Whilst weathermen continue to debate whether this is the warmest December on record the Stones have suffered a fixture freeze – just one game to saviour in the 20-days previous by the time you’ve washed down your Christmas pudding; that said, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without football.
Leave the kids to their hoverboards, PS4s and Go-Pros, send the missus off to the sales and head down to Vauxhall Road for a knock-out Boxing Day clash against rivals Hemel Hempstead Town.
Can Stones make history?
Should Stones avoid defeat in the Boxing Day fixture at Vauxhall Road on Saturday they will equal their best ever consecutive undefeated Boxing Day record.
Between 1983 and 1995, Stones avoided defeat in nine consecutive Boxing Day outings – winning five and drawing four.
Last year a last-minute Matt Ball equaliser ensured Wealdstone’s good Boxing Day run continued as honours were shared in an entertaining and competitive contest against Sutton United played out in front of an arguably underwhelming Boxing Day crowd of just 802.
Last season v Hemel
In Hemel, Stones face a side they met on three occasions last term – officially sharing three goals apiece over two drawn fixtures (1-1 at Vauxhall Road and 2-2 at the Vale), the third instalment sandwiched between the two saw Hemel race into a three-goal lead inside half an hour before the weather intervened and spared Stones’ blushes.
The Tudors currently sit 5 places and 3 points above the Stones and go into the game in similar form to the blues (2 wins + draw from last six) – crucially for Hemel, perhaps, is their torrid home form where they are currently enduring a three match losing streak; that must change if they harbour any ambitions of mounting a serious promotion charge. Only Basingstoke (1 win in 11) have faired worse than the Tudors at home this campaign. By contrast, Stones have won just one of their last three on the road though can point to narrow defeats at both St Albans and Maidstone (1-0, 1-0) before an impressive 2-0 victory at Chelmsford last weekend reinvigorated Stones’ league fortunes after a disappointing 2-3 reverse to Weston a fortnight earlier. Despite an FA Cup hangover, only three sides in the division (Truro, 21; Sutton, 19; Maidstone, 19) can boast more points than Wealdstone (17) in the previous ten league outings.
Hemel announced this week the completion of a quartet of new signings (as reported in the Hemel Today).
The signings include former-Stone Graeme Montgomery who arrived from Boreham Wood (just weeks after facing the blues whilst on-loan at St Albans); the pacy winger, 27, is joined by a trio of highly-rated youngsters namely Daniel Pappoe, Aristote Amisi and Louis John as manager Dean Brennan attempts to strengthen for a New Year play-off push.
Pappoe is perhaps a name on the list to watch out for, previously captain of Chelsea’s youth side before injury curtailed his development, Brennan was quick to play up the 22-year-old’s credentials – “you don’t become captain of Chelsea’s youth side if you haven’t got something about you.”
True, perhaps; but it’s not where you start it’s where you finish, and one man in particular looking to finish on the winning side come 5pm Saturday is former Tudors’ captain Matty Harriott. An ‘incident’ was blamed for the midfielder’s departure last month with Brennan suggesting his exit was “best for both parties” – no doubt Harriott will be well-motivated come 3pm. And whilst on the topic of incidents, an “above average” crowd is expected for the day’s festivities with Hemel announcing the game will be segregated, something to do with er..
Another ex-Hemel player hoping to make his mark in Wealdstone blue is full-back Jack Smith, younger brother of the better known former Watford, QPR and Pompey ace Tommy. Smith, who like his brother came through the Watford youth ranks, joins from Hemel and is likely to make his full debut against his former club.
Change of mentality? Much of the talk last season centred around staying in the division but there’s been signs of a different mentality coming out of Grosvenor Vale in recent weeks with Bartlett suggesting that play-offs are a realistic target. Speaking to the Harrow Times this week he said: “We’ve got to looking at the fact there’s six point separating ten teams in the early part of the new year. We’ve got to be looking at that.”
On-loan West Ham stopper Sam Howes is expected to continue in goal. The England Youth international replaced Jonathan North for the Chelmsford fixture with the regular custodian missing due to a knee operation. North has kept goal in three of Stones’ last four Boxing Day fixtures – conceding just three.
Tough to call but Hemel come in off the back of an impressive 2-0 victory at title chasers Oxford City – Montgomery netting on his debut and with a quartet of new signings, Hemel will be keen to show their intent in what is already becoming a very tight division. “There are some very ambitious club’s in our division” says Brennan – perhaps Hemel are one of them.
Stones have one of the league’s poorer away records but became the first away side to beat favourites Ebbsfleet, add in a fervent festive atmosphere and a fairly tidy recent history in Christmas clashes and this one has all the ingredients for a tight contest.
With 48% of the regular league season completed, 41% of games have ended in victory for the away side compared to 35% home wins, and 24% of matches ending even. Based on these mathematical algorithms, Christmas hangovers, and strange December weather… I can’t split the sides. Draw, 1-1. The unbeaten Boxing Day run to rumble on for at least another year.