About Me

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

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Thrills, Spills and Bellyaches

"The Rain it Rained". It hadn't stopped for 13 days in meteorological terms, but metaphorically the gloom had been gathering around York Road since the Magpies' last win on March 3rd. As the winless run gathered pace the slide to relegation seemed inevitable but a battling point last week at Dover followed by a midweek defeat for Hampton left the door open for a final day escape. A long awaited win was required against perennially tough opponents Eastleigh, as well as a defeat for Havant & Waterlooville who took on struggling Staines in Hampshire.
First off all though the weather had to be beaten, midweek pictures showing a flooded pitch gave an indication of the scale of the task facing the York Road ground staff, with the relentless rain requiring a magnificent effort to make the pitch playable. Their endeavour paid off ensuring referee Adam Bromley's long trip up from Plymouth was not in vain, and the man in black went on to have an excellent game. Thus doomsday scenarios of last day postponements and abandonments were put to one side, with a prescient reference to precedent of a 4-3 win over Braintree on a bog of a York Road pitch at the dawn of the millennium being the order of the day.
As the floodlights flickered into life the game kicked off, Maidenhead relying on the energy of Alex Wall as a lone striker in front of a packed midfield, handily set up to combat Eastleigh's 3-5-2 formation. There was no doubting Maidenhead's sense of purpose and commitment to victory in the opening half hour of the game. Attacking with pace and width at high tempo the Magpies backed up their eagerness to do all they could to survive with a cutting edge rarely seen of late. It can be no coincidence that this was spearheaded by Alex Wall and Reece Tison-Lascaris who between them missed eight games of the winless run through suspension.
Backed by great vocal support from the Bell Street End, between them the pair conjured up two goals in quick succession. Firstly in the seventeenth minute a piercing run into space on the right by Tison-Lascaris saw him square the ball to Wall in the penalty who struck a super finish to opening the scoring. Four minutes later Maidenhead won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. Wall stepped up to deliver his trademark cannon ball into the defensive wall, the ball ricocheting out to Tison-Lascaris who applied a sweet volley to fire the ball into the back of the net. News soon followed that Staines had taken the lead at Havant, to ensure everything was going according to the survival script.
Prospects of this situation persisting seemed to improve when Eastleigh were forced to substitute both their goalkeeper and inspirational captain Tom Jordan, whilst Staines retook the lead after a Havant equaliser, the Hawks also passing up the opportunity to equalise for a second time when they missed a penalty. However as the first half drew to a close Maidenhead faded, Lee Peacock being given the time and space to pull a goal back with a fine shot. Still half time was reached with the Magpies in the lead and although Havant had eventually equalised, results thus far meant it was United who went into the break with their heads above the waterline in nineteenth place.
Maidenhead again took the initiative as the second half began, looking to catch out the Eastleigh defensive line with a ball over the top. With eleven minutes gone in the second half one of these efforts from Martel Powell bore fruit finding Tison-Lascaris. The youngster coolly rounded the goalkeeper and calmly slotted the ball goalward only for the agonisingly slow path of the ball see it hit the post, Wall blasting the rebound over.
Eastleigh then proved to make their third and most crucial substitution on the hour mark in Sam Wilson. Within five minutes the spectre of Farnborough was fully resurrected as Eastleigh took the lead against a Maidenhead defence in total disarray. It was Wilson who hit the equaliser two minutes after entering the fray, Mitchell Nelson giving the Spitfires the lead three minutes later. This coincided with the news that Havant would now be pressing for a winner against a Staines team reduced to ten men by a dismissal, whilst with Hampton now winning 2-0 at Thurrock, it was the Beavers who were now safe whilst Maidenhead slipped to second bottom.
This time round though the Magpies were able to find their second wind, man of the match Tison-Lascaris equalising with his second and United's third goal in the 67th minute.
It was desperate stuff now at York Road with Maidenhead pouring forward at every opportunity relying on the tireless Bobby Behzadi to mop up the counter attacks. Regular substitutions injected fresh blood to the Magpie cause but the aptly named Spitfires fought every step of the way to hold off the Maidenhead blitz. Black and white chances continued to come and go, Wall had a shot blocked, Charlie Strutton hit the post then had a shot tipped wide for a corner, Powell found himself well placed in the penalty area but was dispossessed by a perfect challenge from two Eastleigh defenders, then with the clock ticking down and goalkeeper Billy Lumley joining in regularly up front, Behzadi found himself furthest forward only to see not one but two shots blocked by the keeper.
Fresh hope was given by four minutes of stoppage time and with three of these almost gone, Maidenhead finally added the final instalment of  a seven goal thriller when Paul Semakula made it 4-3 to cue the kind of joyous pitch invasion which you would only see at a non league ground these days. The youngsters from behind the goal were even joined by a temporarily disabled Magpie who miraculously leapt from his seat in the media centre straight onto the pitch.
As the stewards cleared the pitch like dinners ladies in the school playground, play resumed, the game dragging on to make up this latest stoppage. The final whistle soon came to signal the renewal of the Magpie fans acquaintance with the turf but as the celebrations with players went on, the realisation dawned that confirmation of the result at West Leigh Park was required to ensure safety.
Then the news arrived that as Maidenhead hit the back of the net in the 93rd minute so did Havant and it became clear that the awesome melodrama that had evolved at York Road that afternoon was all in vain leaving everyone to slink dolefully off into the miserable evening.
So this morning sees Maidenhead notionally relegated in 20th position to the Southern League Premier Division and making tentative enquiries as to the location of hitherto unknown destinations such as Barwell. In reality of course United now go into the limbo of the AGM Cup, waiting for news of possible demotions, resignations and closures with speculation already surrounding the future of Darlington, Kettering and Truro. No club finishing 20th in the Conference South has ever ended up being relegated so that Semakula goal may end up being important as it felt as the time, as it ended up being the difference between a finish in third or second bottom.
Whilst the club awaits its fate though there is time for reflection. A year ago I said that the team needed to display a better blend of youth and experience to avoid another relegation struggle and when the final whistle went on March 3rd to signal a 2-0 win at champions elect Woking, this appeared to have been achieved. Leaving that game the scene appeared to be set for the main objectives of the season to be met, namely a decent cup run and a midtable security. That it played out rather differently can be attributed to three reasons, in ascending order, the inability to get the best out of the maverick talents of Anthony Thomas and Will Hendry, a lack of fitness, and an appalling disciplinary record. All of these must be addressed to make the best use of a limited budget and emulate the likes of clubs with similar resources like Weston-super-mare. The discussion of on the pitch matters must continue as a post mortem to the season, but whilst this debate is by necessity painful, it is salved by the spirit off the pitch exemplified by the herculean endeavour shown to make sure the match took place and the magnificent vocal support all the way to the thrilling end. This puts into perspective the bizarre online pathological vituperation from individuals whose depths of passionate attacks on the club are in inverse proportion to their actual attendance at games. Thus whether the Magpies live to fight again in the Conference South or end up in relative pastures new in the Southern Premier League the accent remains on consolidating the increasing steps to blend the club into the fabric of the local community which cannot fail to pay long term dividends.http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/maidenheadunited/videos/maidenhead-home-to-eastleigh-27712.html

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Running on empty

Typically rambunctious London derby at Arsenal yesterday. No quarter asked or given, but very little in the way of chances so a goalless draw was just about a fair reflection of the game although as with Wednesday night, Peter Cech had to thank his woodwork on more than one occasion. 
It was difficult to fathom Chelsea's objective for the day. It was only natural that they fielded a much changed team from the Barcelona game, but surprising John Terry played. I would have thought nothing will stop him playing in the Nou Camp which will require a herculean effort given it it will be his fourth high profile game in ten days. Similarly Chelsea's tactic of defending deep and trying to hit Arsenal on the counter attack looked likely to work throughout the game given the Gunners' defensive frailties, yet failed to force a save from Wojciech Szczesny. Given that three points were required by the Blues I thought they would have shown a bit more adventure.
For Arsenal's part they carried on from Monday night, energetically powering forward but unable to break down a solid defensive unit enough to create an unmissable chance save the first half efforts from Robin Van Persie and Laurent Koscielny which hit the post and bar respectively. There appeared to be a bit of mental fatigue in the red ranks, Aaron Ramsey lacked match sharpness being regularly caught in possession whilst Van Persie looks to be running on empty exposing the lack of a suitable deputy to take the pressure of scoring off him.
By the evening it was clear that a rare draw for Arsenal had maintained their position as favourites for third place and surely they will get the two wins required to secure it from their final three games, all against teams with nothing to play for.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Yes Wi Gan...

... would have been the response if you had asked any of the 180 Wigan supporters at the Arsenal game on Monday night if they though the Latics would stay up. The size of their following belied their non league roots but what was displayed on the pitch was as slick as anything you could hope to see in any of the top divisions of European football.
All this was a long way from the team I saw play at Springfield Park in the early 90s. When living in Preston I once popped down to Wigan one Friday night to see them play Reading before what turned out to be their lowest league crowd at the time, lower than that which turned up to York Road last Saturday. A late equaliser from the Royals' Allan Cockram meant the points were shared that night on an evening devoid of even one iota of the class on display at Arsenal.
Now playing before a crowd of 60,000 Wigan were more than worthy of this exalted stage, proving they are to date the most durable of the clubs promoted to the Football League in the 1970s. In a breathless first half two quick goals from Wigan gave them what proved to be an unassailable lead although it was only thanks to goalkeeper Al-Habsi that Arsenal were unable to provide a more predictable half time scoreline.
The keeper produced two outstanding saves from Benayoun headers either side of the Wigan goals to confine Arsenal to just the one score from Thomas Vermaelen, In between the impressive Victor Moses parted a Red defence all at sea to set up goals for Di Santo and Gomez. 
After the break any assumption that Arsenal would complete the comeback were soon dispelled as Wigan displayed the full efficacy of their 3-4-3 with the ball, 4-5-1 without formation. This meant Wigan not only out thought but out fought Arsenal, the Gunners too often looking like they thought they could produce an equaliser by sheer force of attacking numbers. Instead it was Wigan who looked the most likely to score in the second half, this time Moses going on to shoot after a mazy, producing a good save from Szczesny. 
Thus its Wigan who go into the weekend being able to relax a little whilst Arsenal will need to be back to their best against Chelsea to secure their hold on third spot.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cards Top The Pack


The Woking bandwagon rolled into town on Saturday and gave a performance which ended as expected with the Cards crowned Alliance South Champions at the final whistle.
This was no romp to the title though as Maidenhead worked hard to stay in the game and Woking received the rub of the green with their goal.
Woking fans travelled in treble their usual numbers to York Road and were in town early to warm up for the match. As I walked down the station approach I could hear the unique sound of away supporters singing in the Bell and the York Road turnstile queues were soon snaking down the drive. 
This was a day that had been long anticipated in Surrey and so the Cards fans were all set at the Bell Street End ahead of kick off to see another unique event, the visit of the Windsor & Maidenhead mayor Asghar Majeed, who added another layer to the pre match handshaking. I can only hope that he will reflect on the boost to the town's ailing economy that visits by the likes of Woking brings and deem the football club as worthy of support from the council as the rugby club. Still in conversation he did seem more positive about the York Road experience in contrast to the one he has had to endure twice at Stag Meadow.
Following the kick off the game had a edgy start, the sense being that both teams had too much to lose to go hell for leather from the first whistle. Indeed the most interesting thing to observe in the early stages of the game was the wide variety of inflatables bobbing around the Woking end. Having seen Surrey struggle at Lords in the morning session, I was hoping Woking would follow suit with their county cricket club and there was certainly much promise in the way Maidenhead looked to go for goal early on although none of their shots seriously troubled goalkeeper Aaron Howe. 
Maidenhead had of course already beaten Woking twice this season, the Cards one dimensional style being ripe for deconstruction. Just like their closest rivals Dartford, Woking rely on a strong defence which seeks to launch the ball forward to nippy forwards. As the first half reached its midway point Maidenhead dealt with this challenge but the game changed in the 23rd minute when a clumsy challenge from Jon Scarborough saw Giuseppe Sole fall to the floor and win a penalty. Sole himself stepped up to take the spot kick which Billy Lumley saved brilliantly with a one handed save to his right, only for Sole to be first to the loose ball and somewhat cruelly put it between Lumley's legs to score.
The goal lit up the game and showcased Woking at their best as lifted by the crowd they tore into Maidenhead in an attempt to kill the game off with a second score. That they didn't owed much to Sole and Lumley. Firstly Sole failed to convert from point blank range a perfect cross from Paris Cowan-Hall, then Lumley went onto save well from Moses Ademola and Alan Inns. Thus Maidenhead were still in the game at the break and gave it a real go in the second half with Woking seeming to settle for a one goal win.
Nevertheless as Maidenhead had neither the wit nor pace to breakdown the Woking defence, the best scoring opportunities again fell to the visitors, a Joe McNerney effort being cleared off the line whilst Mark Nisbet headed against his own post under pressure from a Woking attacker. So Maidenhead's impotence again ensured another home game without credit, with this particular final whistle carrying the added significance of confirming that Woking would be promoted back to the Alliance Premier as champions.
As the Woking fans poured onto the pitch in celebration, events of twenty years ago were called to mind when Stevenage won the Isthmian League Division One title at York Road to continue their rise up the pyramid which is still going unabated. The changing times which have led to the Alliance Premier becoming a full time professional league mean I doubt Woking will follow this course, and bearing in mind their previous financial struggles will do well to emulate Braintree's successful first season at the higher level.
As for Maidenhead's relegation plight, everything should be clear once Hampton and Havant have played their midweek games, but for the moment an unlikely return to form to collect six points from the remaining two games at play off chasing Dover and at home to Eastleigh seems to be the only option.  I can only hope that some of my luck which saw me win the National from a pick based on the jockey's colours, or more pertinently that which saw Staines line up against a Dorchester team without a recognised goalkeeper yesterday, steers itself Maidenhead United's way.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Farnborough's Day


Farnborough manager Spencer Day (nee Trethewy) may have had a chequered past in football off the pitch but on Easter Monday he showed he knows what's what on it by inspiring his Farnborough team to an inspirational second half performance which saw them overturn a two goal deficit from which there seemed no return.
Day and his management team not only lifted players who must have been at rock bottom, but also made a brave tactical switch to commit more men forward. Faced with a Maidenhead team whose response was to defend a lead in ever greater depth, Farnborough pushed the defensive wall until it cracked to devastating effect, scoring four goals in twenty nine minutes without reply.
This proved to be the key passage in an afternoon of drama which almost never began when the referee expressed serious concern about the fitness of the pitch on arrival at the ground. With the small problem areas mopped up in time for the officials to have a satisfactory kick about at 2 pm, it was game on and the sticky conditions underfoot certainly helped in making the game an entertaining spectacle. Strange to think that this was a problem given that it was not too long ago that grass was  considered an optional extra on non league pitches in the Spring.
With both teams low on confidence and desperate for points to avoid relegation this did not seem a game to savour at face value but as became clear from the kick off, the cavalier attitude shown by both teams would mean it would be something of a classic. Farnborough kicked off and hared straight for goal to create a chance which went wide. It was then Maidenhead's turn to attack, Lee Barney serving notice that he would be a thorn in Farnborough's side with a strong run to force a corner.
It was not long before Farnborough's fragile defence was caught in a Maidenhead attacking blitz which soon led to a two goal lead for the Magpies. On the quarter hour mark, man of the match Martel Powell shrugged off the attentions of a shirt grabbing defender to fire in a cross which found Leigh Henry who diverted the ball goalward. This eluded Barney but fortunately Paul Semakula was waiting at the far post to score. Four minutes later it was Powell's turn to score. A Bobby Behzadi cross was met by an exquisite turn and shot by Barney which could not be held by goalkeeper Craig Bradshaw. Powell was first to the loose ball and slammed it into the back of the net.
Maidenhead went on to dominate the half, Ashan Holgate at last having someone in Barney who was ready, willing and able to sprint on to his deft lay offs. Richard Orlu in particular was made to look out of his depth in defence and at half time everything pointed to a comfortable Maidenhead victory which as things stood would lift the Magpies to sixteenth place.
However Farnborough had other ideas, withdrawing ex Magpie Orlando Jeffrey from the centre of defence at half time to provide a greater commitment to attack. This proved fruitful ten minutes into the half when Nic Ciardini scored but at this stage the game remained open for both teams. Nevertheless Farnborough's desire to get back on level terms was relentless and they gradually pushed the Maidenhead team further and further back until it seemed that there was a line of eight black and white shirts on the edge of the penalty area. Thus many United clearances were only returned back with interest by Farnborough although on the rare occasion that the Maidenhead midfield regained their shape they again threatened to provide the ammunition to score, a Holgate header sending Lee Barney clear only for his weak shot to be collected comfortably by Bradshaw.
The pressure finally told with twenty minutes to go when Phil Page was given the time and space just inside the penalty area to turn and shoot past Billy Lumley to equalise. Maidenhead stuck to their cause, Powell again the inspiration as his strong run saw him pass to Harry Pritchard whose thumping left foot shot was parried by Bradshaw. The momentum was still with Farnborough though and they completed their comeback in the seventy seventh minute in the cruellest of circumstances. A Daniel Bennett shot was pushed behind by Lumley for a corner. Farnborough took this short and quick to give Bennett another go. This time he lashed a cross into the six yard box finding a target in Behzadi who was helpless to stop the ball cannoning off him into the net.
The win was then sealed in style with six minutes left. Again Bennett was in the thick of things being pulled back by Henry. Page stepped up to take the free kick and bettered his earlier goal with a delightful chip to score.
All Maidenhead could do now was to go pell mell in search of a way back into the game. Unsurprisingly it was Powell who offered a lifeline, making a tricky run into the box which saw him fouled. Behzadi converted the penalty as the watch approached the ninety minute mark. Powell again came closest to levelling the score deep into stoppage time with a shot that was blocked and deflected wide by a defender, but it was Farnborough's day. They had seized the initiative at half time with a recognition that a refusal to change would only lead to more of the same, and backed up a revised strategy with renewed enthusiasm and character. This bamboozled Maidenhead who could only offer effort in response which although laudable in terms of commitment to the cause was not enough to prevent a slide into the relegation places. 
Whether the result of this epic game has a greater relevance  will be seen by the end of the month, it certainly provided the ingredients for an escape plan: equal parts ingenuity, nous, energy and character.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Pain in Staines

Yesterday's game in Middlesex was the source of as much disappointment as the previous game in Kent provided hope. Despite the double material gain of a point and keeping a relegation rival in the drop zone, the predominant emotion at the final whistle was embarrassment at being second best to a team who had spent the entire season in the bottom six.
Providing the easiest and most pleasant journey to an away game, Staines still represents Isthmian league football to me, with its small ground now presented as an afterthought to a health club, hosting similar paltry crowds to York Road, although in this case boosted by the watching eyes of a couple of ponies in a neighbouring field.
Maidenhead started the game well, thankfully taking my mind off the inane chanting emanating from the Staines ultras in the stand, but once Town took charge it was clear that the yellow shirts would be producing virtually all of the goalmouth action.
The Swans served notice that they would be going all out for the three points when a David Wheeler header flashed past the post. He again went close before half time with Billy Lumley playing a key role in keeping the score line goalless at the break. 
Staines showed much in common with their Middlesex neighbours and fellow relegation strugglers Hampton, with endeavour far outweighing potency in front of goal, but although the Magpies achieved the same result at the Beveree at least on that occasion they did everything but score. 
Yesterday there was virtually nothing on offer up front for United, which only increased the pressure on the midfield and defence. Ashan Holgate is clearly a talented ball player but his lack of pace left Manny Williams a lone force in attack. With Harry Pritchard blowing hard on the left wing for much of the second half, it was left to a set piece to provide Maidenhead's one and only real goal scoring opportunity. With twelve minutes remaining Mark Nisbet stooped to deliver a looping header which was pawed from under the bar by Danny Potter. Sadly this stood alone as the only moment when Maidenhead looked capable of taking all three points as the second half saw Staines dominate once more, Lumley saving well with his feet from Richard Butler, then left thanking the woodwork when with eighteen minutes to go Wheeler hit the crossbar.
Any hopes of a late rally by Maidenhead disappeared when Jermaine Hinds was sent off for two cautions in the 84th minute. Like last week Hinds had come on as a second half sub, and whereas his dismissal seven days ago within two minutes of coming on could be ascribed to a rush of a blood to a head, at Staines the two cautions were separated by ten minutes, and there was no doubt about either. His rather British notion of commitment in being prepared to dive in and win the ball at all costs, has deprived his team mates of pressing for late points two weeks in a row at a vital time of the season and I can only shake my head in disappointment when a player of this mindset appears on the team sheet.
Thus Maidenhead had little option but to defend deep for the final minutes and again had the woodwork to thank for a cleansheet when Tom Kavanagh hit the post at the death.
At the final whistle I held my opinion that Staines were likely relegation candidates but on this showing Maidenhead would be keeping them company in the bottom three. Survival in the next few weeks will depend on two things. Firstly the ability to keep eleven men on the pitch for ninety minutes. Secondly the capacity to create goal scoring opportunities. Suspension will mean the pace and strength of Alex Wall can't help, so for my money Maidenhead hopes must rest on the young shoulders of Reece Tison-Lascaris, a player who enjoys running at opponents with the ball at his feet, and has proved he has the ability to go on and score. Needless to say he must still complete a suspension tomorrow but the way he combined with Holgate earlier in the season presents the best opportunity for a goal from open play in the remaining games.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Is the Conference bad for Non League Football?

Reading Dartford's programme last week I lingered on an article about the Darts' last season in what was then called the Gola League, now the Blue Square Bet Premier, and commonly known as the Conference.
This particular season, 1985/86, was also the last one before the Conference achieved their long cherished aim of automatic promotion to the Football League. This aim once realised simply grew to demands for more promotion spots, demands backed by increasing standards of professionalism on and off the pitch. This is reflected by comments from Braintree Town manager Alan Devonshire in last Saturday's West Ham programme where he states that 18 of the current Conference clubs are full time. Looking at that league table from 26 years ago, what has been the cost of this succcess?
Looking at the list of teams I was struck by the number that have suffered severe financial trauma whether it be losing their ground, entering an insolvency event or even going bankrupt. This number seems to be in the great majority over the likes of Wycombe and Cheltenham who are now established Football League clubs. 
The Conference's response to financial irregularities has been quite rightly to introduce stringent regulations to discourage clubs from living beyond their means and convey to the Football League an image of fiscal responsibility, but does this miss the point? Is the main cause of the problem the raison d'etre of the Conference, the achievement of Football League status?
By setting themselves up as an automatic access point to the Football League are the Conference doing non league football a disservice by turning so many formerly successful clubs into basket cases? 
Personally Conference status is not something I desire for Maidenhead United. In my opinion the club is already at the peak of non league/semi-professional football, and the game would be improved if the Conference National was simply absorbed into the Football League, preferably merging with League Two/Division Four to create two regional divisions. Beneath that there would be four divisions and so on to create a better pyramid.

Views of Grounds From Religious Viewpoints No. 2 - Rye United

Following my spot of a remote ground in Lindos from an ancient temple, I discovered another football ground when I mounted the summit of St. Mary's Church in Rye. No mystery here though - its Sussex League Rye United.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Darts double finish sees off battling Magpies


On the face of it Saturday’s game at Dartford had much in common with Maidenhead’s first visit to Princes Park twelve months previously, the Magpies initially showing great spirit and enterprise in the face of an expectant home crowd before the pressure told midway through the second half. However a dismissal for either side following the goals gave this game a rather different complexion to the depressing inevitability of last season’s collapse with many positive aspects for Maidenhead’s fans to take into Easter Saturday’s climactic clash at Staines.
Off the field Dartford Football Club is a place where everything feels right. Judging by several pitchside hoardings this appears to be the result of a productive relationship with the Tory Council who, in stark contrast to recent decisions made by their central government comrades, have shown real leadership to ensure the Darts home is a real community hub. Although I preferred a brisk walk up the hill to the ground, I could have taken the Fast track bus which follows a road barred to all other traffic, stopping next to Princes Park. On arrival I was greeted at reception by club representatives who couldn’t do enough to help me despite their apologies that I wouldn’t be allowed in the boardroom because “I wasn’t wearing trousers”. Rest assured I hadn’t taken a leaf out of Mike Payne’s fashion bible and turned up in shorts but was clad in denim. Not a problem as I was only there for the football so hastily made my way pitchside where I ate a first class hot dog from the well-appointed tea bar behind the goal.

As kick off drew near the theme from 633 squadron blasted out of the PA, presumably to herald the aerial blitz about to be launched on the Maidenhead defence. This proved to be an accurate reflection of Dartford’s approach to the game as for the first hour they sought to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, switching to 4-2-4 when they had the ball in an attempt to swamp the Maidenhead defence. This tactic was doubtless behind their impressive strike rate of 48 goals in 18 home league games but centre back pair Jon Scarborough and Mark Nisbet were well up for the battle, snuffing out the early threat.
Instead it was Maidenhead who drew the first save, with a neat passing move which was to prove a template for their attacking play throughout the game, Martel Powell being switched into the centre of midfield at least in the first instance enhanced this style, although it was the unlikely figure of Bobby Behzadi who cut inside to shoot from the edge of the penalty area.
Dartford soon found a reply when a Tom Bonner volley was tipped over the bar by Billy Lumley and the first half continued in much the same vein with the home team having the lion’s share of chances with Maidenhead nevertheless showing much attacking promise.
The Dartford frontline was led by the lumbering Jacob Erskine who tested Lumley on more than one occasion, the Maidenhead keeper having a great half, also saving well from Lee Burns. All in all Maidenhead were good value for their first half clean sheet, Dartford wasting the talent of James Rogers in the centre of midfield whose passing ability may well have exposed the lack of pace in the Maidenhead defence if he had been given permission to keep the ball on the deck.
Going forward Maidenhead’s lack of confidence in front of goal was plain to see as frequently good approach play on the flanks was not finished with a strike.  A defence marshalled by the impressive centre back Bonner was always going to be a tough nut to crack but when presented with an opportunity to go for goal the Maidenhead players appeared to be too careful for fear of fluffing a chance. This difference in mental approach was the real difference between the two teams, one flying high, the other scrambling for form and led to the decisive action at the start of the second half.
Although Maidenhead started brightly, after five minutes Dartford took the game by the scruff of the neck and set up camp in the Magpie half. Initially Maidenhead were able to resist, Lumley pushing a Lee Noble free kick round the post whilst one effort which did find the back of the net was disallowed. However it was not long before Erskine broke the deadlock with a shot from the edge of the penalty area which beat Lumley at full stretch.
With Dartford lifted on and off the pitch, the goal only increased the pressure on Maidenhead and the lead was doubled just after the hour mark when Lumley failed to deal effectively with a free kick allowing Luke Wilkinson to poke the ball into an empty net. Just when it looked like game over Maidenhead gained a toe hold in the game when a powerful run by Paul Semakula saw him follow the ball through the Dartford defence and finish from close range. Hopes of a point were then raised when the running battle between Mark Nisbet and Danny Harris ended when the attacker was shown a second yellow card.
Going down to ten men changed the nature of the game with Dartford taking the obvious option of leaving just one man up front and paring back their attacking ambition. Any chance of making the extra man count though was removed with twenty minutes to go when, within two minutes of entering the fray Jermaine Hinds was sent off for a challenge which left two Dartford players sprawling across the turf.
Maidenhead continued to push for an equaliser but could not find the composure to create a chance allowing the Darts to edge home. The fact that Maidenhead left Kent pointless was not a surprise given the clubs relative positions at the start of play but the nature of the United performance gives rise to the expectation that the points required to ensure safety can be won over Easter.