After twice squandering early leads in the first two league games of the season the Stan made wholesale changes to the starting line up with no less than seven players coming in for the trip to Willington. Simpson and Miller replaced Ray and Hall at the back; Waters, Johnson, Mason and Burns came into midfield at the expense of Bailey, Proctor and Imray, with Wright replacing Campbell and Hoggins upfront as the Stan switched to 4-5-1.
Willington, who won a seven goal thriller v Durham City on the opening day, included former Blyth forward Ash Davies at left back but the prolific Vinny Gash could only make the bench.
The Stan kicked off down the slope with a breeze behind them on a firm pitch which looked like it could do with a trim, but nevertheless they got off to a dream start with a goal inside the first 45 seconds. The goal was a disaster for home keeper Robinson who came to the edge of his box to gather a long clearance from Regan but fumbled it to Paterson, the keeper redeemed himself by palming his chip up into the air only for Wright to volley the rebound goalwards and see it loop into the net via a deflection.
Within minutes Paterson was crowded out after good work by Simpson but at the other end Martin headed straight at Regan from 10 yards. The Stan responded and Mason, Wright and Paterson all couldn’t get a decisive touch after a scramble in the Willington box. On 25 minutes a quick free kick released Martin but his chip was weak and drifted wide.
The Stan doubled their lead on 29 minutes when quick feet out on the left from Wright found Paterson whose cross struck the Ref, the Ref restarted the game with Stan in possession and with Willington sleeping Paterson and Burns combined to set up Johnson who poked home from 6 yards out.
Willington looked to respond and both Storey and Martin were close to getting onto long balls over the top but the Stan should have put the game to bed on 41 when a sublime pass from Johnson sent Wright galloping clear but he shot against the advancing Robinson with the expectant Stan Army waiting for the net to bulge. From the corner Miller headed over and the miss was punished on the stroke of half time when a long ball caught the Stan backline square and Martin finished at the second attempt after Regan blocked his first effort.
HT: Willington 1 – 2 Heaton Stan
The goal give the hosts a lift and they were straight on the attack at the start of the half but a good cross into the box was headed wide before the Stan broke away and had a great chance to restore the two goal advantage but Wright rolled his shot inches wide of the far post after being but clear by Waters. Once again the Stan would be punished for the profligacy as Willington mounted a wave of attacks and after first volleying into the side netting they then twice brought great saves out of Regan but he was powerless to prevent Martin’s second goal on 58 minutes after the big striker was given all the room in the world to chest down Davies long ball and stroke a finish wide of the overworked keeper.
Campbell had replaced Wright and then Miller made way for Bailey with Waters dropping in at Centre Half but the changes made little difference as Gash, Storey and Martin all had efforts at goal with Stan struggling to stem the tide. Proctor then replaced Johnson on 67 and he twice got crosses into the box but couldn’t find a Stan shirt.
The Stan seemed to have steadied the ship a little and forced a corner in the 84th minute but it ended with Willington breaking quickly and Regan having to turn a header over the top. The corner was cleared but soon later Martin took advantage of the space down the left to put a dangerous ball across the 6 yard line that Blackbourne cleared for a corner. The flag kick was scuffed but fell nicely for Martin 6 yards out but he blazed over with a hat trick at his mercy.
The Stan responded and won another corner on 88 minutes but once again this resulted in a quick break from Willington and this time the Stan were punished as the ball was played into the right side of the box and Regan fumbled a powerful drive into the path of Brad Burns who lashed the rebound home from close range to complete the comeback.
The Stan were out on their feet and could have conceded a fourth a minute later but a fine turn and shot clipped the bar with Regan beaten.
FT: Willington 3 – 2 Heaton Stan
For the third game in a row the Stan had wasted an early lead, in the first two of those games they had held on for a point, but here they doubled the advantage and then had two glorious chances to kill off Willington before running out of steam and finally succumbing to a resilient home side. Despite being two goals ahead the Stan never looked comfortable at the back against the hard working Martin and Storey and once Gash was introduced at the break they were overrun and struggled to get out of their own half for long periods and were thankful to Regan for keeping the result in the balance for so long.
The Stan Army have been here many times before as we are the slowest of starters every year and as ever will keep the faith, but they will be concerned that we have ran out of steam in the second half of all three league games so far.
However the games come thick and fast and we only have to wait until Wednesday to put it right at home to Synners.
The only good news to report from the trip was the gateman mistaking Mick Edmondson of The Backpage for a pensioner and letting him in for £3, every cloud, eh.