There’s an elephant in the board room. It’s not a reality anyone really wants to face up to, is it? No doubt about it Gordon Bartlett is a Wealdstone legend. But legends aren’t immortal.
A limp display against Bath City on Monday night consigned Stones to their fourth consecutive home defeat – the third time that’s happened in the last two seasons – leaving Bartlett in serious danger for the first time in his 21-year tenure.
The result means Wealdstone head to Hungerford on Saturday 8-points adrift of the play-off places, but most of the pre-match glances have been in the board’s direction as supporters continue to seethe over the lack of entertainment on show at Grosvenor Vale – just one goal for in the previous three home league games.
It’s a good job Stones are playing away this weekend then. And it’s on the road where Stones still boast an impressive points per games ratio which Bartlett will need to continue as he fights to save his job.
Speaking to Get West London this week Bartlett was in defiant mood about his own future, saying:
“We have got a new chairman and if he thinks someone else has got to come in and do the job then that is a different kettle of fish. I will continue to strive to do it and as long as I believe I can do it I’ll still be here.”
It’s no secret that the appointments of Peter Marsden, Chairman, and Nick Archer, Vice-Chair, spearheaded significant investment in the Summer. Money breeds expectation but can also be used as an excuse as Leicester City proved by winning the Premier League with a budget considerably more conservative than any of their closest challengers.
Bartlett though remains confident that the current squad is “the best we have had” but statistics, particularly at home, would have you argue otherwise.
The players, his players, must take some accountability with Godfrey admitting on Twitter that they’ve “let the gaffa [sic] down.”
Elsewhere, fans appear divided over the controversial Get West London piece and the folly of forum posts lamenting the side’s current plight.
Twitter account @StonesAnalysis asked the question others dared not: “Bartlett in” or “Bartlett out.” The poll indicated strongly in the manager’s favour but polls have often been wrong this year…
At board room level, meanwhile, the Chairman has indirectly turned up the heat when he plainly admitted he’d be “cheesed off” if Stones weren’t in and around the promotion mix-up come May. It remains, therefore, a realistic possibility that defeat on Saturday against a Hungerford side, themselves with an indifferent home record, could force Marsden’s hand.
The Chairman’s approach to the club has undoubtedly been refreshing. He emanates a positivity that Stones have struggled with since their inception at this level. “If someone turned up and thought about where in London they should put a football club, round here would be perfect. I think it’s the most untapped club in the country” he said.
“We’ve now got one of the better budgets in the division, and certainly one of the best fan bases.”
It’s the kind of signal of intent you want to be hearing from your Chairman. It made for an exciting Summer but despite all of the early optimism the Stones sit just five points better off than at the same stage last season.
Above: this season v last season (click to enlarge)
Of the seven major Summer signings, only one has consistently reached the level expected. Benyon. And Bartlett received one piece of good news this week when the FA confirmed, with the help of video evidence, it would rescind his striker’s controversial red card sparing him a three-game ban. Only Saturday will demonstrate how much of a lift that might prove to be.
Above: Benyon red rescinded
The sharpshooter is the division’s second top scorer and his influence is unquestionable with Benyon responsible for 50% of Wealdstone’s 28 league goals including the perfect hat-trick in the blues feisty derby victory against near-neighbours Hemel.
Hungerford currently sit 10th, level points with Wealdstone albeit with one game in hand. The Berkshire outfit have never played at a level higher than where they are now having finished fourth in the Southern Premier League last season before winning the play-offs.
“The Crusaders” own form has been patchy but a late goal was enough to see off Welling on Monday night and lift them into the top half of the table. Last weekend whilst Wealdstone were suffering a controversial home drubbing to Eastbourne, Hungerford were humbled by St Albans (5-0).
Town’s manager was pro-active in changing his tactics on Monday night saying “St Albans made me sit up and we went back to 4-4-1-1 and we were organised, strong, powerful and we were never going to lose on Monday. I know at times it wasn’t the prettiest game in the world, but I didn’t want it to be, I just wanted three points.”
It’s those comments that make bet365s odds of 9/1 for a 1-0 home win rather mouth watering. Stones are a 10/1 shot to win by the same score.
Hungerford head into the game with selection concerns – experienced defender Jon Boardman (injured) and midfielder Scott Rees (suspended) are both out.
Stones will face an old nemesis on Saturday when Nat Jarvis lines up against them. The striker, 25, is Hungerford’s top scorer and might be remembered by Stones fans for scoring the second (and ultimately decisive) goal in Newport’s 3-1 Trophy victory in the semi-final four and a half years ago. The former Cardiff City star has netted five this term.
Finally, Hungerford lay claim to one of the most bizarre incidents of this season when Darts keeper Deren Ibrahim netted against them back in August from inside his own half. 30,000+ views on YouTube later, here it is…
There’s a lot of pressure on Wealdstone to deliver a performance. This squad of players collectively has over 300 Football League appearances under their belts and will be expected to turn the corner.
Defeat remains unthinkable and nil poit would leave more questions to be answered.
Hungerford have some notable absentees, but are defensively hard to break down at home with three clean sheets from their eight matches. Stones have been resolute on their travels with four clean sheets and at the other end have failed to net only once on the road. All square, 0-0.