About Me

My photo
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

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

At no stage yesterday were Hampton safe as when they were winning Havant were always drawing or leading.

Anonymous said...

Further to earlier comment Havant were losing for two minutes while Hampton were ahead but Maidenhead were winning at that time.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, certainly a rollercoaster afternoon and one of the better attended games I've been to at York Road. Wouldn't be surprised to see Maidenhead still in Conference South next season, fingers crossed.

Interested about the reference to online attacks on the club. Haven't heard anything about this before and wasn't able to find anything on Google - please could you provide some links/clarification?

Steve said...

Well was certainly difficult to keep up with the precise unfolding of events at three games yesterday, think I would have needed one of Sky's live league tables to get it right!
As for online attacks as well as the odd barb on various Maidenhead related forums, Twitter and blogs sadly someone has again been sending what was described by the recipient as a threatening message to a supporters association official.

Mr. Logic said...

Just want to clarify as I think you have misinterpreted my forum post. It was in no way connected to the people you are alluding to. It had nothing to do with the Dover game, for instance.

And the message I received was not a serious threat to my person but a childish one to the Supporters Association.

It was a case of "unless you make the MUSA secretary change what he has written, I'm going home and I'm taking the ball with me, and I'm telling my friends to ignore you too".

Anyway, keep up the good work with the blog. Always an enjoyable read.