About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For nine seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The original aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I liked to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. These days I tend to write about the matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Futures and Pasts

The win at Weston-super-mare ensured that the end of the season would be, if not quite a lap of honour for Drax, at least a reign ending in calm contemplation of his eight and a half years at the club, much of which I'm sure will be committed to type in the next seven days.
Two league games remained and both saw the away team win backed by supporters en fete. The visit of Wealdstone reflected the universal truth that the function of football is to bring people together with the events on the pitch a mere sideshow. 
The Wealdstone fans provided an object lesson in what football supporters actually are, rather than how they are often portrayed. Raucous, intoxicated and fun to be around. Doubtless if the new Cambridge approach had been taken, many would have been forbidden entry to the ground. That they weren't ensured and end of season was more akin to a promotion party following a second half which saw Wealdstone blow United away with goals from Jonathan Wright, Matthew Ball and Jefferson Louis. Earlier Jacob Erskine had ensured an even first half heading the equaliser after Shane Lucien had given the Stones an early lead from a free kick. With Maidenhead competitive if not indeed the better team in the first half, the second half collapse only served as a final reminder for the home support of a squad that promised so much but couldn't quite deliver. At least the goal led to Erksine winning a deserved man of the match award, recognition for his sterling efforts over the last eighteen months wherever on the pitch, whenever required.
Post match the pleasing shambolic end of season awards took place in a drunken haze, to a backdrop of FA Cup semi-final extra time, Peter Griffin's promise of a free bar if Arsenal score meaning any chance of holding the crowd was lost when ex Magpie Adam Federici became the new Dan Lewis.
Seven days later the positions were reversed when Maidenhead United fans celebrated the end of the season in familiar style. Personally it was simply a blessed relief going to a match on the final day knowing there was absolutely no consequence to the result. Meeting up in Wimbledon proved a good move, as The Alexandra near the station provided an uncharacteristically old school venue for an aperitif, Young's London Stout being served in appositely white striped glasses.
Sadly the Plough opposite the ground was best vacated as soon as a glass could be empied, an enquiry for draught beer being met with a response of "nothing til Monday".
As the game kicked off with the unlikely sight of Wayne Shaw in the Sutton United goal, reportedly sacked after an altercation with an opposition fans the previous season. Naturally just like Jefferson Louis in the last game, former Magpie Dale Binns managed to find the back of the net, but his opening goal proved to be the high point for Sutton as Maidenhead deservedly took the three points with a goal in each half from Harry Pritchard and Stefan Brown respectively.
So the league season ended in 18th place, exactly as it had done twelve months earlier but with a lot less stress. The return to Sutton next season should see an artificial surface in place although that won't alter my view of a ground I never really enjoy visiting, largely I think because of the poor sightlines from any vantage point other than the stand.
In between the two first team games I had taken advantage of the absence of the usual end of season fixture pile up to make my first trip to Ascot United to see the Youth team attempt to reach the League Cup Final.
Ascot's a strange place, the high street dwarfed by the grandstand of the world famous racecourse which dominates the village. Indeed I had to pass under the track to get to the ground which lies inside the course in a bucolic setting, surrounded for the most part by woodland aside from a set of stalls and a furlong marker behind one goal.
I had barely set foot in the ground when I received messages from Mark Smith requesting programmes but it wasn't that sort of occasion. The only team sheet was on a whiteboard next to tea bar serving hot drinks in china mugs. My sort of club.
The match reflected the fact that the teams faced up as Under 17s and Under 18s, the elder Maidenhead eleven showing their physical maturity to make it almost a men against boys contest. A the small, sloping pitch did not lend itself to attractive football and following the initial burst of energy from both sides the match went to form with Maidenhead going into the break two goals ahead.
Kai Walters was at the centre of most attacking Maidenhead play and it was he who dribbled through the Ascot defences to open the scoring and was also thought to have a got a touch to JC Etienne's long throw to the near post which deflected into the net.
In between the goals David Rogalski was brought down in the penalty area but his subsequent spot kick was saved. 
After the break as Graham Aldred warmed up with his flask of soup, Ascot made a good fist of getting back into the game but a combination of a good save from Sam Gray and the post meant that once this counterblast had petered out, Maidenhead ran out easy winners.
Resistance was effectively ended when man of the match Calum Ferguson fed a through ball to Etienne who ran round the keeper to score. Olly McKoy scored a spectacular, if fortunate, fourth with a cross floated in from the left hand touchline before Rogalski took advantage of sharp work from substitute Andy Ali to dispossess the Ascot keeper.
The game wound down against a backdrop of two Ascot mothers, who were evidently from the nursing profession. neatly summing up the moribund election debate with talk of casualisation, immigration and the profit motive in the NHS, with their sons' team eventually scoring a consolation.
This means the Maidenhead boys will playing for a League and Cup double when they contest the final at Windsor against Bracknell on Wednesday. This will be another fine achievement for Sam Lock who has now won silverware for four years. Let's hope the new first team manager will find the trick to developing young talent into first team material.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sunshine and Happiness

A perfunctory 2-0 victory in Somerset secured the Magpies' Conference South status for another season, the fact that this was only the second league win in 2015 and the first away from home since October reflecting a season marking time. Further confirmation of United treading water on the pitch came when consulting the programme post match and noting that the Seagulls had been beaten by an aggregate of 8-2 over the two games against United, and have taken just 1 point out of the last 21, yet remain one place ahead of the Magpies. Thus this was a journey made to Woodspring Park, not so much in a tense frame of mind, as in say 2008, but on the outward leg in expectation, and on the return in satisfaction that planning for the future post Drax can continue in certainty now that prospective managers know for certain which division Maidenhead will be in next season.
Two tightly packed trains heading west necessitated a stroll to the sea front on arrival in search of fish and chips, a strong wind laced with Saharan sand meaning we were happy to catch just the slightest glimpse of the sea before heading for the shelter of the Oxford Corner cafe, whose banquette seating was original rather than retro and therefore came with bargain prices to match. 
A dearth of town centre pubs saw us head back towards the station to the Bristol Hotel for a couple of pints before a taxi ride to Woodspring Park where as usual a warm welcome meant you could walk untrammeled into the ground which although now looking a little worn ten years into its existence had changed since my last visit with a sprinkler system greeting the teams on the pitch, whilst the big terrace behind the goal had sadly been blighted by the seats necessary for the play off challenge the Seagulls had tilted at during the years of over achievement in the charge of manager Craig Laird.
Waiting for kick off I reflected on the slight but necessary improvement I had seen from United in recent weeks.A few days away in Cornwall and work commitments meant that the only football I had seen of any description in mid March was Reading's replay romp to the FA Cup semi-final, beating a one dimensional Bradford City with such ease, as to make the Bantams stupendous third round win at Stamford Bridge mind boggling, in view of the Royals moribund league season.
No Pyro. No Party. Ugly Scenes.
Escape route Vauxhall Road
I returned to York Road for the Gosport game, where Borough's clinical strikeforce of Bennett and Wort meant Maidenhead's pressure was virtually in vain until a late strike from the Golden Tarp, giving if not hope at least a suitably reflective look to the scoreline. The pain of defeat was soon forgotten when it was discovered Farnborough had conceded twice in stoppage time at Bishop's Stortford to stack a 2-0 lead, and guarantee an even more entertaining than usual weekly episode of the Spencer Day post match interview.
Easter weekend saw United turn their good attacking intentions into points. On Saturday I made my first visit to Vauxhall Road, home of Hemel Hempstead Town. Alighting from the rail replacement bus at Apsley the long walk up the hill saw the surroundings become increasingly seamier. It was quite pleasing that the football ground was in the least desirable part of town and was properly non league, the differing structures surrounding the pitch reflecting a piecemeal approach to ground development, although I'm not sure about the Greek statues in the club house. I particularly liked the terrace at the top of the slope behind one goal, although a superb performance from goalkeeper Laurie Walker meant that Maidenhead couldn't hit the back of the net in front of it. 
Bottom of the slope
Top of the slope
Typically Hemel scored on the stroke of half time when lanky striker Oliver Hawkins rose unchallenged to head home. However Maidenhead redoubled their efforts after half time, Stefan Brown shaking off the curse of my player sponsorship to score his first goal for the club and deservedly equalise, a last ditch save by the feet of Ashley Timms securing the point. 
My chauffeur driven coach
The sole occupant of the rail replacement coach returning to London, I was satisfied with the point, confident that the rumours of financial strife emanating from Bromley would lead to us taking something from the game on Easter Monday. Not that I imagined the eight goal thriller that would ensue. 
The Bromley match was comfortably the best game of the season, it was just a shame that the quality of the Maidenhead goals contrasted with the clumsiness of those conceded. At least Tarpey's exocet equaliser was just reward for the timewasting tactics of the champions elect.
With Farnborough continuing to lose, in theory a point was required by the Magpies at Weston although in practice, the Hampshire club would relegate themselves. Nevertheless United strolled to a comfortable win thanks to a Dave Tarpey goal at the beginning of each half. 
Maidenhead took the lead in the eleventh minute. A lively Stefan Brown had already fired in two shots on goal to serve notice of the Magpies' intention before the extra power Tarpey was able to apply meant goalkeeper Dan Jackson was beaten for the first time. Six minutes later Tarpey beat him again with a rasping volley, only to be denied by the underside of the crossbar. With Danny Green unable to capitalise on free kicks around the penalty area, the second of which was surely for a foul committed inside the box. the lead remained a slender one but one that was never really challenged by the home team. Indeed the biggest threat to a win for Maidenhead came after half an hour when play was suspended by the referee. 
The action halted for no perceptible reason, the mere position of the referee by the dugouts suggesting something untoward was going on. A man standing behind us who turned out to be the groundsman was beckoned to the front where he was informed of a hole on his pitch. Worries that the players might start to disappear before our eyes were soon allayed when it became apparent that one of the sprinkler caps had popped open, so after a short delay play continued.
Logic channels Rodin's thinker
Within a minute of the restart, Maidenhead doubled their lead virtually from the kick off. Some neat passing across the midfield found Tarpey free in space on the left and he made no mistake with his shot from just inside the box to cue a synchronised celebration from myself and Russ.
From this point on the only threat to the lead came when Elvijs fell awkwardly following a collision with one of his defence, but he recovered, going on to save well from George King's shot from distance. In the meantime Maidenhead had been given a man advantage when Jake Mawford departed early for a second caution, the sunshine and end of season happiness allowing the game to play itself out quietly and a chance to congratulate Benjy Downster on his fine new flag.
The train ride home provided an opportunity to ponder the future at York Road, on and off the pitch, with my bold pre match prediction that Drax would repeat his feat of 2008 and close the season with a manager of the month award given further traction by the result. Something to play for before the season closes with the Berks & Bucks Cup final on May Day.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Wood leave Magpies Shakin' all over

The start of March has seen the return of the annual Maidenhead United spring slump with the prospect of a relegation fight growing with each defeat. The visits of Whitehawk and Boreham Wood promised to be nothing less than difficult. Last Saturday the Sussex club, perhaps scarred by a defeat in the reverse fixture by the odd goal in seven back in October, set themselves up to give nothing away, relying on their ability to counter attack at speed. This approach worked perfectly with two breakaways leading to two goals (the latter by way of a corner) and the game was won by half time. They were every bit the professional outfit in the second half, completely suffocating Maidenhead's attacking play, with Sergio Torres throwing himself to the floor with alacrity to raise my blood pressure.
Boreham Wood have a much more laudable method to building success than their big spending promotion chasing rivals from Sussex. The previous week someone tapped me on the shoulder, asking to look at the teamsheet. It turned out he was a Crawley fan and together with David Hunt playing for the Magpies, reportedly half a dozen Red Devils were on show, which perhaps explains their imminent slide back to the basement division of the Football League and Whitehawk's high placing.
Wood on the other hand run on a much more sustainable model, clever too, employing players as coaches on their various academy/PASE schemes, with I guess the contract including a requirement to turn out for the first team. Just a shame they don't do so much work in the local community to boost crowds to watch their stylish team. The reverse fixture in Hertfordshire was probably the best I have seen in the division all season, end to end stuff, with Maidenhead denied at the last, as indeed they were the last time the clubs met at York Road with the only goal of the game coming in stoppage time.
Sadly history repeated itself again yesterday with a valiant Maidenhead performance unable to overcome the ever vigilant goalkeeping of Wood's James Russell. The introduction of Junior Morias and Matthew Whichelow midway through the second half being the catalyst to tip the balance in favour of the visitors with a late goal taking all three points, delivering on Ian Allinson's plan, which he revealed to me after the game, to win ugly.
Maidenhead were much more potent than last Saturday, which was probably due to the return from injury of Adrian Clifton, whose presence in an attacking midfield position always seems to give the team an extra bit of oomph going forward. Clifton was the creator of Maidenhead's best chance, which came in the third minute when his driving run on the left hand side of the penalty areas drew defenders towards him, giving Tyrell Miller-Rodney the space to set himself for a shot on the edge of the six yard box which was brilliantly blocked by Russell.
Wood shook off this early scare to dominate the first half but despite sending a succession of first rate balls across the face of the Maidenhead goal, did not unduly trouble Ashley Timms, aside from a Daryl McMahon effort which Timms pushed round the post. This left the referee as the centre of attention, his decisions, whilst not game changing, certainly raising the ire of the spectators.
After the break, Wood continued where they had left off, Timms again saving well from McMahon, but the Magpies soon got on the front foot, enjoying their best spell of the game. Rodney again forced a good save from Russell around the hour mark so visiting manager Allinson decided it was time unleash his talent from the bench sending Morias and Whichelow into the fray in the games' final third.
With nine minutes to go Wood swiftly counter attacked, Lee Angol playing in Morias on goal. Timms rushed out to make a good save, but the ball ran loose and Ricky Shakes pounced on it to score. There was time left for United to salvage something from the game and deep into stoppage time, Timms joined the attack, floating a free kick deep to the far post. Tarpey eluded his marker to get a shot in but Russell was equal to it to seal the win for the visitors.
The defeat leaves the Magpies wondering where the next point will come from, a first ever win required over Concord on Tuesday night ahead of daunting trips to Ebbsfleet and Chelmsford.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Hawks winded by Tarpey

A happy trip to Hampshire has prompted me to end my winter break from this blog to report on a decent day out to the south coast which fairly represented the football I have seen so far from Maidenhead United in 2015 with a draw which ended with both teams feeling they may have taken all three points and therefore perhaps being the best result all told. 
Thus a sequence continued which began on New Years Day when a fantastic finish by DJ Campbell (now training with the Nottinghamshire branch of the Magpies) from a cross whipped in at pace from Adrian Clifton (whose driving influence in the midfield has been much missed since he has been sidelined with a knee injury) gave Maidenhead an early lead over tenants Hayes and Yeading. HAYU fought back to earn a point as did Bath City a few days later when they held onto a one goal deficit in the face of a first half onslaught from the Magpies before turning the tables after the break. 
A pulsating FA Trophy tie saw the number of goals scored doubled but still shared as super subs David Tarpey and Reece Tison-Lascaris turned a potential defeat into victory before 10 man Farnborough scored a last gasp equaliser. A potentially historic board meeting meant I didn't have to suffer the replay defeat but misery followed at the weekend with a comprehensive defeat at York Road at the hands of struggling Bishop's Stortford. 
The weather intervened to break up the relentless stream of matches at HQ interrupted by what was now becoming a very familiar result this time in fractious circumstances in a tetchy draw with St. Albans characterised by two ill disciplined dismissals which sadly led to the departure from the club of Tison-Lascaris.
A odd game at Basingstoke saw sloppy defending in the opening stages at the Camrose see United concede two goals to make the two well worked goals scored at the other end, as a third sealed the points for the home team, a 3-3 draw only being prevented by a string of good saves by the home keeper, his woodwork doing the job when he was beaten.
IIlness meant I didn't see the County Cup semi-final win over Chesham. No news yet on the final date or venue although I understand Amy Lane is the appropriate favourite to host the game against Bedfordshire based Aylesbury United, depending on the Generals play off fortunes. It appears a falling out with the Chairboys means the game won't be at Wycombe. Personally I would like the game to be played at Marlow in a repeat of the 1997 Isthmian Full Members Cup Final.
Three points were won for the first time in 2015 last weekend, in an exciting game against Chelmsford City where a superlative performance from Ashley Timms meant the Clarets were unable to turn their dominance into goals whilst his opposite number's inability to hold on to a couple of shots meant Maidenhead were able to pick the pocket of the visitors. 
I was gladly sitting in a warm pub in Cornwall when the Magpies were humbled 3-0 at York Road by Basingstoke in midweek, a result which left United in a thoroughly disappointing 17th position. Unlike previous seasons the quality of bottom markers Farnborough and Staines is such that the relegation places may well be set in stone with perhaps only homeless HAYU offering hope of an escape thus as Drax was quoted as saying in the Advertiser recently we may well continue plodding along to the end of the season  with a County Cup final to finish rather as used to happen at the start the century.
As long as Saturdays are like yesterday I'll settle for that after a decade of promotion and relegation fights as both teams contested a decent game on a sticky surface, the final score of 1-1 carrying on the 2015 trend of draws which hitherto had been at York Road.
An easy journey down to Westleigh Park, with the only distress coming when a solo Magpie came into view, saw me met by the sight of the new Pub, naturally called the Westleigh which has been developed out of the existing clubhouse. Sited next to a large housing estate and industrial estate this seems to be a sensible move to provide a steady stream of revenue for a club, ably managed off the pitch by ex Hampshire wicketkeeper Adrian Aymes, and on it by Lee Bradbury, with the Hawks for once making a sustained attempt at promotion after so many seasons flattering to deceive. They'd not been helped by a troublesome playing surface due to drainage problems which had commonly led to a fixture pile up. The purchase of a £25,000 pitch cover to ensure the FA Cup tie against Preston North End would be screened on TV in November, was continuing to pay dividends, yesterday's game going ahead against a background of postponements across the non league programme in the south of England.
Havant & Waterlooville must win the title of the biggest transformation since the Conference South started in 2004. All four sides have been redeveloped, along now with the new pub. Innovation has now even extended to an A6 sized programme which accurately fits the description of pocket sized.
Maidenhead took to the pitch in rather different shape to which they had started the year starting with goalkeeper Ashley Timms. In front of a defence of Van Der Hyde, Nisbet, Downer and Solomon, sat new signing David Hunt in a midfield holding role. Hunt's arrival had prompted a couple of admiring messages from sources at two of his former clubs in Oxford and Orient, with his home in the St. Marks area of the town perhaps enabling the Magpies to sign him from under the noses of Conference front runners Barnet with whom Hunt had been playing for on loan from the Us.
Hunt's presence at the base of midfield gave more freedom to Upward and Nicholls to go forward to complement wingers Green and Tarpey, and lone striker Strutton.
Havant took the early initiative, dominating the early stages, but a patient approach which saw the central defenders remain very deep throughout saw the absence of the high tempo which had seen Chelmsford threaten to blow Maidenhead away seven days previously. Thus Timms was not unduly troubled and increasingly Green and Tarpey began to utilise the space in front of the home defence. 
This ultimately led to the game's opening goal but Maidenhead had already showed they had a goal in them as early as the twelfth minute when Tarpey's corner was headed down by Strutton to Nisbet whose shot was cleared off the line by Warren Cummings. The attempt lifted the spirits of the Magpies behind the goal which were also helped by a bizarre rant by the goalkeeper following the corner as he screamed offside at the linesman oblivious to the fact that his teammate Cummings on the line made this an impossibility.
Tarpey gave notice he was going to continue his excellent scoring record, only being defeated by the sticky surface when well placed. He then cashed in nine minutes ahead of the interval when a trademark mazy run through the midfield by Green was finished by a beautifully weighted pass to Tarpey's whose shot delightfully nutmegged the goalkeeper en route to the back of the net. This was much to the delight of a local transvestite who was keen to lend his support to United.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with Havant taking the upper hand. This time their pressure led to a goal as the hour mark approached when a cross to the far post was met unchallenged by the head of Daniel Blanchett to score. 
At this point I was expecting Havant to go for the jugular but they continued with their measured approach to the game, Maidenhead happily taking the opportunity to get on the front foot to create the chances to restore their lead. This came closest with fourteen minutes remaining when Upward unselfishly squared the ball to Tarpey on the penalty spot. The left winger took care to take the pace off the ball to avoid a reaction save by the keeper but as the ball bounced over the prone custodian he managed to get something on the ball and divert it over the crossbar.
The departure of Leon Solomon for a second yellow card then gave Havant fresh impetus with the entry onto the field of play of JJ Hooper leading me to fear he would continue his goalscoring run against United which started last season with Farnborough. That he didn't was down to an amazing one handed reaction save by Timms to save his back heeled volley in the 87th minute. Maidenhead then saw out the game for another draw founded on the security Hunt gave the team in front of the defence ensuring the quality of Tarpey's strike was worthy of point at least.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Jacob levels cracker of a match

Football at Christmas seems to have converted even sceptics like Arsene Wenger and the three games I saw over the festive period demonstrated why, as they provided a more entertaining spectacle than you would usually expect of a Saturday afternoon at other times of the year.
The first two at Arsenal and Harrow (for Hendon v Wingate & Finchley) were characterised by unforced errors and indiscipline which in the former allowed QPR a sniff of a point in a game where they were woeful for 80 minutes, whilst in the latter Hendon were gifted the points as Wingate & Finchley's enterprising forward play was let down by sloppy defending. All in all I saw three red cards, four penalties (two scored, two saved) and seven goals, the pick of which was a delightful curling chip from outside the penalty area by Wingate & Finchley's Karl Oliyide. The best was saved til last though as Sunday's trip to Eastbourne to see the Magpies was rewarded with an outstanding game of football typified by opening attacking play. 2-2 was a fair result as although both teams could have won, any further score would have seen one snatch the three points to the other's chagrin.
All the action over the three games could have only been helped by the coincidence of Christmas with I'm sure players rushing around to see family and friends, if only over indulging a little, and the wet weather producing heavy pitches which must have sapped the energy further to open the play up more than is usual.
The final game down in Sussex was of course the second in three days for both clubs, with Drax managing his squad well to cover those not quite fit to go again. This involved Harry Pritchard coming in at left back, with Leon Solomon moving over to his preferred right back slot, allowing Devante McKain to replace Simon Downer in the centre of defence. In midfield Ashley Nicholls replaced Ryan Upward whilst Jacob Erskine got a rare run out upfront, replacing DJ Campbell. Finally Reece Tison-Lascaris came in on the left wing for Dave Tarpey.
Both managers set up their teams in an enterprising fashion, which from the kick off led to an open game which swung from end to end for ninety minutes. Overlapping full backs meant the home team practically defended with three at the back which was met smartly by United's 4-3-3 formation which saw Green and Tison-Lascaris pin the defence back, feeding off the powerful presence of Erskine at centre forward.
Fired up by a Boxing Day defeat at south coast rivals Whitehawk, Eastbourne drew first blood by taking the lead in the fourteenth minute. Will Britt managed to tip a Frankie Raymond shot over the bar but from the resulting corner on the left by Simon Johnson, Gavin McCallum headed in. However having seen signs of vulnerability already in the home defence, the goal only served to push United harder in search of an equaliser.
The pace of Tison-Lascaris was the chief worry for the home defence, and the winger went close to a goal when breaking clear only for goalkeeper Lewis Carey to deflect it wide for a corner, from which McKain had a header cleared off the line by Johnson. It was then Green's turn to go one on one but a hesistation to check for an offside flag saw the chance lost.
The equaliser finally came just after the half hour mark when a long kick forward by Britt caused chaos in the Borough box, Tison-Lascaris taking advantage of Carey going awol to whip in a ball across the face of the six yard box which Marvin Hamilton could only turn into his own net.
Despite the game returning to level terms the desire of both teams to attack was not quenched and a topsy turvy game continued with the second half essentially a replica of the first.
So it was that Eastbourne regained their lead within six minutes of the restart when Britt could only parry a shot from Dean Sinclair, McCallum sweeping home the loose ball. The Magpies were level again by the hour mark when a Tison-Lascris cross was powered in by the head of Erskine.
The big forward then almost won the game from Maidenhead as he manfully stood shoulder to shoulder with defender Matt Aldred, staying on his feet to unleash a powerful shot from distance which was pushed wide by a fully stretched Carey.
At the other end it was the tricky wing play of McCallum which was giving the United defence the most problems, to the extent that Sports boss Tommy Widdrington could afford to leave strikers Richard Pacquette and Kane Haysman on the bench. Still it was United who almost had the last word when deep into stoppage time substitute Lanre Azeez fired in shot from the right which was pushed behind by Carey. From the corner Maidenhead elected to keep the ball in the corner and the final whistle soon blew.
The outcome was fair to both teams with perhaps Maidenhead feeling they could have snatched the three points although Eastbourne enjoyed the lion's share of the play in the final third of the match.
The result once again reflected Maidenhead's resilience away from home, but any FA Trophy replay aside there will be no trips away from York Road until February, so its in SL6 that the Magpies must cash in and power up into the top half of the table.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Elvijs dives way down to save Maidenhead

I really don't know what to make of yesterday. Farnborough should have completed taking six points off Maidenhead for the season on the balance of play and chances, even if you disregard the last minute save. Yet it wouldn't have surprised me if Maidenhead had completed a smash and grab victory against the odds on a eerie afternoon played out in front of the lowest crowd I have ever seen at Cherrywood Road (reportedly accurately as 250) and in the second half a beautiful sunset which captivated everyone where I was standing as Farnborough laid siege to the Maidenhead goal at the other end.
To be honest I could have happily stayed in the Prince of Wales all afternoon, a wonderful pub located amongst the town's seemingly endless suburban sprawl (where do people go shopping in these parts?). Two pints of Hophead went down very nicely and I was seriously contemplating the Dark Star Espresso Stout before duty called and we headed off to the match.
Walking completely unchallenged through the complimentary ticket entrance I emerged into the ground Mr. Benn style before shuffling across the face of the still not quite finished big stand to join the few who had travelled from Maidenhead under the covered terraced. Sadly we had to share this part of the ground with the local version of the Archbishop of Banterbury and his guffawing mates (sample quip when Reece Tison-Lascaris was receiving treatment "put him down").
Fortunately there was enough action for this to be only a minor irritation in a half which was characterised by individual defensive errors by Maidenhead United providing enough opportunities for Farnborough to have won the game by the interval.
By keeping two banks of four close together Farnborugh were able to suffocate most of Maidenhead's early attacking endeavours whilst by contrast the space afforded the home team in the middle helped them to force a number of errors as the United defence attempted to recover the situation.
Farnborough took the lead in the eighth minute. Some neat interplay on the left finished with a Michael Richens shot rattling the cross bar. A misplaced clearance by Ryan Upward saw possession return to Farnborough and Dan Bennett got in front of Simon Downer at the near post to head in Louis Theophanous' cross from the right.
Despite this setback Maidenhead began to get to grips with the opposition and once the midpoint of the half was reached they gave as good as they got and were unfortunate not to get a penalty when Ashley Nicholls went down following contact from a defender. This was quickly forgotten when a ball forward by Downer was met by an exchange of passes by Tison-Lascaris and Campbell, the latter scoring with an unstoppable shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Having got back on level terms, Maidenhead showed plenty of attacking threat, winning a series of corners, a Danny Green long shot exposing the poor handling of goalkeeper Dillon Barnes who fumbled the ball wide. However it was Farnborough who went closest to scoring a second before the interval. This was particularly true of a Duncan Culley header who capitalised on a clearance by Elvijs Putnins which was blocked at close range. With Putnins unable to clear the loose ball Culley headed goalward with Putnins somehow managing to scramble back an scrape the ball off the line. More of the same was to follow before half time, a loose pass from Devante McKain gave Harry Grant a chance which he put narrowly wide whilst when Downer was caught in possession Phil Page charged forward with the ball but couldn't quite take it round Putnins who was able to block his shot behind for a corner. The set piece saw Putnins make a flying one handed save from Page but the Latvian saved his best for the second half.
Johnson Hippolyte used half time to shore up the Maidenhead midfield by replacing Tison-Lascaris with Eddie Hutchison which certainly did the trick and had a Campbell effort soon after the restart not been cleared off the line by Lloyd Foot a classic smash and grab raid could have occurred. This made the next intervention of Putnins even more essential as he made the save of the match. A deep cross from the right hand touch line one was met by the head of Page, Putnins sinking like a stone to save the ball on the line.
This set the tone for the half as Farnborough continually tried and failed to find a way to score, whilst Maidenhead threatened the odd breakaway the best of which saw Green combine with Campbell to fire in a shot which Barnes could only Parry. 
With one minute left on the clock it seemed Farnborough had at last made the breakthrough when Theophanous went to ground under pressure from Leon Solomon but it appears that the weight of his rumoured £7,000 price tag was too much to bear as he was unable to give his penalty kick the necessary power and direction to beat Putnins who dived to his right and just about held on to the ball to seal his man of the match award.
So can't grumble with a point, but United really need to cash in on the run of home games coming up with just two points taken from the last fifteen, four of those games being away. 
There was time for a swift pint in the Thatched Cottage on the way back to the station as news filtered through of a series of tweets on the official Farnborough timeline which lacked class. At least we could ponder the karmic retribution of their blank Boxing Day thanks to Salisbury's demise, a just reward for the farce created by the Hampshire club at the start of the previous season which had led to a raft of unnecessary postponements.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

True Britt shows True Grit

One of the major attractions of sport whether you are participant or spectator is the way in which it tests character. As a chiefly escapist pursuit it provides a relatively safe environment for a participant to lose themselves and see if they fight or flee when challenged under pressure. The spectator is left to play the role of chorus, as supporter to keep the participant going or to play a pantomime role putting him off.
Football sees this taken to the extreme where the final whistle usually signals merely the end of the beginning as rolling news and social media squeeze hours if not days of coverage out of any incident in which a player is shown to be fallible. 
Within the squad it's the goalkeeper who runs the greatest risk of being made to look at fault due to his mistakes most likely leading to a goal for the opposition. Thus the greats in this position tend to be known for their courage, composure and individuality.
Maidenhead United's Will Britt clearly is thought by many to have a big future in the professional game. He won the FA Youth Cup with Norwich (beating Chelsea in the final) and was subsequently snapped up by Premier League Southampton. His performances since arriving at York Road were consistent in that  they regularly showed signs of a talent that was above that commonly seen at Conference South level, particularly his flying saves and athletic blocks. Then he had a shocker last week against Ebbsfleet United.
In a game which saw Ebbsfleet slightly in the ascendancy but little improved from the outfit which the Magpies took four points from last season, the first half look set to finish goalless until with six minutes remaining a Daryl McMahon free kick from the right hand touchline wormed its way unimpeded inside Britt's near post. Then ironically with only six minutes gone of the second half Anthony Cook ran clear, only for Britt to hesitate in coming out to challenge him, ultimately electing to remain inside his penalty area and bring Cook down with the inevitable result a red card.
With Drax deciding not to name a sub keeper it was left to captain Mark Nisbet to step up and take the number 1 shirt, almost saving Billy Bricknell's penalty. The central defender then let a Chris Sessegnon cross slip through his hands for a third goal, astonishingly incurring the wrath of a long time specatator who berated the centre back for his goalkeeping skills, before Matt Godden completed the scoring to end a day to forget for the Magpies.
Due to the two week hiatus for suspensions to become effective at this level Britt was back between the sticks yesterday for the visit of Poole Town in the FA Trophy. Poole currently lead the Southern League but given the hard job they made of dispatching the woeful Staines Town it didn't feel like the tie had the makings of an upset despite United's poor recent league form. Nevertheless nothing could be left to chance so it was time to dig out my lucky black and white woolly hat to make sure.
Travelling up with the Dolphins was Maidenhead United's stalwart supporter Dave Popejoy, who since moving down to the south coast had joined Town's back room team in time for their charge from the Wessex League to the top of the Southern.
With Devante McKain and Leon Solomon fit again, Jacob Erskine and Bobby Behzadi returned to the bench, allowing Simon Downer to move back to his more usual role in the centre of defence. Ryan Upward replaced a flu ridden Eddie Hutchinson in midfield, whilst Reece Tison-Lascaris replaced an injured Adrian Clifton playing off the shoulder of front man DJ Campbell. The rare inclusion of Tison-Lascaris was a ploy to expose the two towering Poole centre backs, however it wasn't until the striker was substituted that United scored twice, late in the second half to win the tie. 
The opening stages saw both sides attacking with purpose, Poole perhaps marginally shading the play although they were lucky not to concede a penalty in the eleventh minute when Lewis Tallack clearly pushed over Dave Tarpey in the penalty area. This was an exaggerated two handed push, not one of Alan Shearer's coming togethers, or a Diego Da Costa bump into you then fall over, but the referee ignored the incident and the game continued.
As the half drew on Maidenhead posed the biggest threat to the deadlcok with Town goalkeeper Nick Hutchings making saves of increasing difficulty from DJ Campbell, Ryan Upward and Danny Green. Thus it was frustrating that having weathered the early Poole storm, Maidenhead went into the break one goal down when Jack Moloney capitalised on some lax defending with two minutes to go to half time and poked the ball inside Britt's near post. If Poole had been playing in red rather than a rather awful mauve change affair, it would have clearly been a case of deja vu for Maidenhead United given the similar situation seven days earlier.
After the break though Maidenhead showed renewed purpose and Tarpey almost went clear on goal only to be brought down, the Poole defender lucky to stay on the pitch as the foul came before Tarpey could flick the ball into space to present the referee with an open and shut case. Green drew another good save from Hutchings from the resulting free kick but the focus of the game swiftly switched to the other end as Poole dominated and did everything but extend their lead.
Initially this was due to the woodwork when a Luke Roberts shot hit the post then Marvin Brooks hit the crossbar after he was first to the loose ball. Green then cleared off the line but it was Britt who stole the show with a string of saves to keep United in the tie and restore his reputation.
Meanwhile at the other end Maidenhead set about levelling the score. The Bell Street End were most vocal in the denunciation of Drax's decision to replace Tison-Lascaris with Tashan Adeyinka, but the manager proved he knew what he was doing when a driving run from the substitute was only half cleared to McKain who drilled his shot from outside the penalty area over the heads of the defence but under the crossbar.
As the Bell Street End apologised with a round of "Johnson give us a wave" Maidenhead then had a stroke of luck when Harrison Gilkes, who had showed flashes of his father Michael's talent on the left wing, stretched a bit too far and had to go off with a hamstring injury. His absence was ruthlessly exploited by Drax who switched Tarpey onto the right, with substitute Sam Barratt a more than able deputy on the left. With one minute of normal time remaining Campbell got his head to a long ball forward to direct it into the right channel where Tarpey was waiting to collect it, steaming into the area and firing the ball home in trademark fashion. 
Appropriately though it was Britt who sealed the win with an acrobatic save to deny James Whisken an equaliser deep into injury time. 
Thus Britt proved his character with a man of the match performance in a game which also showed that the best time to judge a manager is at the end of the 90 minutes although of course it was my lucky hat which deserves the most credit.

The Saints aren't coming

Travelling up to Scotland to see the Who start what is billed as their farewell tour I used my free Saturday afternoon to take in the local game where I was staying in Perth. Fortunately this was the date of the Scottish Cup when the top division clubs join the competition and holders St. Johnstone would begin their defence of the trophy won for the first time in a May with a home tie against Ross County.
A long queue for the bus to the ground suggested that the multitudes of Perth would be returning to salute their cup heroes, however most of the passengers alighted in the neighbouring suburb of Tulloch before we reached the ring road and headed across the car park towards the bright lights of McDiarmid Park. 
Even having left the city centre as late as 2.15 there was plenty of time to join the short queue to pay my reduced £20 admission, pick up a £2 programme, a mince bridie and a bovril before I found a free seat on the popular side ready to greet the teams as they rather incongruously emerged to the sound of Neil Diamond singing Sweet Caroline.
With a gaggle of away fans corralled in the far corner of the main stand, and both ends totally closed to specatators it was rather an inauspicious occasion to commence the defence of such an august achievement, but one which was sadly expected following an earlier conversation on my train journey north. A father and son had spotted me reading the Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund programme and were full of questions about the game with follow ups about the general state of affairs in N5. This reflected a fascination with football north of the border which is every bit as natural as that in England. However it appears the Premier League now predominates to even the detriment of the once great equivalent in Scotland. On investigation the pair had enjoyed odd trips south of the border to the likes of Old Trafford but today would be going to Perth only to see a promotional Coca-Cola truck. A small window on a problem which appears to translate on the pitch in terms of young talent with perhaps Wales now ahead of the Scots in international terms thanks to their clubs involvement in the Premier League,
My theory was given further credence in a entertaining game which lacked quality, the star of both teams owing their career to English clubs, supplementing many of their team mates with Football League experience on their CV.
However with St Johnstone racing into a two goal lead before I had finished my Bovril, it initially looked like a walk in the park for the Saintees. Michael O'Halloran opened the scoring when he picked up the ball after it ran loose from a James McFadden free kick. The linesman raised his flag when the ball hit the back of the net but this was waved away by the referee. McFadden then showed his class to double the score with a shot from distance.
At this point the County defence was in disarray, partly due to playing Wolves loanee Jamie Reckord at left back when he was clearly more comfortable in a more advanced role but any thoughts of a rout faded as the away team clawed their way back into the game and started to expose St. Johnstone's own defensive shortcomings.
A goal now seemed likely at either end, but fortunately for the sake of my entertainment St. Johnstone didn't convert one of many chances that came their way before half time. The teams returned after the interval to the much more appropriate sound of Skids and the end to end game continued.

Midway through the second half Ross County pulled a goal back with the move of the match. The referee judiciously played an advantage after an eye watering tackle on Liam Boyce, Ross moving the ball forward with speed to find Jake Jervis up front who topped off the move with a fine finish.
Both teams now went all out to score, with the lion's share of the chances falling to St. Johnstone who spurned a number of one on ones before deservedly running out 2-1 winners. Sadly only just over two thousand people watched the game, a Conference level crowd for one of the top teams in the land. Those that did go were largely passive (one woman sat a few rows ahead of me spent the game knitting) and its clear that Scottish football is badly in need of a shot in the arm to restore it to its former glories.