Walthamstow came out on top of a tempestuous affair between two title contenders at Wadham Lodge.
The writing was on the wall early, with Stow’s Leon McKenzie and Walden’s Matt Frew exchanging pleasantries, ending with the latter raking his boots down the back off McKenzie’s heels, away from the view of the officials.
The opening was very even, with both teams struggling to get the ball under control on a heavy pitch. Marcus Bowers had Stow’s first half chance, stinging Neil O’Sullivan’s hands in the Walden goal with a long range effort, before the visitors thought they’d taken the lead when Dan Trendall headed in, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
Stow were beginning to dominate in front of goal, with the visitors limited to set pieces, which they looked dangerous from all afternoon.
Christina Owusu’s cross was headed back across goal by Bowers, but Dwade James couldn’t quite get enough on the ball to bundle it home.
Walden had a couple of penalty appeals turned down before the moment that swung the box in Stow’s favour.
Dwade James could have been awarded a penalty himself, being clipped by two Walden defenders, but he held onto the ball, crossed, only for Walden defender James Solkhon to volley the ball into the top corner of his own net, seemingly trying to turn it away for a corner.
It was almost two as Bowers headed over at the front post, just before Frew was lucky to stay on the pitch with a dangerously out of control tackle on James, making now attempt to play the ball.
The half ended with handbags in the tunnel area, instigated mainly by the Walden manager who let his feelings towards the officials be well known, and little sign that the game was going to calm down for the second half.
Early into the second period, Stow doubled their lead. Solkhon allowed himself to get distracted by something in the crowd, and as he turned, he lost James, who got on the end of Bowers’ long throw, heading the ball over O’Sullivan.
James had two more great chances to seal the three points, while Leon McKenzie, who was dominant all afternoon also tested O’Sullivan.
But from nothing, Walden were back in the game. Ryan Fleming was allowed too much time outside the Stow box, and although his shot was a pretty tame one, it took a horrific bounce and looped over a stranded James Bransgrove in the Stow goal.
The goal lifted Walden’s spirits, as they began to launch cross after cross into the Stow box, but were unable to get any meaningful contact on the end of any of them.
It should have been game over with about 10 to play as James broke through and seemingly slotting past O’Sullivan, only for his effort to hit the inside of the post and bounce clear. McKenzie was there to follow up the rebound, but somehow Spike Bell got back to heroically clear off the line.
It didn’t matter though, as a couple of minutes later it was three. As Walden appealed for handball in the Stow box, Owusu launched the ball upfield to James, who held off two defenders and dinked the ball past O’Sullivan, despite the defender’s best efforts to pull James down has he fell to the ground.
There was some unsavory scenes after the goal, and both sides were reduced to ten men as Hussain Jaffa and Spike Bell were both given their marching orders.
From then it was pretty much game over, as Stow controlled the game to a finish, picking up a vital three points.