Saturday 21st April 2012 // Ryman League One // Attendance: 243 // Report by Sam Bunn
Maidstone United’s play-off ambitions look to be all but over as they fell by three goals to two at Walton Casuals.
With Godalming beating Sittingbourne 3-1 at Bourne Park, the Stones now go into the last game of the season needing a win against Bognor and for Godalming to lose at home to Eastbourne. Maidstone will also need a three goal swing in their favour to overcome the G’s superior goal difference.
Jay Saunders was forced into three changes ahead of the game with Graeme Andrews (dead leg), Danny Lye (back) and Ben Davisson (illness) all missing out; in their place came Ellis Green, Jay Saunders and Alex Flisher.
And in truth, it was probably these disruptive changes, and the loss of Andrews in particular, that cost Maidstone the game. With Andrews missing, Jay Saunders opted for a defensive overhaul with Sam Bewick coming into right back, Tom Mills shuffling across to centre back alongside Sam Groombridge with Tommy Osborne moving to left back. It was an understandable move by the manager, a similar configuration shut out Dulwich Hamlet with aplomb back in February, however this time out the Stones lacked leadership and composure at the heart of the defence as they conceded three avoidable goals.
At the ground which saw Maidstone secure the Ryman South title back in 2007, the first real chance of the game fell to Nathan Abery who got in behind the away defence, however he could only slice the ball wide of John Whitehouse’s post.
The Stones soon felt their way into the game however, and they probably should have taken the lead on twenty minutes when a quickly-taken Welford long throw took the Stags defence by surprise, but Alex Flisher mistimed his free header which went comfortably into the hands of Gareth Williams.
Indeed it was Flisher who had the potential to be Maidstone’s most fruitful outlet in the first half, Walton’s 3-5-2 formation affording the left winger acres of space and a free run and their central defenders, however in the absence of Ben Davisson Maidstone rarely found an incisive pass to set the Barming-based player away.
Nevertheless the Stones did manage to take the lead with twenty minutes on the clock. Chris Davidson misjudged Sam Bewick’s lofted ball forward, and Shaun Welford was on hand to grab his 30th goal of the season after rounding Williams.
It was a deserved goal for Welford who only minutes earlier had an almighty collision with the post after chasing down a sliced clearance by Williams. In addition, it was Bewick’s fourth assist in as many games as the 19-year-old continued his excellent end to the season.
Maidstone quickly looked to extend their lead and Walton had Williams to thank as he made two great saves in quick succession, the first an agile stop from a deflected Flisher free kick, the second tipping over Baff Addae’s long range drive after he cut in from the left.
These scares seemed to jolt Walton into life as they begun to exert some pressure on the Stones’ make-shift back four. First, some indecision in central defence saw Sol Patterson-Bonher shoot wide, and moments later more sloppy defending from a corner saw the ball eventually reach Josh Gallagher, who equalised with an unstoppable 20 yard volley.
The Stones reacted decently to the equaliser, with Welford flicking on for Addae and Green to get shots away respectively, but it would be Walton who would go on to grab the games third goal. An Osborne miscontrol gave the home side a throw in deep inside the Stones half, and from that the ball reached Abery, who despite having a plethora of amber shirts in his vicinity was able to turn with ease and shoot beyond the scrambling Whitehouse.
Then with the Stones on the ropes as half time approached, the Stags will indeed have been disappointed not to be going into the break leading 3-1 after Michael Corbett’s delightful free kick clipped the outside of the post.
The second half began in controversial circumstances; Green pounced on an under hit back pass, and just as Williams smothered the ball Green was felled by Boswell. A penalty was rightly given, however referee Mr Hardie inexplicably saw fit to send Boswell off, despite the fact he was in no way denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Addae stepped up, and his defiantly composed penalty made it 2-2, game and play offs back on.
Or so you would have thought. But the Stones instead regressed, and five minutes later found themselves behind once again when a static defence allowed Abery a free header from Joe Hill’s cross.
Against 10 men and with nothing to lose, manager Saunders bought himself off for Alex Waugh, and the former Margate striker was soon amongst the action, first heading a Flisher cross straight at Williams and then heading wide from a Green centre.
Whitehouse was then on hand to save Groombridge’s blushes after his scuffed clearance landed straight at the feet of Gallagher, and Glenn Stanley then blazed over.
Good work from Addae then saw him square for Welford but he blazed over when well placed, and Groombridge, Addae and Bewick also spurned half chances. Flisher then put in an inviting cross to Welford whose back-post header was superbly blocked by Ben King.
Just as it looked like Maidstone were going to run out of time Groombridge had the ball in the net, heading home Addae’s pullback, but the goal was disallowed with the assistant referee deeming Addae had run the ball out of play, much to the dismay of Groombridge who was booked for his troubles.
Maidstone desperately pushed and prodded as 90 minutes came and went, Flisher once again found Welford at the back post, but the moment had gone, leaving Maidstone United needing a miracle if they are to be in the play-offs at 5PM next Saturday.
Walton Casuals: Josh Gallagher 34, Nathan Abery 44, 57
Maidstone United: Shaun Welford 20, Addae 52 (pen)
Walton Casuals: Gareth Williams, Joe Hill, Chris Davison, Craig Lewington, Jon Boswell, Michael Corbett, Sean Bradley, Josh Gallagher, Nathan Abery, Sol Patterson-Bonher, Ben King. Subs: Glenn Stanley, Kwabena Agyei, Danny Fernandez, Martin Beard, Audie Matheson-Light.
Maidstone United: John Whitehouse; Sam Bewick, Sam Groombridge, Tom Mills, Tommy Osborne; Karl Murray, Jay Saunders (Alex Waugh 58); Baff Addae, Ellis Green, Alex Flisher; Shaun Welford. Subs not used: Sam Hasler, Brett Fairman, Josh James, Steve Northwood.