Walthamstow’s title aspirations look all but over after defeat to Hullbridge Sports in challenging conditions at Wadham Lodge.
Stow were forced into two changes in the starting XI, with Vinny Murphy failing a late fitness test, and captain Reece Conway injured.
The visitors started the brighter, but it was Stow who had the first decent chance, with Jack Folan’s goal-bound shot being blocked. The rebound fell to Leon McKenzie, but the referee waved away his penalty appeals when he was bundled over from behind.
But a couple of minutes later, Stow were ahead. Kyan Gulliver’s long ball over the top found Correy Davidson, whose shot was cruelly deflected past Lewis Greene in the Hullbridge goal.
Stow’s lead lasted barely a minute, as Ollie Sotoyinbo latched onto another ball over the top, and poked past James Bransgrove. The entire Stow defence was sure the Hullbridge forward was offside, but the goal stood.
The rest of the half passed without any real threats from either team – Luke Hornsley could only find the side netting when well placed for Hullbridge, and Leon McKenzie was inches away from tapping in a rebound after Davidson saw his effort saved.
Conditions deteriorated over half time, and the second half was a feisty, end-to-end affair.
Hullbridge had the first real chance, their forward catching the Stow defence on their back feet, and he should have done better than poke wide with all the time in the world.
At the other end, Samrai Gebrai slipped in Dwade James, but the forward took too long to get his shot away and Greene was able to block well.
Then came a couple of minutes which changed the game. Davidson had a superb shot blocked on the line by Perry Dunn, and Stow were then reduced to ten men, Hussain Jaffa shown a straight red for an apparent headbutt.
But as the rain continued to fall, Bransgrove was unable to hold onto a deep free kick, giving Perry Dunn the easiest of tap-ins just a couple of minutes later.
Stow thought they had equalised, McKenzie heading in from six yards after running in behind the two centre backs, but the linesman raised his flag – the only person in the ground to think McKenzie was offside.
The game got more and more niggly, as Hullbridge began to mange the game with a series of cheap fouls and tactical injuries. Stow’s frustration with the officials was increasing with every decision, with two huge hand-ball appeals in the Hullbridge box turned down, and Davidson being given offside despite clearly being in his own half.
The handbags weren’t over as in the dying minutes tempers flared again. Ross Pope was very fortunate to stay on the field for Stow, while a Hullbridge substitute who ran the length of the pitch to get involved was booked, and their manager Darren Manning sent off for voicing his displeasure at the referee’s decision.
Hullbridge were undoubtedly deserved winners, playing the conditions and their opponents perfectly. Stow’s ill-discipline was again their downfall.