National League South: Braintree 2 Wealdstone 2
PUBLISHED: 10:00 11 March 2018
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A battling performance by Stones was very much a case of the good, the bad and the ugly on a pudding of a pitch at the Ironmongery Direct Stadium on Saturday.
A torrid first-half display from Stones when they went 2-0 down and looked out of it, was contrasted by a fine gutsy performance in the second period when they could and probably should have taken all three points.
A fine long-range strike from Matty Whichelow and a penalty from Danny Green pegged back Braintree who had nicked a spot-kick themselves a minute before the turnaround.
Both sides were frustrated by a difficult, cloying, playing surface and referee Jacob Miles in almost equal measure in a fussy and scrappy encounter that burst into life for extended periods in a genuinely end-to-end second half.
But the Stones players, despite the implorations of manager Bobby Wilkinson, looked to have than half an eye on next Saturday’s massive Buildbase FA Trophy semi-final tie at Brackley, with some seeming reluctant to go in for full-blooded challenges and too hesitant in the tackle.
The Iron took full advantage in the first half and must have felt they were home and dry, if not muddied.
Special mention must be made of Wealdstone keeper Jonathan North, who once again kept his side in contention with several brave, outstanding stops.
After a relatively even first 10 minutes, North was called into action to stop a strike from Dan Thompson who was a threat all afternoon for the visiting defence that was without the rested Eddie Oshodi.
Jerome Okimo’s decent volleyed effort on 19 minutes flew well over but it was the home side who looked far more fluent with better movement as the half wore on. Bradley Bubb had a half chance but couldn’t get his strike away cleanly as his side increasingly came under pressure.
After North saved again it looked only a matter of time before the hosts would make the breakthrough and so it proved on 42 minutes when Luke Allen found space after a good attacking move.
Matters got worse for Stones right at the end of the half when a totally exposed North bundled over a forward and former Met Police midfielder Billy Crook netted the penalty.
Stones certainly looked like they had experienced the ‘Wilkinson roasting’ at half time but still looked vulnerable in the opening minutes of the new half.
The turning point came five minutes in when Ryan Sellers and Mustafa Tiryaki came on for Matt Day and the quiet Bubb, still finding match fitness.
The substitutions gave new impetus to the away side as far more pressure was forced upon the Iron back line.
Finally, Stones’ new found pressing told on 59 minutes as Whichelow got free and unleased a tremendous strike that arrowed past Nathan McDonald and into the far top corner. It was suddenly game on and Stones piled forward.
Six minutes later and Wealdstone were level as Dave Pratt burst into the box from a great move and was upended by McDonald. The reliable Danny Green duly obliged from the spot to make it 2-2.
Stones then missed a couple of gilt-edged chances as from a superb Sellers run and cross, Tiryaki couldn’t connect at the far post.
But the hosts remained dangerous on the counter and North and his defence twice came to the rescue with last-ditch blocks.
Pratt should have grabbed a winner with nine minutes left when another Sellers cross should have been buried as the game ebbed and flowed in a tense finish.
And Braintree were probably the more disappointed as their manager demonstrated by coating his players in front of a small but bemused audience after the final whistle.
Wealdstone: North, Johnson-Schuster, Okimo, Gayle, Day, Cox, Whichelow, Wellard, Pratt, Green, Bubb. Subs used: Tiryaki, Sellers, Fitchett. Not used: Wilson, Allen.