A WONDERFUL display from the Ryman Premier warriors of Wealdstone pushed County to the brink in the FA Trophy before last-gasp heartbreak for the hosts.

A visit to Worksop or Mansfield now awaits for County after another stalemate affair in which the hosts performed magnificently, arguably deserving of the penalty shootout they were so close to securing.

Manager Dean Holdsworth must have felt somewhat conflicted in terms of selecting his starting XI, the FA Trophy far from a priority for the Exiles despite protests to the contrary.

However, with the weather forecast as bleak as the economy, there is little point in resting players for a weekend contest that must already be in some doubt, not to mention Deano’s dreadful record in cup competitions as a manager playing on his mind.

Holdsworth did ring the changes, possibly more reflective of Saturday’s lacklustre display than anything else, Foley and Robbie Matthews both starting in place of Kerry Morgan (who didn’t travel) and the benched Ben Wright. Without changing his system, Holdsworth also shuffled the pack, Eddie Odhiambo moved to right back and Jamie Collins sent into midfield with Gary Warren back at the heart of defence (arguably, as it should have been on Saturday).

The hosts were so impressive on Saturday and started on the front foot again, pinning County back as they struggled to find any fluency on a freezing cold evening in north west London, the Exiles waiting a full 17 minutes before a smart move gave Daryl Knights a sight at goal, his effort deflected clear for a corner from which Sam Foley flashed wide.

Suddenly County sniffed opportunity and next it was Craig Reid’s turn, the striker almost snapping the crossbar with a powerful drive that bounced to safety. County were well in the ascendancy and Reid again had a chance on 27 minutes, skipping free of a high defensive line looking for offside, but he screwed wide.

It took until 31 minutes for the hosts to scare Newport, former Spurs man Danny Spendlove, celebrating his 100th game for the Stones, beating Alan Goodall and flashing a magnificent ball right across the County six yard box, no man in blue able to get a touch.

County rallied, Goodall flashing wide on the stroke of half time, but it was once again a frustrating half.

The second period began in similar vein with County on top but frustrated, Foley stretching the hosts and dinking the ball over the imperious Jonathon North, only to be denied by Alan Massey’s goal-line clearance. That wasn’t remarkable, but the fact Foley repeated the trick just two minutes later was, this time Lee Chappell hacking clear for a corner. From the corner it was agony again, Chris Todd’s goalbound header cleared away by Alex Dyer.

County were beginning to look like a side feeling sorry for themselves, their curse in front of goal showing no signs of abating, despite the hosts retreating deeper and deeper as tired legs became apparent.

Holdsworth introduced Ben Wright and within a second he’d created an opening for Reid, who rounded North and smashed the ball against the base of the post as the Exiles’ rotten luck continued, they looked like they could attack all week and still wouldn’t find the net.

With the clock ticking Wealdstone looked to be at breaking point, Wright racing clear on 82 minutes, denied by the marvellous North for what felt like the 20th time in 180 minutes of football which sealed another 0-0 draw and extra time.

If the hosts had looked drained before extra time it continued into the extended period, but County themselves seemed to have lost their impetus and the final 30 minutes was almost entirely without goalmouth incident, two tired sides utterly out of ideas, until substitute Ben Long almost won it for the hosts, screwing wide.

Such are the fine margins in cup competitions, because seconds after the hosts missed their best chance of the night, County broke and substitutes Sam Deering and Jon Challinor combined, Deering’s right wing cross stabbed home by Challinor with just two minutes remaining in extra time.

Wealdstone: North, Hammond (Long 85), Chappell, Gill, Massey, Dyer, Dean, O'Leary, Brooks (Ngoyi 71), Forbes, Spendlove

County: Thompson, Odhiambo, Warren, Todd, Goodall, Knights (Deering 87), Collins, Rose, Foley (Challinor 100), Matthews (Wright 71), Reid

Subs not used: Garner, Hughes

Referee: Tim Robinson

Argus star man: Massey (Wealdstone)