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.

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.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Absolute shower in Bath

The Bath goalkeeper cuts a lone figure in his own half
An away day in Bath is always a pleasure if only because of the beautiful scenery and general ambience of the city and its suburb of Twerton where the ground is based. Results however have conformed to a pattern that has long become exasperating. Maidenhead United played Team Bath three times in Somerset and won every time, despite the opposition being a superior league opponent on each occasion. Sadly those results are fast fading in the memory and therefore its the Magpies 100% losing record against Bath City on their home turf which was the first thing that came to mind when previewing the fixture.
Who knows why this is. Maybe its a joke being played on the travelling Magpies who have seen the team in black and white stripes win on every visit. In previous years a defeat was generally seen as the most likely result given the two teams relative positions but this season with Bath struggling a little more than usual, and Maidenhead in fine form away from home in the league hopes were high that the losing sequence could be broken with at least a draw.
The return of DJ Campbell and Simon Downer to the starting eleven furthered boosted hopes but as it turned out it was the absence of midfield talisman Adrian Clifton through suspension which had the biggest impact on the United performance on an afternoon where it felt like if it could go wrong it did.
From the kick off Maidenhead attacked, Danny Green's effort going over the bar, and that proved to be pretty much it for the Magpies in terms of chances to score, on an afternoon where the paucity of their performance was only matched by that of referee Chris O'Donnell.
Once Maidenhead's optimistic early burst of enterprise had blown itself out Bath took charge, serving notice on the United goal when Frankie Artus had an effort cleared off the line by Devante McKain. With Downer fit again, McKain resumed his role in midfield as a defensive screen but it was his counterpart in the Bath team Chas Hemmings who stole the show managing to both protect his defence and regularly set up attacks by firing passes deep into either corner. This was the hallmark of Bath's performance, disciplined defence and simple forward play which was capitalised on by strikers Dave Pratt and Nick McCootie who worked like trojans to fetch the ball from wide positions to create opportunities to score.
It was this tactic which set up the game's opening goal when Andy Watkins cut in from the right to shoot. Goalkeeper Will Britt dealt with the shot pushing the ball wide across the face of the goal only for the onrushing Leon Solomon to head the ball into his own net.
Bath were not shy to capitalise on their good fortune, Mark Nisbet being forced to clear off the line, and then McCootie forcing a good save from Britt. In the meantime Maidenhead lost their topscorer Dave Tarpey who was bundled over by a clumsy challenge from Artus which would have looked more in place at the City's famous rugby club. After receiving treatment, Tarpey was helped off ultimately to hospital with a suspected dislocated shoulder, his pain added to by moronic jeers at his plight from the home supporters in the paddock in front of the main stand. Maybe their view of the incident was unclear give the lack of first half floodlights on a gloomy afternoon.
Freeloaders
After the break Maidenhead showed signs of a recovery but all was lost when Bath doubled their lead just after the hour mark when McCootie applied a fine finish to Pratt's cross from the right. Within minutes Maidenhead's task was made nigh on impossible when Tarpey's replacement on the left wing Harry Pritchard was inexplicably sent off. 
The incident began when Dan Bowman, who had just been booked, raced to block a throw in being taken quickly by Maidenhead on the right, well advanced down the wing. This should have resulted in a second caution and a red card for Bowman but the referee ignored this and then as Bowman tussled with Pritchard in anticipation of receiving the throw in, the red card was brandished in Pritchard's direction much to the surprise of all concerned. This was reportedly for an elbow, which judging by Bowman's ability to comfortably maintain his stance seemed rather ridiculous.
The rest of the game all felt a bit matter of a fact from that point with the scoring being completed by Pat Keary with a header from a corner, and inevitably Pratt in the last minute with the goal of the game all much to the delight of the handful of free loaders watching the game for nothing in the far corner.
All in all on the pitch the worst ninety minutes of the season with consequences to follow from Tarpey's injury and Pritchard's red card. United now have a break from league football for three weeks with just a couple of cup ties in between. With the last home game a distant memory, a home draw tomorrow for the Trophy tie on 29th November would be most welcome to hopefully inspire a return to the form shown at York Road in October.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Magpies knock on Wood

As always the Conference god of fixtures decreed that United's trip to Boreham Wood would be on a Monday night, but here the similarities with previous years ended. Usually what happens at Meadow Park is that the Magpies get a toehold in the game early on before comfortably succumbing to a superior Wood team in front of a crowd struggling to reach three figures. However tonight this was far from the case as Maidenhead did enough to win the game and even came close to rescuing a point after the home team had overturned the deficit. For once the official attendance of 256 felt accurate, with although it seems few locals coming out to see their team defend their position at the top of the table, the fact that it was one of the only games on attracting plenty of groundhoppers. For example at the station on the way back I met two season ticket holders from Leyton Orient, a group of seven Norwegians on a week's trip of English football grounds, in addition to the Bracknell fan I'd met in the ground.
Wood's position as front runners is testament to their tightly run operation. They are very much a football business with their own academy and well oiled links with professional clubs such as Arsenal, Reading and Luton. This has ensured a steady flow of talent into a small but effective squad with one loanee from  Lee Angol going on to score the vital equaliser. 
Good, but not as good as ours
As well as having playing staff of the requisite standard, the pitch has always been of top quality and this is now looked over by an impressive new stand which is almost as good as the one at York Road. Even though they have built it, still they don't come. Surely the missing piece in the Boreham Wood jigsaw is a support worthy of a club bidding to take their place in the Conference Premier. Perhaps the £13 entry (inclusive of a £2.50 programme which ran out before kick off) is a deterrent. With no concession for students there is one market segment lost. Certainly the town's population seem ripe for plucking from the bosom of the bigger clubs they doubtless follow giving the current climate surrounding pro clubs and value for money.
Still the welcome from all at the Wood is friendly enough, the barman kindly changing the channel at my request so we could watch the FA Cup draw, his customer service skills then being rewarded by the bloke behind me who offered "one for yourself" after ordering two coffees.
As expected the game began at a high tempo with both sides giving everything to win the game throughout. Both sides had chances to take the lead as the first half drew on. Adrian Clifton had a great chance to open the scoring for United but goalkeeper James Russell did not commit himself to the last second and was able to palm the shot wide. At the other end Will Britt made a good save from Junior Morias and then had Devante McKain to thank for clearing a Callum Reynolds effort off the line. 
With seven minutes to go to the break, Dave Tarpey received the ball in space on the left, ignoring claims of offside to fire the ball home in his trademark style to give Maidenhead the lead. Britt then earned his half time cup of tea by tipping a Matthew Whichelow long range shot over the bar.
Maidenhead started the second half determined to justify their lead and just ahead of the hour mark had a chance to double it as Clifton burst clear through the middle only to be denied once more by Russell. The swift wing play of Morias and Whichelow then started to wear United down. A couple of crosses across the face of the Maidenhead goal served notice that Wood were not going to settle for a defeat and with fourteen minutes remaining Angol converted one from Whichelow at close range to equalise. The goal was Angol's eleventh in fourteen appearances, a remarkable transformation given his uncertain spell at York Road a year ago.
Showing no side effects of playing two games in three days, Wood now pushed for a winner, Morias hitting the post and Ricky Shakes having a shot tipped wide by Britt. Maidenhead still harboured ideas of taking all three points though and it proved to be this ambition that was their undoing as from a Magpie corner, Wood counterattacked, the ball finding Morias on the left wing.  He just about stayed on his feet following a desperate challenge from Tarpey and then regained his composure to cut inside and score.
With three minutes remaining Maidenhead did all they could to rescue a deserved point from the game and deep into stoppage time Russell again proved his worth with a tremendous last ditch save from substitute Sam Barratt.
Maidenhead left the field then beaten but unbowed. They had matched the league leaders for ninety minutes and can consider themselves unfortunate to take nothing from the game. Wood on the other hand had shown with their persistently high quality attacking play that they are made of the stuff of champions. The highlights of the game would have been a great video to market their talents but I doubt if even the most loyal of supporters will pay the £4 requested to watch them.