Saturday 23rd March 2013
Following over 24 hours of near continuous snow, I was correct to assume that virtually all of the local games would be postponed and so headed instead by train to Kent and specifically Maidstone United’s new Gallagher Stadium. No lying snow spotted south of Watford, so no problems with the 3G pitch. Ryman League Division One South leaders Maidstone took the lead just before the interval though from captain Shaun Welford from the penalty spot. Visitors Eastbourne Town, on a decent run of one defeat in ten games, provided difficult opposition and the outcome wasn't settled until deep into stoppage time when Ade Olorunda scored the second goal with virtually the last kick of the game.
Maidstone United 2 Eastbourne Town 0
Ryman League Division One South
At: Gallagher Stadium, James Whatman Way
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £10; Programme: £2 (40 pages)
Weather: cloudy, dry, occasional flakes of light snow
Maidstone United are enjoying a tremendous first season playing back in the town at the new Gallaghers Stadium, opened last July with a pre-seaon friendly against Bighton and Hove Albion. After reforming in 1992 as Maidstone Invicta, the Stones initially played home game on a pitch close to the old London Road ground before groundsharing for a number of years at Sittingbourne. They went into today’s fixture on top of Ryman League Division One South, holding a six-point advantage of second-placed Dulwich Hamlet who had two games in hand. Maidstone's next game in three days time is a trip to Dulwich.
I visited the old London Road ground on three occasions with Stafford Rangers for Gola League and GM Vauxhall Conference fixtures including the last league game in April 1998 (photo right). There weren’t many grounds around with a greyhound track enclosing the pitch and I can only think of the old Wembley Stadium, old Canterbury City ground, Lisburn Distillery and Glastonbury’s Abbey Moor Stadium amongst those I’ve visited. Maidstone subsequently gained promotion to the Football League and I saw them lose a Barclays League Division Four Play-off Semi Final Second Leg 2-0 against Cambridge United before a crowd of 5538 at Dartford’s Watling Street ground.
Most recently in 2000, though 13 years ago, I headed back to Maidstone to the small ground next to the old London Road stadium and saw reformed Maidstone United defeat Crockenhill 3-1 in a British Energy Kent County League Premier Division fixture, attendance 110 (http://pitch-side-stories.blogspot.co.uk/2000/02/saturday-19th-february-2000.html).
Today, the weather must be bad around my area if Sutton Coldfield Town have to postpone a home game! Heavy snow that had fallen almost continually since Thursday evening convinced me to look further afield, even as a far as the Bundesliga (no fixtures due to World Cup qualifiers). Kent looked to be the sensible option with Maidstone United playing at home on a 3G pitch and nothing worse than light snow forecast.
The easiest route from Euston station to Maidstone is via St Pancras and Strood. With time to spare, I took a short detour off the Euston Road to Mabel’s Tavern on Mabledon Place (four Shepherd Neame ales to choose from and I opted for Kent’s Best, appropriate for my eventual destination). For some reason, South Eastern Trains decided not to hold the Maidstone-bound train at Stood for customers, like me, on the slightly late running train from St Pancras. Anyway after an exciting half-hour on Stood station, I was on my way again to Maidstone Barracks station and a short walk over the railway bridge (following a sign for Maidstone East) and north along the side of the River Medway to the ground.
Through the turnstiles, programmes were on sale in plentiful supply an hour before kick-off, and the pitch ran lengthways, orientated south–north. All the facilities were down the right-hand side with the main stand containing spectator 442 seats, club offices and changing rooms, and the Spitfire Lounge, a lively bar with the club shop in an adjoining room. Behind the near goal was the Loucas End covered terrace with a larger covered terrace, perhaps double the capacity, at the far north end known as The Henry Reeves & Co Stand. Dugouts were positioned stralling the halfway line down the left-hand side closest to the river.
As I mentioned, Maidstone United (69 points from 33 games) went into this fixture at the top of the table. Visitors Eastbourne Town (46 points from 31 games) arrived at the Gallagher Stadium as an in-form side on a decent run of one defeat from their last ten games.
Teams were announced over the tannoy and I spent the whole game watching from either Henry Reeves stand or the pitch barrier in front. All tickets in the main stand had been sold in advance.
No handshakes photo as the Maidstone players were each accompanied by young supporters and Eastbourne Town (in an interesting red and amber kit) got the game underway attacking the Loucas End in the first half.
Maidstone quickly got the fans excited as they made their way down the side to the Henry Reeves stand at the end their side were attacking. Rory Hill volleyed across the face of goal from the right and Alex Flisher forced a save out of Eastbourne goalkeeper Josh Pelling who couldn’t hold the initial shot and bravely pounced on resulting the loose ball.
The Stones certainly enjoyed plenty of possession but found Eastbourne’s defence difficult to penetrate. Hardly a spot remained around the pitch barrier and many Maidstone fans decided to stay up the other end during the first half to secure a decent second-half vantage point at the Loucas End which they side were going to attack after the interval.
Flisher hit a 35-yard drive wide of the right-hand post as the Stones looked to open the scoring.
It was interesting to hear the thoughts of the fans stood around me in the stand. Just before the half-hour mark, one comments that “so far Danny Lye is my Man of the Match, good pass completion ratio”. Another observed the formation with “Welford as the one striker with Draycott in a withdrawn role”.
Also on the half hour, a long clearance from Deren Ibrhaim was knocked down by Welford into the path of Hill who fired across the face of goal. The Stones continued to threaten. Pelling produced a decent near-post save to keep out a shot from Alex Brown and, in the 40th minute, a header from Welford was blocked on the line.
The deadlock was eventually broken and home nerves calmed in the 42nd minute. There was no dispute when Steve Elliott brought down Welford inside the area, giving the nearby assistant an easy decision to place his flag across his chest. The referee agreed and Welford himself blasted the resulting penalty past Pelling.
Eastbourne responded by finishing the half on the attack and Ross Treleavan saw a decent shot blocked in front of goal.
As I predicted, the fans at the Henry Reeves end made a mass exodus to the other end of the ground, leaving my end a lot quieter.
In Flisher, Maidstone have a ‘Rory Delap’ long throw expert and the one he delivered soon after the restart almost led to a goal. Lye flicked the ball on but Brown couldn’t direct his shot on target at the far post.
Today’s’ attendance… 1657. Certainly a far cry from the 110 who saw the Crockenhill game I attended back in 2000.
Eastbourne weren’t out of it and they won a couple of corners just before the hour mark which, frustratingly for the visitors, came to nothing. Maidstone, however, continued to create the better chances and Welford sent a looping header over the bar from Hill’s cross.
I felt that the introduction of pacy substitute Kaiyne Woolery posed problems for the Eastbourne defence after the striker shot straight at Pelling with his first touch.
There was no doubting the strong vocal support from the fans at the Loucas End, they just needed a second goal to settle any nerves. Again the Stones went close in the 88th minute when Flisher lashed a shot wide of the target.
The lack of a second goal could have proved costly as the visitors, with defender Ben Austin pushed forward, again won a couple of corners which came to nothings.
Probably with the points already in the bag as the fans were chanting “we are top of the league” etc., Maidstone put the outcome beyond doubt with that much-needed second goal deep into stoppage time. Flisher crossed low from the left and substitute Ade Olorunda sidefooted home at close range to scored his 11th of the season.
The beauty of having a Virgin return from London Euston is that my day in the south-east can continue up to the last train home at 21:00. So, consulting my Cask Marque app, I spotted a four-pub route from the Gallagher Stadium to Maidstone West station via the Society Rooms (Brookman’s Winter Ale), Swan on County Road (Thwaites Big Ben), Bull Inn on Boxley Road (Greene King Abbot Ale) and the Muggleton Inn on the High Street (Flack Catcher). A half in each rounded off my time in Maidstone which was nearly extended into a night in London as I caught the Javelin back to St Pancras with seconds to spare because the train up to Strood from Maidstone ran several minutes late.
Looking back, I’m pleased the weather at home forced me to head south to Maidstone. After the problems surrounding the demise of the old club and finding a new home in the town, I was pleased to find a club on the up with buzzing fans supporting the team in large numbers. I’ll be keeping an eye on the score in three days time when the top two meet at Dulwich Hamlet.
Maidstone United (amber/black/black): 1. Deren Ibrahim, 2. Tommy Osborne, 3. Jon Harley, 4. Tom Mills, 5. Graeme Andrews, 6. Alex Brown, 7. Rory Hill, 8. Danny Lye, 9. Shaun Welford (capt), 10. Ian Draycott, 11. Alex Flisher. Subs: 12. Ade Olorunda (for Welford, 81), 14. Dan Stubbs (not used), 15. Tim Olorunda (For Draycott, 87), 16. Kaiyne Woolery (for Hill, 69), 21gk. Tony Kessell (not used).
Eastbourne Town (red/amber/red): 1. Josh Pelling, 2. Luke Denton, 3. Ross Sutton, 4. Steve Elliott, 5. Ben Austin (capt), 6. Ethan Strevett, 7. John Lansdale, 8. Ross Treleavan, 9. Danny Curd, 10. Aaron Hopkinson, 11. Matt Cabb. Subs: 12. Romone McCrane (for Lansdale, 69), 14. Sam Crabb (not used), 15. Dan Rogers (not used), 16. Richard Greenfield (for Hopkinson, 77), 17. Evan Archibald (for Curd, 67).
Referee: Keith Yeo.
Assistants: Edward Smith and Dean Skipper.
Duration: first-half: 46:20; second-half: 50:12
1-0 Shaun Welford (42 pen)
2-0 Ade Olorunda (90+5)
Maidstone: Shaun Welford (YC, 24)
Eastbourne: Ben Austin (YC, 65), Matt Crabb (YC, 74)