So a trip to Gosport has once again provided the coda to the Magpies opening season burst of good form. Central defender Simon Downer was perhaps the key absentee in the two Bank Holiday weekend defeats, nevertheless on balance 7 points was a welcome return from what looked like a testing set of five fixtures from the start of the season.
On Saturday Hemel Hemsptead made their first trip to York Road for 8 years following their Southern League title win last April. The Tudors had not made the best of starts to their first Conference South campaign but on Saturday showed many of the qualities of a champion team on the pitch as well as some interesting sartorial choices off it.
The first half was fairly even with the crucial action being two top drawer saves by Hemel goalkeeper Laurie Walker. Around the half an hour mark he had to be on his best form to firstly deny an Ashley Nicholls volley from the edge of the penalty area, and then a Reece Tison-Lascaris effort from close range. The second save was the pick of the two as Lascaris took the time and space created by his pace to pick his spot but Walker steadfastly refused to go to ground and stretched out a hand to scrape the ball away to safety.
Hemel had made regular forays into the United half but seemed to become preoccupied by the performance of the referee and their perception of his lenient treatment of Jacob Erskine as three Tudor players were booked by the interval.
Emerging from the dressing room for the second half, the phrase "keep a clean sheet" was repeated by the away team to the extent of virtually sounding like a mantra, and it was their defensive discipline which proved to be the foundation of their eventual win. Maintaining a tight offside trap, Maidenhead quickly ran out of attacking ideas and the increasing use of Leon Solomon's pace on the wing as a forward option led to a gap opening on the left side of the United defence.
With captain Jordan Parkes running the midfield efficiently this opportunity was exploited twice to give Hemel an unassailable lead with fifteen minutes to go. Oliver Hawkins led the line impressively for Hemel forcing Elvijs Putnins to palm his header off the line seven minutes into the second half. The tall striker then showed some deft skill to play in forward partner James Simmonds with a defence splitting pass which Simmonds collected in space to convert for the opening goal of the game.
By this point Maidenhead's own big front man Tashan Adeyinka had entered the fray, his debut since receiving international clearance from the Finnish FA, but he was well marshalled by central defenders Kieran Murphy and Jorell Johnson. Hopes of a Magpie comeback were then dashed when Johnson rose highest to head home at the far post, connecting with a Daniel Talbot free kick from the right wing.
Hemel went onto show some less appealing qualities of a champion team thanks to Murphy's whining, all round tasting and some unneccessary abuse from the bench (is there any need to call the referee a "fucking cheat" when you're 2-0 up in stoppage time?).
All in all a deserved victory for the visitors and a reminder for Maidenhead that every point in this division has to be hard earned.
Travelling to Bromley on Monday, the main opponent to a result of any kind looked to be the incessant rain. The spray kicked up by every touch of the ball seemed to increase throughout the first half but the rain waned in the second half to remove any doubt that the game would finish.
Bromley very firmly give the impression that they are a club fully intent on promotion to the Conference Premier, from a professional but warm welcome off the pitch, to the massive investment on it which gave the squad list something of a Conference South Galacticos air to it.
The highest quality of attack though came from the Magpies starting from within minutes of the kick off. Stefan Brown, who had missed the game of Saturday with food poisoning, forced goalkeeper Seb Brown to tip a long range shot over the bar, and soon had another effort from distance well saved.
Once again though it was the inability to keep it tight at the back which proved to be United's downfall. Adam Birchall picked up a loose touch from Erskine, the star striker moving the ball quickly via Moses Ademola to Ali Fuseini on the right side of the penalty area, Fuseini using the time and space afforded him to beat Putnins with an accomplished finish.
With Erskine having earlier blocked an Ademola effort from point blank range there were fears on the away terrace that this might spark a deluge to rival the weather and last season's 6-1 thrashing at Hayes Lane. Within two minutes though Maidenhead had levelled the score with a goal to rival any I have seen following Maidenhead United. Receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the penalty area, Eddie Hutchinson audaciously flicked the ball over his shoulder in the style of Dennis Bergkamp, to beat his marker before firing the ball into the back of the net through Brown's legs.
The goal gave Maidenhead all the encouragement they needed to make their mark on the game and midway through the half the ball was in the back of the Bromley net once more thanks to a fatal touch from Ugo Udoji only for the referee to chalk the goal off due to an obvious push on the defender by Dave Tarpey. Strangely the referee saw nothing wrong with a similar challenge from an opposite source in the same part of the pitch a few minutes later.
Deep into stoppage time United shot themselves in the foot, undoing their hardwork by conceding a goal on the stroke of half time. A Joe Anderson free kick from the left wing saw Ademola rise without impediment just inside the penalty area to loop a header into the top corner.
Bromley then repeated the trick just ahead of the hour mark to seemingly seal the three points when Anderson, this time from the right, floated his free kick across the penalty area where it was met by Danny Waldren to score with his head.
Soon after Mark Nisbet limped off to leave Maidenhead missing 75% of their first choice backline, but the Hayes Lane ground always seem to bring the best out of the Magpies and they did not stint in their efforts to get back into the game. This bore fruit when a driving run from Danny Green enabled Tarpey and Stefan Brown to exchange passes in the Bromley area, Tarpey finishing the move with a tidy finish.
Following the goal Maidenhead sustained their pressure with a series of set pieces but were unable to find an equaliser before Bromley took advantage of United's need to attack when they broke quickly, substitutes Reece Prestedge combining with Jamie Slabber to enable the latter to score a fourth goal and make the final scoreline appear a little lopsided.
The goal ended a frustrating afternoon for the Magpies when they showed that they have the quality going forward to compete with the best the division has to offer. Next week the top priority has to be achieving a first clean sheet of the season.