TUNBRIDGE WELLS snatched last-gasp winner to edge a crucial local derby with Rusthall on a mud bath of a pitch at the Culverden.
So Rusthall’s poor run of results continued and they must now quickly turn things around if they are to avoid a relegation dogfight in Southern Counties East League Division One after Rochester United’s surprise 3-2 win at Corinthian narrowed the gap to the drop zone to nine points.
On the treacherous playing surface the Rustics were unable to play their usual passing game but started the game strongly with Steve Smith causing the home side problems.
The visitors were gifted an opening on 23 minutes. A poor pass from the back found its way to Steph Harper, who went to take it round the Tunbridge Wells keeper Cameron Hall but was taken down in the penalty area.
Hall received a yellow card and the vastly experienced Harper calmly smashed the spot-kick high to the keeper’s left to open the scoring.
The game became a midfield battle as conditions worsened, and Smith and skipper Stewart Gostlow picked up yellow cards.
On 39 minutes the home side were denied an equaliser by an outstanding save from Callum Christie in the Rusthall goal.
The home side looked to up the pace in the second half and won several corners. From one of these that they made it 1-1 in the 54th minute.
Rusthall failed to clear the ball from the set-piece and after a goalmouth scramble John Shea forced the ball over the line at the far post.
On the hour a Rustics counterattack down the right saw Hall parry Dan Mitchell’s shot on to the bar and as the ball dropped down Calum Gallie raced in but somehow managed to head over from a couple of yards out.
Another great move down the right on 68 minutes found Mitchell again and the big striker played in a superb cross that was met by Smith, who forced the ball over the line.
He managed to score despite being fouled by the keeper, and Rusthall had the lead back.
Ryan Waterman and Paul Butler also found their way into Zoltan Konkoly’s notebook as Rusthall continued to battle for everything.
A smart interchange between Tunbridge Wells’ Jack Harris and Josh Biddlecombe set Harris free in the box and he was sent tumbling over by a challenge from defender Luke Stratford, earning him a yellow card. Biddlecombe smashed home the penalty kick to make it 2-2.
With five minutes left Gostlow cleared the ball after the whistle had gone for a free kick on and the referee produced a yellow card, then a red.
In injury time winger Jared Trespaderne skipped past Mitchell wide on the right and crossed into a crowded six-yard box, and Greg Skinner was on hand to force the ball over the line for the winner.
Rusthall now face a crucial run of four home games in February starting with the visit of Deal Town on Saturday (February 10, kick-off 3pm).Â
Tunbridge Wells opened up a five-point gap above Rusthall, and will hope to pick up more points at rock bottom club Hollands & Blair.