National League: Wealdstone 2 Hemel Hempstead 1
PUBLISHED: 14:58 28 April 2019
Wealdstone produced a sensational second-half display to come back and defeat Hemel Hempstead at The Vale on Saturday, dramatically securing a coveted place in the National League South play-offs against Bath City.
The Stones fell behind to The Tudors with a first-half goal from forward Jason Williams, but two stunning second-half strikes from Freddie Grant and Jake Sheppard ensured a thrilling finale to the match, enabling Wealdstone to finish in seventh position.
Hemel started brightly, creating a goalscoring opportunity within the first minute, as Williams struck a shot that flew just wide of the far post.
He followed this up in the seventh minute, latching onto a through ball to break away from the Wealdstone defence and dink a shot goalbound. However, Jonathan North was equal to the effort, producing a brilliant save to deny the visitors an early lead.
In the 12th minute, the Stones generated their first save from keeper Laurie Walker when a free kick on the edge of the box from Daniel Green, initially cleared, was followed up by a testing cross from Sheppard, but Grant's subsequent effort was comfortably saved.
Three minutes later, Green was involved in instigating further attacking play for Wealdstone, dispossessing Kavan Cotter and switching play to Tarryn Allarakhia on the left wing, whose resultant shot was well-saved by Walker.
As the first half progressed, The Tudors continued to dominate and in the 16th minute, Williams seized on Kyle Connolly's low cross, generating a fantastic point-blank save from North with his shot.
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Wealdstone's most prominent first-half chance came in the 31st minute as the industrious and tenacious Godfrey Poku produced two successive excellent tackles to gain possession, teeing up Shepherd, but he snatched his effort high and wide.
Hemel were rewarded for their persistence in the 36th minute, as a through ball was played to Williams, who beat the offside trap to produce a classy finish, chipping the ball over North from outside of the box to give the visitors the lead.
As the first half drew to a close, Wealdstone rallied for an equaliser, creating notable chances through Sheppard and Green, which brought fine saves from Walker. The Stones started the second half in emphatic fashion, equalising in the 47th minute through superb play from full-back Grant.
Allarakhia produced an excellent pass to thread the ball through to a surging Grant and his cross rebounded off a post, but he followed up brilliantly, coolly blasting the ball past Walker to level.
Spurred on by the goal, Wealdstone began to dominate the tempo of play and dictate proceedings, taking the lead in the 56th minute through a sublime goal from Sheppard.
Grant was involved once again, combining with the influential Green to assist Sheppard, who chipped the ball past Walker into the top corner from outside the box.
Intent on closing out the match, Stones pushed for a third goal, with Sheppard, Poku, and Smith going agonisingly close to providing a two-goal cushion.
Resolute defending from Wealdstone, in particular the central defensive pairing of Jerome Okimo and Connor Stevens, ensured they held onto the lead and secured a vital three points to earn a place in the National League South play-offs.
They will now travel to Twerton Park on Wednesday to face Bath City.