recent seasons Wealdstone shocked runaway leaders Ebbsfleet with a gutsy display led by debutant Matty Harriott, who netted twice, before Louis grabbed a second half winner for the visitors.
FT. Ebbsfleet 2-3 Wealdstone, attendance: 1,121
Scoreboard: famous victory (pic courtesy of @moonie878 on Twitter)
Harriott, who signed only late last night, will undoubtedly command all of the headlines but it was a real team display as the Kent outfit fell to their third consecutive home defeat – unthinkable for them, as they went into the game with six victories from their previous eight league matches; enough to give them a nine-point lead over their nearest challengers, Oxford City, at the start of play.
Saturday sees Wealdstone return to league action with a trip to runaway leaders, and champions-elect, Ebbsfleet. With cup fever gripping the West London side, and a money-spinning tie at home to League One Colchester on the horizon, thoughts have inevitably cast back to the last time Wealdstone made the first round proper, six seasons ago.
This weekend, however, it’s a return to league action and a quick turnaround as the Stones travel to Kent to face the league leaders for the second time this season – and it’s still only October. August’s game between the sides had many of the home fans writing off the Stones before a ball had even been kicked, with an air of inevitability circling The Vale and the expectation that come 5pm that summer’s day, Wealdstone would be reflecting on another defeat. And, true to form, they were.
Despite starting brightly with a Hudson-Odoi first half strike giving the hosts an unexpected half-time lead against the full-timers, they were ultimately undone in the second half with goals from Jordan Parkes and a Danny Kedwell looping header sealing the points for Fleet. Four defeats from the opening five games, it wasn’t pretty reading.
The 100-mile round trip will give supporters time to reflect on Wealdstone’s journey since then: written off after a 5-2 humbling at Sutton but now enjoying their longest winning streak since 2009/10 with six consecutive victories and counting – yes, even the Ryman title winning side failed to win six-competitive matches on the trot and the eery similarity being that Stones last managed the feat when they last featured in round one of the FA Cup.
If Wealdstone match the run of the 2009/10 team – who recorded eight straight victories, they will become only the second side to humble Ebbsfleet in the league this season, and more significantly they will be celebrating a giant killing over Colchester and a place in Round Two.
2009/10: Eight’s the target
Wealdstone will also need to do so without Elliott Godfrey, the 32-year old has collected plenty of plaudits for a series of all action displays but misses the next three following his questionable sending off at Havant. That gives Michael Corcoran the chance to come back in from the cold and play in this fixture for the second consecutive season. The midfielder featured in Ebbsfleet red in the 0-0 draw at Stonebridge Road last August.
Corcoran: influential last term
They’ll be no sign of a skeleton side when Wealdstone travel with places up for grabs in next weekend’s showpiece and with Corcoran getting an opportunity to come in from the cold, he’ll be hoping for a return to form.
Last season: McMahon red (pic: Steve Crispe)
Ebbsfleet boss McMahon, who was sent off in the corresponding meeting last season, admitted his side aren’t about to give Wealdstone an easy ride. Speaking to Kent Online this week he said: “We haven’t played at home for a while and I think we owe the home fans a performance from the games we’ve had there so far. I don’t think we’ve quite dominated as much as I’d have liked. We’ve had periods of being outstanding… but I think we owe a 90-minute performance this Saturday.”
And McMahon was quick to acknowledge that Fleet will face a different Stones side to the one they met in August. “It’s against a side who are unbeaten in 12 so they’ll come here and probably try to spoil our game.”
Wealdstone have lost only one of their seven league fixtures since the first meeting, whilst Ebbsfleet could race into a mammoth 12-point lead at the top of the Conference South if they can halt Stones’ good run.
Hudson-Odoi sets Stones on way to sixth consecutive victory in 2-1 win over Bognor last Saturday (pic: Alan Palmer)
McMahon continued on Stones: “They’re in good form and we know that every single team we play won’t play like they did the previous week.”
With Ebbsfleet looking likely to run away with the championship title, the gaffer recognises that some teams are turning up to stifle them.
His assessment of Chelmsford’s tactics in last week’s 0-0 bore draw at Melbourne Road is probably something they’ll need to get used to.
“The way Chelmsford played against us on Saturday, for instance, with 10 men behind the ball for 90 minutes, they won’t do that against anyone else in our league – so it shows great respect to us.”
Pen king: North saves second penalty last weekend (pic: Alan Palmer)
Expect the Stones to be no different. Bartlett will well be aware of the task that awaits his side on Saturday andlast year admitted that he set up his Stones side to shut up shop at Stonebridge Park, and courtesy of a Jonathan North penalty save (sound familiar?) the blues came away with a valuable point in the wake of a 0-0 draw.
Is the Conference South boring?
Stats would suggest, yes, it is. 17 times this season have games finished 0-0: the most frequent scoreline thus far.
And if you fancy a flutter on a smash and grab, 0-1 in favour of the away side is the second most common result – 16 matches finishing that way.
We’re in the cup… you ain’t
For all the money Ebbsfleet possess (it’s good to be wealthy!), there’s one thing they don’t have… a stadium that is about to welcome the cast of Football Focus for an exciting broadcast on the BBC next Saturday as part of the Beeb’s efforts to up their coverage of the FA Cup.
BBC coverage: 7 November – Wealdstone v Colchester (note: the contents of this image were modified to suit StonesGoals!)
A big day awaits…
After Ebbsfleet’s cup exit (humbled by Chelmsford, 2-1) the focus will be on league points and they’ll be out to put a dampener on the biggest week in Wealdstone Football Club’s recent history. Fleet top the form guide (6 wins from previous 8) but for anyone expecting a formality the Stones’ six games without league defeat is bettered only by Truro (7) and Oxford City (8).
With places up for grabs in next Saturday’s cup game, this game provides the perfect dress rehearsal for the Stones – and they’ll be bang up for it.
For Fleet, former Dover star Dean Rance returns from injury to shore up their midfield, whilst ex-football league winger Robbie Willmott remains sidelined. Stones will miss Elliott Godfrey, their most consistent performer in the middle of the park, with Corcoran the most likely to plug the gap. You can be assured he’ll be fired up against his former club but Ebbsfleet possess quality all over the park and you’d fancy them to recover from a minor blip in form. They couldn’t possibly lose three home games on the trot, could they? Home win. 2-1.
Few men tread the path to glory, many can dream, but most will never walk out under the shadow of the Wembley arch to grace the hallowed turf.
One man who is familiar with treading that very path however is Stones boss, Gordon Bartlett, who was the subject of our two-minute teaser this week in the build up to Saturday’s mammoth cup clash with Bognor.
Big match: Stones v Bognor
TRAILER – The road to glory
If you excuse the cliché, Bartlett’s own date with destiny came in 1990 when he guided his little-known Yeading side to FA Vase glory. So little-known were the Hayes outfit, Bartlett roused his team with the proclamation “they have a poster up in their clubhouse that says where the hell is Yeading!?“. Whatever. It worked. Yeading overcame Bridlington Town 1-0 in an Elland Road replay after the first match was drawn 0-0 at Wembley. The victory would rubber stamp GB’s growing reputation amongst non-league circles.
Admiring glances were cast and his achievements so significant that it convinced Wealdstone into enticing him to make the switch. 20-years on, and with over 1,000 Stones league & cup games under his belt, the rest is history.
Bartlett: league record at Stones – start of season (league games only up to and including 1 August 2015)
To the modern day as atmosphere builds
The FA cup survives as not only English football’s longest serving competition but undoubtedly, it’s greatest. Evidenced, in part, by this week’s party atmosphere that continues to build for both camps.
Stones president: “massive week”
Bognor fans: two coaches
The sides face off this Saturday for the first time in two seasons to contest a place in the first round proper; in fundamental terms, for the victors, the prospect of drawing a league side may lie just 90-minutes away.
And whilst Wembley would remain a pipe dream, the minimum realisation of adding another £12.5k to the coffers would represent a significant achievement for either side.
For Wealdstone, they make this stage of the competition for only the third time in the past decade after Hampton (2007) and Aylesbury (2009) where they return a record W1 L1. Only Carl Martin remains from the Stones team to have played in either of those ties, although interestingly Wealdstone’s Elliott Godfrey played against the Stones for Hampton in their 1-0 victory over the blues back in 2007.
For Bognor, and perhaps highlighting the difficulty of navigating through the qualifying rounds, it’s the first time in 11-years they’ve appeared at this stage of the competition and they did so the hard way – coming from behind to beat Conference South outfit Oxford City 4-2 earlier this month.
You can forgive boss Jamie Howell for believing Lady Luck was not smiling on them when their ball was matched second meaning an away draw for the first time in this season’s campaign. Worse for The Rocks is their dismal record against Wealdstone – only twice in 19 attempts have they left the field victorious, which of course counts for nothing come 3pm Saturday.
Head to head: all comps, home and away
Statistics can change and a win for the visitors would bury any bogeys that may have previously existed.
It’s not just another game
Ahead of the game Howell acknowledged the excitement that the tie is generating but is cautiously aware of the threat Wealdstone, who will start as favourites, pose. Speaking to the Bognor Observer ahead of the tie, he said: “It’s created a real buzz around the club and it’s fantastic. But Wealdstone will be a very difficult game.”
“Wealdstone are a good team – well-organised, well-drilled. Chances will be at a premium and we mustn’t lose our concentration or give away silly goals.”
“We know them from games in the Ryman premier and they’re an excellent side who play the game the right way. We’re disappointed to be drawn away but we have had three rounds at home. We’ll go there with confidence and I’ll admit it will not just be another game –it will be massive.”
The Wealdstone production line has enjoyed a habit of producing proven goal scorers, the likes of Beckford, Morgan and even to some degree the assistance the club played in the development of the quite brilliant Britt Assombalonga – but since promotion to the Conference South goals have been harder to come by for the hosts.
Not so for Bognor who are earning a reputation for playing attractive football with just one defeat at home this season, no wonder Howell was ruing the away draw. Nonetheless, the ingredients all point to an open game of cup football in front of a fervent atmosphere set to tickle the 1,000 mark for the first time this season.
Strikers and fine lines
There are fine lines in football, Jason Prior might testify to that. One from Bognor’s very own production line, and expected to lead the line for the visitors on Saturday. Prior was prolific in his first spell at Bognor, 95 goals in just 126 matches, the sort of ratio that attracts interest from league sides. Eastleigh reportedly moved quickly to sign the target man and with £12,000 on the table, it seemed a done deal. And then Newcastle United came in. Prior went north for a three week trial and, despite it being regarded as a success, he wasn’t offered a contract.
On release from the Geordies he joined (then) League Two side AFC Wimbledon but a series of injuries including a broken leg curtailed his development keeping him sidelined for the best part of a year. A handful of loan spells followed but the striker penned a permanent deal at Bognor this summer and the goals are pummelling in once more. Still only 26, with nine league goals to his name, Prior might feel this competition provides a platform to reinvigorate his chances of league football.
Special mention must go to another striker making noise at Bognor this season. Teenage sensation, Alfie Rutherford. Four goals in his last two games, and despite being subbed in the previous round pre-turnaround, the chicken-loving striker is in good form – and hungry.
En-route to Qualifying round four, Bognor have shown a nous for beating sides at Wealdstone’s level – both Oxford City (4-2), and in the round previous, Lowestoft (2-1), have fallen to The Rocks, who began this campaign with a 2-1 home win over fellow Ryman side Mertsham. If Bognor prevail on Saturday, or indeed Tuesday should a replay be required, they will be making the first round of the FA Cup for the first time since the 1995/96 season – twenty years ago; the year they got to round two before finally succumbing 4-0 against league outfit Peterborough.
One thing Saturday’s hosts will have to contend with – pressure. The Vale has not always been a happy hunting ground in recent seasons as the Stones have tended to fare better on the road, and the demanding fan base that exists at home can either weigh the side down – or inspire them. Something that tenacious ex-Stone Chris O’Leary was quick to point out ahead of Wealdstone’s last big FA Cup clash against Rotherham some six-seasons ago. “There’s more pressure because there’s a big fan-base which is getting even bigger, so there’s more expectation but you really know about it when the fans get behind you.” O’Leary’s sentiments, some truth perhaps?
Stones were good that day but undone by the added quality the league side possessed. It remains the only time in the past ten years that the Stones have featured in round one – a win Saturday would make it only the fourth time in 30-years after Reading (0-1) 1985, Swansea (1-1, 1-4) 1986, and Rotherham (2-3) 2009.
We started with Gordon, so we should finish with him. Often handicapped with restrictive budgets, he’s had to shrewdly manage his stars and is no stranger to making tough decisions over the course of a campaign. Connor Calcutt, Dan Brown, Ryan Hope to name three players that have all been either dual registered or shipped on… But this week, however, Stones had to wave goodbye to another – Matt Lowe. The combative midfielder has been instrumental in the Stones slow creep up the Conference South table but, with his month’s loan expiring, has now returned to Cambridge United. Wealdstone will miss his endeavour and athleticism – Bartlett will need to be shrewd in plugging that gap.
Big miss: Lowe
Lowe’s absence may open the door for Corcoran to remind supporters why he was a worthy addition to the Conference South survival bid in the early months of 2015, alternatively Bartlett might finally throw Davies back into the mix. The playmaker forced into another cameo role from the bench last Saturday against Havant – it takes more than special strikes to sway GB.
It’s feel good factor week at Wealdstone with the news that freebets.co.uk have agreed a lucrative one-year sponsorship deal on stadium naming rights with the option of an extension emphasising the importance of a good cup run. President Paul Rumens described the deal as “groundbreaking”; such deal can only add to the frenzied media-buzz that has been richly enjoyed over the past couple of weeks and it’ll provide some welcome relief for Commercial team.
In terms of the game, the key battles will be had in midfield. Alex Parsons, who netted twice from the bench against Oxford, is expected to play after being rested at the weekend. The Worthing plumber who once played football for Bournemouth, recently won The Suns hunt for a hunk competition (seriously!) why that’s relevant, no idea, but he’s highly rated at Bognor and looks likely to be recalled.
For the Stones, they’ll be big boots to fill in midfield with a dilemma over who should partner Godfrey, this season’s most consistent performer, in the middle of the park. Whoever steps in will be in for a game as Bognor look to play their expansive passing game.
Bognor who sit 6th in the division below have nothing to prove – they’re already an accomplished side, further evidenced by dumping out two Conference clubs thus far, but, with the additional coverage Stones have generated in the past few weeks and the upturn in results, I have to tip the home side. The atmosphere will play its part, it’ll be noisier than it has been in weeks and I think that’ll see the blues home. Just. 2-1.
P.S. The winners will be ball number 69 in Monday’s draw and would need to draw a ball 48 or lower to meet a league side.