Wellington failed to build on a tenacious first-half performance as they, quite literally, slipped to defeat by title hopefuls Westbury United at a rain-soaked Playing Field on Saturday, January 26th.
Manager Clive Jones was forced into one change as Conor Bryant’s nasty facial injury, sustained in the previous week’s home win over Roman Glass, consigned him to watch from the bench.
That meant Tom Hawkings was again pressed into action up front with Sam Jones drafted into midfield.
The two sides had met on the opening day of the season and Westbury ran out 3-1 winners after Wellington had two players sent off.
Since then, the Wiltshire side have had a remarkable campaign, to follow winning the division one title, and have now racked up 19 wins out of 25 to sit in second place behind Willand Rovers.
Playing down the slope and with the wind and rain mainly behind them, it was hardly surprising they took the game to Wellington early on.
But the home side held firm with Tim Legg and Scott Drayton again demonstrating the impressive partnership they have formed in central defence.
With water starting to lie on the surface, good football was always going to be difficult and it was Wellington who had the first serious effort on goal as Lewis Tasker, who has recently started a second spell at the club, saw a long-range shot skid wide of the post.
Westbury were incensed by a challenge from Hawkings shortly afterwards – with their striker Ricky Hulbert booked for complaining – and, while Hawkings escaped with a talking to, his team-mates George Rogers and Josh Wadham were slightly unfortunate to enter the referee’s book later for fairly innocuous offences.
The first corner of the half after 22 minutes almost brought the opening goal as Hulbert’s central defender brother Steve produced a thumping header and the diminutive Jones popped up to head off the line.
As the half wore on, Wellington adapted better to the conditions with Tasker sending another effort wide of the target and Hawkings seeing a header from a Rogers cross drop the wrong side of the post.
At the other end, they received a warning of things to come as Westbury’s speedy wide-man Callum Demkiv reached a long ball ahead of keeper Josh Mclean but his lob was cleared from danger.
Wellington almost went ahead in stoppage time when visiting keeper Edward Baldy dropped a corner and Legg’s drive through a crowd of player was deflected wide.
Jones must have been pleased with his side’s performance in the opening 45 as they more than matched their high-flying opponents but, unfortunately, they were unable to maintain that momentum after the break.
Demkiv forced Mclean into a smart save shortly after the restart as Westbury took a grip on proceedings and forced the hosts on to the back foot.
In fairness, Wellington had appeals for a penalty for handball turned down after 53 minutes but they could have few other complaints as the visitors took greater care of the ball
Wellington’s more-regular failure to find their men in the difficult conditions proved pivotal in both Westbury goals with the deadline broken after 61 minutes.
A misplaced pass saw the ball cleverly slipped through to Jamie Jordan and he released Demkiv in space on the right to coolly advance on goal before shooting low past Mclean.
Nine minutes later it was 2-0 and game over with the ball again played forward quickly for Demkiv to produce another clinical finish.
Jones threw on all three subs – Lewis Pocock, Mitch Woodgate and Paolo Borges – in a bid to shake things up but it was to no avail with skipper Glen Wright’s shot on the turn in the dying minutes virtually their only meaningful effort of the half.
The result meant January saw Wellington record two wins over sides in the bottom half of the table but suffer three defeats against teams from the top half.
They will be hoping to reverse that trend when Plymouth Parkway are the visitors next Saturday, February 2nd.
PHOTO: Josh Wadham was named man-of-the-match having been chosen by Joe Conway with the award presented by Kim Norman of Wilkie May and Tuckwood estate agents.