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, 30 March 2014

Magpies cross the High Tension Line

I can't remember the last time the dying minutes of a match were so tense. This was not a cup tie, a decisive league match or even a thrilling game but the way in which Maidenhead have capitulated in the last five minutes of the their last five home matches meant everyone was fearing the worst with the only a one goal lead to hold on to.
Whether this match is pivotal in the context of Maidenhead's season remains to be seen but it certainly felt good to be pontificating at the final whistle about further wins having at last seen hard evidence of three points won.
As it turned out the game was won in the opening quarter of an hour, when unlike Tuesday night Harry Grant hit the target when put clear to score the only goal of the game. The half time lead reflected United's superiority as Adrian Clifton was the only other player to come close to scoring, his shot being blocked by Chris Winterton in the tenth minute.
This resulted in Whitehawk Steve King giving his team a half time tongue lashing which mostly consisted of one word. It served its purpose though as the Hawks had their best spell after the break and should have scored within four minutes of the restart. Striker Jake Robinson appeared to calmly take his time before shooting from the edge of the penalty area, but although it beat debutant keeper Jonathan Henly it bounced back into play off the crossbar.
As the half drew on it was Maidenhead who looked most dangerous going forward with Clifton again being denied by the keeper. However as the Magpies entered the twilight zone of five minutes to go the tension was tangible, the three points in sight but the evidence of five previous games at York Road in March suggesting an opposition goal was inevitable. A lack of inspiration meant Whitehawk were unable to trouble Henly and instead it was Winterton who was called into action in the last minute to push a Harry Pritchard shot round the post.
The final whistle was greeted by sighs of relief on and off the pitch. Personally speaking it was the first time I had seen Maidenhead win at York Road since August 20th, whilst Advertiser reporter Dan Darlington had never seen the Magpies win since he started covering their games.
The three points provides a chink of light in the relegation trapdoor. If it can be followed up on Tuesday at Dorchester then the battle is well and truly on.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The last cut is the deepest

I expected little from Tuesday's visit from Eastbourne Borough. Already one of my favourite clubs, this season they are the best passing team I have seen and I fully expected them to take the Magpies to the cleaners following United's 6-1 thrashing at Bromley in the previous match, with the added incentive for the play off chasing visitors coming in the way they had been mugged by Maidenhead in our last meeting back in November in the FA Trophy.
Yet within minutes of the kick off Maidenhead served notice that unlike the two games in Sussex in the autumn they would have plenty of opportunities to score, a neat pass from the centre circle finding Harry Grant in the clear only for the young forward to skew his shot wide.
This golden missed opportunity to take the initiative was punished in the seventeenth minute when James Stinson picked up the loose ball in the penalty area to score. Elvijs Putnins, returning to the team after a two game layoff, then made a good save from Frankie Raymond to keep the Rocks within touching distance. 
As half time beckoned United began to threaten to equalise and enjoyed their best period of the game either side of the interval. Richard Pacquette levelled the score with a deft finish on the stroke of half time, and although the striker immediately pulled up with a hamstring injury, his replacement Jonathan Constant was at the heart of Maidenhead'a attacking play when the second half began.
The focus was now on the Eastbourne penalty area with keeper Craig Ross in the spotlight, blocking an Adrian Clifton shot from close range to stop the Magpies completing their comeback. Ross was then involved in the game's pivotal incident, dropping the ball close to his goalline. Constant was first to it but could not apply sufficient power to propel the ball into the empty net enabling a defender to clear off the line.
Relieved by this let off, Eastbourne made Maidenhead pay by retaking the lead with a text book free kick from the right wing, captain Ian Simpemba giving it the eye brows to score just after the hour mark.
Maidenhead's renewed task to equalise was then given fresh impetus by the introduction of Brett Longden, the youngster regularly scheming down the wing. With the force now back with Maidenhead Constant made the scoreline 2-2 with a good finish with only six minutes left on the clock. Longden spearheaded the next attack and unleashed a shot which forced Ross to push the ball wide at full stretch. 
By this stage the force was very much with United and they pushed hard for a winner only to be hit yet again by a sucker punch. Deep into stoppage time Eastbourne broke away down the left, the ball falling to Stacy Long to shoot from just inside the penalty area. His effort seemed to be destined for the side netting, only to hit a bobble on the pitch and skid under the dive of Putnins.
Cue the inevitable crazy touch line celebrations led by Eastbourne manager Tommy Widdrington as once more Maidenhead fell at the final hurdle. This was the hardest of these five defeats to take, primarily due to the fact that for once United were finishing very much the stronger team and if anyone looked likely to grab the points it was the Magpies. However the end result revealed Maidenhead to be the eternal hapless gambler, refusing to settle for a draw, but instead chasing that elusive win by resolutely doubling their efforts to score only to be faced by the inevitable result. With the dandy highwayman of non league football Steve King coming to York Road this afternoon a more subtle approach is required to begin to take advantage of the the 27 points remaining.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Elm Park Years Part 8: In sight of the Promised Land

As I watched the Royals parade their Division Two Championship trophy around Elm Park in the rain at the end of season friendly against Genoa, I had a real feeling of job done. I'd spent three seasons watching Reading all over the country slowly building up to their title challenge, whilst I worked towards my degree. Now both projects had been accomplished it begged the question, what next? I fudged the question of a career by enrolling on a Masters degree course at Reading University, which provided the opportunity of study alongside gainful employment at Southern Electric. By remaining a student I was entitled to buy a season ticket for just £90 with my relocation back to Berkshire, yet I sort of knew this would be my last season watching Reading full time. Little did I know what an unforgettable season this would be, and how valuable that season ticket would become by the Spring.
I suppose I didn't really consider how well Reading would do in the higher division. I was confident it would not be a season fighting relegation. Perhaps one of mid table consolidation with a cup run. Certainly not a full blown second successive promotion campaign. Mark McGhee had again trawled the bargain basement in the summer transfer market by signing Dariusz Wdowczyk, Simon Osborn, Andy Bernal and Paul Holsgrove. All four were well worth the transfer fee and although Holsgrove was very much a make do and mend type player the other three would prove their worth from the off with Wdowczyk and Osborn being the two best players I saw in Reading colours.
The fixture list sent Reading to Molineux on the opening day and we travelled up to the Black country in bright summer sunshine, eager to find out how the Royals would fare against a team tipped for the title. Before a sell out crowd, the PA whipped up the Wolves fans into a post match frenzy by playing Hi Ho Silver Lining, Woolly Bully and finally the Liquidator which saw men in Old Gold contort their faces in anger as they screamed "fuck off West Brom, the Wolves". For the first time in my life I saw the proof of the phrase "the crowd are worth a goal head start" as the home fans seemed to suck the ball into the net to give Wolves an early lead. However once the pre match bombast had died down, Reading dominated in an enthralling performance which saw everything apart from a goal. Leaving the ground it was clear that the beautiful football that had won Reading the title a few months earlier could easily transfer to a higher level, which when infused with the class of Wdowcyzk and Osborn, would turn aspirations for the season sky high.
The season started slowly in terms of results though until a double sending off for the visitors at Elm Park saw Reading get up and running with a 4-0 win over Stoke at the end of August.
A coupon busting 3-1 win at Oldham (I had backed Reading to win 2-1 at very good odds but had little time to celebrate before news of a third goal came through) lifted the Royals up to the heady heights of second, and they were to remain in the top six for pretty much the rest of the season. Each point was to be hard earned though and the autumn campaign seemed to provide as many setbacks as it did wins. 
Despite the attraction of many new grounds to visit I had decided to restrict my away trips to the south east, and therefore had a very different experience of watching Reading compared to previous three year exile in Lancashire. At home crowds remained buoyant, being upwards of seven thousand for every game, providing a first taste of the soccer revolution, inspired by Italia 90, Fever Pitch and the Premier League, as many new fans started to watch live football. Reading provided the perfect prescription of good football to watch which was cheap and easily accessible, set against a background of a growing local population eager to support a successful team. Therefore expectations were now a little higher, a fact best reflected by the new fanzine Heaven Eleven which had none of the wit and gallows humour of its predecessors Elm Park Disease and Taking The Biscuit, instead adopting the baser humour and demanding tone reflected by the new football media such as Fantasy Football League and 6-0-6. Likewise the away following was much bigger, quick to take offence to Jan Age Fjortoft's goal celebration at Swindon which was a just response to the barracking he received. 
Two short away trips provided the highlight of a stodgy autumn. At Watford Reading were soon two goals down, leading McGhee to quickly change tactics which inspired a stunning fightback led by Scott Taylor, Osborn and Stuart Lovell scoring to earn a point. At Charlton Reading won the game in style, the opening goal being a stunning volley by Osborn as the Royals returned to the top three.
As autumn turned into winter though it was clear that there was something missing. Up front Jimmy Quinn's age was starting to catch up with him whilst his strike partner Lovell was still learning his trade, and the lack of goals was beginning to tell on results. There was no doubt Reading would compete well enough to stay the course as a 1-1 draw against eventual champions Middlesbrough in early December showed but something was required to turn them from play off contenders into promotion winners.
The catalyst came in two forms, both conventional but with stunning results. McGhee was now being talked about in the national papers as a one of the best young managers around, with sports editors helped by his connection to the now eminent Alex Ferguson. To me it seemed obvious that McGhee would soon be tempted away from Reading whose ambitions were inevitably limited by their Elm Park ground which prevented the necessary expansion of the supporter base and commercial activity to even match the resources of the average club in the division. His manner of leaving though proved rancourous and ultimately saw me take my own leave of Elm Park as my opinion of his departure seemed to be wildly at odds of everyone else at the club. To me once Reading allowed McGhee to talk to Leicester they had given him the green light to leave and I didn't understand why anyone would begrudge him a move to a Premier League club. However chairman John Madejski successfully spun a story that after a night of negotiations McGhee had had a change of heart and agreed to stay at Elm Park only to turn again to move to Filbert Street. This implication of old fashioned deceit, of breaking his word, led to McGhee becoming public enemy number one forever more, whilst Madejski was seen as a wronged man who had bargained hard in the interests of the club and therefore was rewarded by the supporters standing fully behind him.
Its hard to remember that these were the days before 24 hour rolling news coverage. There were just snippets of news amounting to just a few lines in the national press. Therefore its still unclear what happened. There is a rumour that McGhee was determined to leave due to Madejski's continuing fiscal austerity which reportedly extended to refusing to pay for the team to have fish and chips on the coach back from away games. At the time I saw a Chairman embarrassed at his mistake to allow his best asset to talk to another club and therefore trying to obscure this by presenting McGhee as a traitor for leaving. With the benefit of hindsight Reading have had the last laugh by becoming a genuine force in the second rank of English football whilst McGhee never came close to realising his potential. Whatever the truth of the matter I felt distinctly uncomfortable standing on the South Bank listening to the abuse directed at a man who had produced a miracle to get the team not only to emerge as serious contenders for the Premier League but also do it in such style. It was also galling that most of those vituperative voices were nowhere to be seen until success was virtually a fait accompli. Still at least there was the consolation that it fired the team to their best victory of the season so far.
The first game after McGhee left was to be broadcast live on ITV on Sunday afternoon. Wolves were the visitors to Elm Park and despite Reading's position in the table were still the favourites to win and complete the double over the Royals who were being run by a committee of senior players. With appositely named Dutchman John de Wolf a striking presence in the Wanderers midfield, it had all the makings of a cup tie rather than a league match and with a febrile atmosphere surrounding Elm Park an early injury to Steve Froggatt upped the ante even further. In a bona fide classic, Wolves took the lead, but it was Reading who went into half time ahead thanks to Osborn and Quinn. Unfortunately Quinn scored at the other end to allow Wolves back into the game after the break but that only spurred the Royals to greater efforts as they sealed the win with two goals from Michael Gilkes whilst Shaka Hislop made sure the visitors would not create a last act. The match introduced Reading to a national audience and for Hislop started the transfer speculation that would lead to a well deserved career in the top flight. More significantly to Reading the decision of the two men who would eventually be given the job of managing the team, Quinn and Mick Gooding, to tinker with McGhee's ball playing philosophy, along with the Christmas signing of striker Lee Nogan, provided the impetus to ensure the second half of the season would end as the greatest in the club's long history to that point.
Madejski wisely made the innovative decision to make Quinn and Gooding joint managers. This kept the incredibly valuable team spirit in tact and allowed Reading's forward momentum to continue. Quinn and Gooding remainded faithful to McGhee's footballing values but encouraged the team to get the ball forward quicker to ratchet up the pressure on the opposition. After a patchy opening month for the new managerial pair, they never looked back, as new signing Nogan fitted perfectly into the team which really started to turn in the results as winter turned into spring. For me two evening home games stood out in the memory. They were low key in nature against Southend and Oldham but the way in which the team stuck to their task to overcome determined mid table opposition (particularly the Latics who led for much of the game), signalled to me that this was a team that could go all way. Still at Elm Park the outstanding 4-1 demolition of Watford was countered with a dire 3-0 defeat to Barnsley, and following a collapse against Port Vale at Elm Park which saw a 3-0 half time lead courtesy of a Nogan hat trick squandered, the Royals lay outside the play off positions in sixth place with only four games to go.
The Vale game was the first of the Easter weekend with the short trip to Kenilworth Road to come on Easter Monday. This was to be only my second away trip since the turn of the year, having also been to the defeat at Millwall, an evening most notable for a train full of Reading fans returning to London Bridge, singing the theme tune to the Magic Roundabout to a local blonde haired youth who was keen to articulate the local  fans reputation. The game at Luton was a tense affair with an Ady Williams goal seeing all three points return to Berkshire.
Just four days later, Bolton travelled to Elm Park. Familiar opposition whilst Reading had languished in Division Three, the Trotters were now the country's pre eminent club, looking good for promotion having reached the League Cup Final. The crowds flocked to the ground with the gates ultimately being locked with many, including most of my friends, left outside whilst my season ticket gained me safe passage through the queues to the gate without a line. In a game of stunning quality for this level of football, Reading edged home 2-1 with Hislop again to the fore. Lovell had opened the scoring before David Lee equalised soon after half time. With only minutes remaining an audacious pass from Osborn put Nogan through to win the game with a performance that was the best I ever saw at Elm Park.
Silverware was to follow at the start of May with a Berks & Bucks Cup Final win at Wycombe over Slough. It was a case of smiles all round as the Rebels discovered they had been promoted by default due to Enfield's financial mismanagement. The game ended in a lame pitch invasion in view of the magnitude of what was happening in the league, but the way in which the Royals had taken the County Cup seriously was a big boon to football in the area as I had found out earlier in the competition when they had won at York Road, the squad freely chatting to all in the Maidenhead United social club after the club, with Stuart Lovell telling me how much better the post match hospitality was compared to York Road.
The final game of the league season saw the ITV cameras return to Elm Park. Once again Reading thoroughly entertained the viewers with Osborn scoring with another volley against the Addicks, Williams winning the game with two minutes left after Charlton had equalised. Watching the game again on video, it ended with a wonderful line from commentator Brian Moore, screaming "here come the madcaps" as the pitch invasion started early. The result had left Reading in a final position of second. Sod's law meant that this was the first time the runners up had not been promoted automatically due to the reduction of clubs in the Premier League, but there was no feeling of injustice. Reading had not been in the top three since October and the final placing was viewed only as a historical footnote for the record books, the mood was very much one of nonchalance such was the confidence that the play offs would be won.
The draw paired Reading with Tranmere Rovers, the media darlings of the period thanks to their old pros Pat Nevin and John Aldridge. With John King having served notice of the potential of his team in an FA Cup tie at Elm Park in 1989, Rovers had gone on to win promotion twice and this was to be their third attempt to get to the Premier League via the play offs. Rovers might have had experience but the naive optimism possessed by the Royals was intoxicating and as I headed up the M6 for the first time that season, the lack of any real expectation made the ensuing 3-1 deconstruction of the home team all the more enjoyable. Nogan and Lovell were at their very best that day, leaving the second leg as a mere detail which was negotiated with satisfyingly dull ease reflected by the casual way we all wandered onto the Elm Park turf at the final whistle.
Life watching Reading continued to be like a Hollywood movie. The tickets for Wembley were secured  with the opposition being the best of the play off teams, Bolton. Following the short train ride up to  London we joined the throng outside the Globe pub opposite Baker Street station, not even attempting to get served at the bar, we popped into a local off licence and enjoyed the fun as everyone cheered a Royals fan attempting to pin his colours to some scaffolding up on high. Soon it was time to board the train up to the Twin Towers, trading banter across the carriage, then chiding the Bolton fans for their faith in John McGinlay whilst walking up Wembley Way. We took our seats high up behind the goal and smiled with disbelief as Reading took the lead through Nogan, then doubled it through Williams. It was almost too easy but utterly in line with two whole seasons of everything following the glorious script of success. Then we rose to our feet and bounced around once more as the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
It seems odd now looking at the bare facts of the game but it really did feel like Reading had blown it when Lovell's penalty was saved by Keith Branagan. It was the moment at which the enormity of what the team was trying to achieve had sunk in, and the fine margins by which it would be decided were revealed. The save revitalised the Bolton team and the Reading team suddenly looked tired. All the adrenaline of the last few weeks seemed to finally take their toll and despite the two goal cushion it felt like a case of when not if Bolton would get back into the game. Perhaps it was a reflection of the tight win in the league a few weeks previously, Bolton were after all an outstanding team under Bruce Rioch. Perhaps it was the age old fear that grips when the ultimate prize is in touching distance. Perhaps it was just one game too many.
Re reading the match report of the game it is scarcely believable the score was still 2-0 with fifteen minutes to go, and four left when the equaliser finally came, but in my mind Reading's cause was lost with the missed penalty, a memory perhaps shaped by the media narrative which inevitably followed. With Bolton going from strength to strength in extra time, the mood became more desperate as I had to suffer a soundtrack supplied by an American accent somewhere behind me, on a loop of "let's go Reading". After Fabian De Freitas had confirmed the victory with a fourth goal, Reading finally scored their third through Quinn, a goal that felt cruel in offering hope, but welcome in preserving the close nature of the game.
The final whistle at last released us from play off purgatory to allow us to luxuriate in the truly British response to glorious failure. Never mind we thought, we couldn't have been really serious in thinking the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United would be visiting Elm Park on a regular basis. Time to enjoy the memory of hope and speculation safe in the knowledge that we would not have to deal with the possible reality of a season of embarrassment in the top flight. 
A few days later we left work to travel over to Reading to watch the open top bus parade, the town turning out in the pouring rain to thank the team for offering a glimpse of a glorious future. Gathering in front of the Town Hall the microphone was passed around the squad to deliver a message to the fans, the definitive words being uttered by the classy Pole, Wdowczyk: "I love you. I love you all",

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

"That joke isn't funny anymore,
it's too close to home and it's too near the bone"

As the fourth late winner of the week hit the back of the net after cruelly hitting the post and running across the goal I pondered the odds of four defeats in eight days by a single goal, with the score being level with five minutes remaining. Calling to mind the frustration of continually unfulfilled hope, would it have been better to endure four comprehensive beatings? Probably not. The allure of tantalisingly close progress is more attractive than the despondency of autumn when it looked like Maidenhead would be already relegated by now. With six weeks of the season left all that can be done is to put your head down and join the scramble to avoid relegation. The last eight days have seen United fall back in the pack of nine teams fighting the drop but the experience of the last four seasons of relegation battles shows that little is likely to be decided before Easter Monday with the next notable landmark coming at the end of the month with the transfer and ground grading deadline.
Yesterday's game was influenced by a strong westerly wind and a hard pitch which remarkably will soon be in need of watering. With the ball bouncing high as it was launched back and forth prompting the Dover fans to sing "what a load of rubbish", the second half delivered little of the promise of the first, Tom Murphy coming closest to breaking the deadlock on the hour mark when he ran clear only to be denied by the prompt action of goalkeeper Yannick Nlate.
The stalemate had hardly seemed likely when Murphy had given Dover the lead in the eighth minute. He pounced on a mistake by Jacob Erskine in the centre circle to head for goal, efficiently dealing with the attentions of  the United defence before rounding Nlate to score. Although the goal seemed to be the harbinger of another big win for Dover, Maidenhead struck back four minutes later when Adrian Clifton headed in a Brett Longden cross at the far post.
The Magpies then went on to almost take the lead with what would have been the goal of the season. Reece Tison-Lascaris collected the ball inside the penalty area and neatly flicked the ball over his shoulder Bergkamp style before volleying the ball goalbound only for keeper Mitchell Walker to pull out all the stops with a lightning fast reaction save to divert the ball around the post with his hand.
Instead then it was Dover who took all three points with Ricky Modeste's late strike, not the first he has scored at York Road, the substitute picking his spot from the edge of the penalty area to curl home the winner.
At least the mood after the game, following the usual post mortem, was lightened by the discovery of some first time visitors to the ground. A group of Italians had travelled all the way from Genoa to take part in a local Subbuteo tournament and were celebrating after their mini men had triumphed. If only I could have flicked Modeste's shot off the line.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Every Second Counts...

Following Saturday's sucker punch by Bath the immediate worry was whether the team would be able to pick themselves up for two midweek relegation six pointers. This did not prove to be a problem as the Magpies created enough chances to win both games but instead continued to fail to maintain concentration and latterly energy to the end, being punished with late goals in the 93rd and 89th minute which saw Boreham Wood and Gosport Borough snatch three points at the death.
Both defeats were hard to take as a mere spectator and one can only speculate about the impact on dressing room morale with essentially the bottom nine clubs relatively even and set to play roughly the final quarter of the season over the next six weeks.
Against Boreham Wood, Maidenhead appeared to initially miss Tyrell Miller-Rodney in the base of midfield, with Adrian Clifton moving back to cover the Brentford loan player, Reece Tison-Lascaris taking Clifton's forward role.There was little to choose between the two clubs in the first half, Harry Grant going closest to opening the scoring with a curling short which almost deceived goalkeeper James Russell.
After the break Boreham Wood tested Elvijs Putnins, the Latvian goalkeeper tipping a Graeme Montgomery shot over the bar, punching a Loick Pires shot away, before combining with Mark Niset to deny Kudus Oyenuga.
The last quarter of the game though was dominated by the Magpies with only a man of the match performance by Russell denying them the lead. Just past the hour mark Russell managed to get his fingertips to a Danny Green strike to deflect it past the post. Then with twenty minutes remaining Russell produced a superb reaction save to deny Grant from close range, then from the resulting corner tipped a Harry Pritchard effort onto the bar. In the last minute Grant had a great opportunity to win the game but couldn't apply a decent contact to the ball so as the game entered stoppage time it looked like the Magpies would have to settle for a point.
Frustratingly though with just seconds left on the clock a Putnins clearance was intercepted by Junior Morias and he ran clear to score and spark delirious scenes on the Boreham Wood bench.
This painful memory was somewhat soothed within three minutes of the start of Thursday's match against Gosport Borough, when Clifton, back in his advanced role thanks to the return of Miller-Rodney, finished from close range to score Maidenhead's first goal at York Road since Boxing Day. The goal naturally proved a real boost to the Magpies and they looked good for their lead in the opening stages of the game. Twice though they failed to take advantage of goalscoring opportunities when the Borough defence stopped in anticipation of an offside flag, the chance to play on seemingly as much a surprise to the Maidenhead players. With the pause causing the forward momentum lost, Grant and Tison-Lascaris squandered the chances and as the half drew on Gosport began to threaten.
Before the half time whistle blew Rory Williams shot over the bar when well placed, whilst United's loan full back Brett Longden had to clear another effort off the line.
In the second half Maidenhead showed plenty of forward intent but could not create a chance to consolidate their lead and a Gosport equaliser began to look inevitable. Borough were increasingly making inroads into the United penalty area with booming cross field balls either from open play or set pieces. These were often met by headers and it was in this fashion that Luke Bennett, who had only returned on loan from Poole the previous day, equalised with half an hour to go.
As the game went on the Magpies increasingly showed signs of fatigue in their third game in six days, and as the clock entered the closing minutes there was an inevitability about the final score which was settled in the final minute when Bennett scored his second brace of the week with a tremendous strike from the edge of the penalty area.
Three defeats of this nature in quick succession can only cast aspersions on Maidenhead's ability to retain their Conference South status. At best there was an opportunity to put daylight between the Magpies and the relegation zone and at worst three draws would have at least maintained the status quo. Instead United need to reboot their season once again to secure 16 points out of the last 36 available to have any confidence of staying out of the bottom three.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Magpies suffer Low blow

The sun shone at last as Maidenhead United took to the York Road turf on a Saturday for the first time in four months. Hopes were high following a run of four away games where the Magpies had scored prolifically and taken a better than expect haul of points. Sadly with opposition in the form of bogey team Bath, United reverted to their usual form against the Romans, slipping to a narrow defeat.
Despite the result though it was just good to see the evidence in person the new Railway stand project which has made great progress in only a week with the old structure all but demolished bar the framework, and two sets of temporary seats in place.
The temporary Maidenhead Advertiser East Stand

The South East Corner

What's left of the Railwayside stand

Unwanted seats next to the temporarily closed Club Shop

Business as usual in Stripes for the Club Shop
As for the game itself, Bath owed their victory firstly by becoming the first club to shut out Maidenhead's new attacking formation led by Adrian Clifton, and secondly by taking advantage of an uncharacteristic slip by goalkeeper Elvijs Putnins with five minutes remaining.
For the most part of the game Maidenhead were on top, Tyrell Miller-Rodney forcing Bath goalkeeper Jason Mellor to push shots past the post twice in the first period, whilst former Magpies Dave Pratt was denied a second goal of the season against his old club by a superb last ditch save by Putnins.
Early in the second half, Putnins made a good double save to keep the game goalless, but despite dominating the rest of the game, United were unable to fashion a chance good enough to break the deadlock. This meant when a high cross from the right went through the hands of Putnins for Josh Low to tap in at the far post, all three points were heading back down the M4 with City.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Sinful Angels left feeling Green with envy

The heartwarming fightback at Basingstoke on Saturday, coupled with Tonbridge's humiliation at Boreham Wood on the same day meant I boarded the train at Waterloo East with great hope of a first ever win at Longmead. An invitation to upgrade to first class due to a lack of free seats cemented the feeling that this was going to be a good evening. A feeling that couldn't be dimmed by a grumpy taxi driver
Still the home team would surely be seething from their humbling at the weekend and be keen to impress from the kick off. Sure enough Tonbridge caught the Magpies cold racing into an early lead when Nathan Pinney rang rings round the United defence before scoring from a tight angle.
Unlike Saturday's similar start though it didn't take long for Maidenhead to hit back. Within minutes Angels goalkeeper Lewis Carey was called into action to make good saves from Harry Pritchard and Dan Brown with the equaliser arriving just after the quarter hour mark when Tyrell Miller-Rodney blazed a trail through the Tonbridge defence before cutting the ball back from the byline to Adrian Clifton who fed Danny Green to score.
The goal settled the Maidenhead nerves and set the tone for a topsy turvy game which saw both sides enjoy periods of dominance with the result a consequence of the more ruthless attacking team.Thus it was Maidenhead who completed the comeback eleven minutes before half time when Clifton, making a welcome return from injury in his withdrawn forward role, set up Green to score his second of the evening.
After the break Tonbridge showed an intense determination to get back into the game and returned the score to parity, nine minutes into the second half when Mark Lovell finished from a fifth successive corner for the Angels. The home team continued to dominate, having a goal disallowed and then hitting the post.
However the fresh legs of Lanre Azeez revitalised the Maidenhead attack with twenty minutes remaining, helping the Magpies to rediscover their attacking verve of the first half. Tonbridge battled manfully to stop Maidenhead retaking the lead but were helpless to stop Green grabbing his hat trick when with ten minutes remaining the winger was able to apply a killer touch with his head after the ball pinballed around the penalty area.
Tonbridge attempted to hit back straightaway drawing the save of the evening at full stretch from Elvijs Putnins, the Latvian tipping a shot from distance behind. This time Tonbridge could make nothing of the corner leaving Maidenhead to seal the points from the penalty spot with one minute remaining. Miller -Rodney was the man brought down, but Green was in no mood to debate who would take the spot kick, brushing off the claims of usual penalty taker Bobby Behzadi, before burying the ball into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the night.
The 4-2 win, all the more important as it meant Maidenhead leapfrogged above Tonbridge in the table, closed a run of four home games with a decent haul of seven points, the only loss coming in the last minute at second placed Eastleigh.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Magpies successfully chase the Dragons

A satisfyingly non conclusive afternoon in North Hampshire which probably saw both managers rue a missed opportunity for three points but ultimately happy to settle for one.
Although by rights I should despise Basingstoke for their Hampshire origins, they have generally avoided the financial excesses that sweep across the clubs of this county from Portsmouth to Aldershot, from Farnborough to Bashley and many, many more. The worst accusation that I could currently level at the club is that's is simply a little dull. A feeling that evidently is shared by the local populace given yesterday's attendance of 272, of which the last two digits were provided by those travelling to support the Magpies.
It really felt like an Isthmian league game yesterday, the dirge of a club song and the poor excuse for a dragon mascot, hinting at a performance from both sides that tried but failed to provide the quality to win the game not helped by an understandably heavy surface.
Buoyed up by two decent performances on the road in the last week, Maidenhead flattered to deceive in the opening period of the game which was dominated by the hosts who deservedly took the lead in the eleventh minute when Jordace Holder-Spooner finished from close range following a corner.
As the first half began to head for the interval the Magpies began to make headway, particularly down the left hand side through Harry Pritchard, however with a distinctly rusty Richard Pacquette leading the line, United failed to create a chance to test Louis Wells in the Town goal. Wells though was at the centre of the first half's main talking point when he brought down Harry Grant as the midfielder drove into the left side of the penalty area, the referee deciding there was no infringement.
After the break, Maidenhead were back to square one when they quickly conceded a goal three minutes after the restart. Andrew Jenkinson met a Nathan Smart cross from the right wing at the far post. His looping header was scraped by the fingertip of Elvijs Putnins which was not enough to divert the ball from its goalward path.
With the deficit doubled, any hope of a way back into the game looked far distant for the Magpies but with Erskine having replaced Pacquette at the interval, United's attacking endeavour acquired a cutting edge. This soon paid dividends with only eight minutes gone in the second half when Pritchard applied a neat finish to Danny Green's cross which was cut back from the right byline, Pritchard signalling his joy to his proud parents behind the goal.
The goal was all the incentive Maidenhead needed to press for an equaliser with its origin being suggested by the way Wells was only able to push a Green shot around the post. From the resulting corner Wells made a superb reaction save after the cross had deflected off one of his own players.
Similarly Wells was unable to hold on to a Green free kick, possibly put off by the face pulling antics of Pritchard hiding behind the wall, however the left winger couldn't quite get to the loose ball.
With twelve minutes remaining though it was a case of third time lucky for Maidenhead. This time it was Pritchard's turn to have a shot parried by Wells, Erskine being quickest to the loose ball to sweep home the equaliser, his first goal for the club. This was understandably greeted by relief by the big forward even allowing for the fact that he had spent the vast majority of his United career since signing in October playing in central defence.
With all three points suddenly up for grabs again Basingstoke pushed hard for a winner but couldn't quite fashion a chance despite a few promising situations from counter attacks. Thus the home team were probably a little more frustrated at the final whistle, although the momentum created by United's comeback meant a draw was a fair result.