Saturday 22 September 2012 // FA Cup with Budweiser Second Qualifying Round // Attendance:345 // Report by Sam Bunn
After sixty-five minutes of this game, it certainly did not look like Maidstone United would be repeating the goalscoring exploits have defined Jay Saunders’ time managing in the FA Cup during the last two seasons.
However repeat those exploits Saunders’ boys did, scoring five goals in the last quarter of the game to blow Grays Athletic out of the water and out of the FA Cup.
The Stones have now notched a remarkable 33 goals in six FA Cup games under their player-manager, and have been rewarded for their latest victory in the competition with £4,500 in prize money and a place in the Third Qualifying Round.
Injuries to centre backs Graeme Andrews and Steve Ward forced Saunders into a defensive reshuffle ahead of the game, and it was the solidity of the back four of Ryan Cooper, Nicky Humphrey, Tom Mills and Tommy Osborne that gave the away side the platform to go and win the game.
Cooper was at his exuberant best at right back, keeping the dangerous Joao Carlos at bay and making one particularly impressive tackle one the Portuguese when he looked to have the time and space to run full speed at Humphrey. Meanwhile Mills, an occasional replacement at centre back in times of strife, stepped up to the mark with assurance and maturity, curbing his attacking instincts to hold good positions and throwing himself head-first into the nitty gritty that is being a centre half in a match between two Ryman League teams.
It was the man sandwiched between Cooper and Mills, Nicky Humphrey, who had two of the first halves earliest chances, getting his head on two Alex Flisher long throws, one of which had George Kamarusi scrambling as the ball looped onto the top of the net.
Early on Jake Hall shot straight at Ibrahim, and then after Humphrey’s pair of headers Hall was again well placed before being stopped in his tracks by the covering Mills. Paul Booth and Kaiyne Woolery then had volleys blocked by defence and goalkeeper, and a couple of goalmouth scrambles could not be forced in by Booth and Shaun Welford.
A Lee Flynn volley was well saved by Deren Ibrahim, and Tim Olorunda then saw his header cleared off the line as the Stones finished the first half the strongest.
The Maidstone United threat had mainly been from set pieces, in open play the striking duo of Booth and Shaun Welford looked isolated and spent much of the half chasing down service lacking refinement, but Jay Saunders will have been pleased with his side’s defensive display, with Grays failing to use their numerical superiority in central midfield to create any meaningful advantage.
The second half began in a quiet fashion, although Carlos did finally find some space on the left before thrashing a shot just wide of Ibrahim’s left post.
However the game finally flashed into life on sixty-eight minutes with Booth’s curling finish opening the floodgate for the Stones. Welford hit the byline on the left-hand-side, and as the home defence retreated towards the goalline in unison, Booth held his position on the eighteen yards out, giving himself all the time and space in the world to receieve the ball and put it delightfully beyond the reach of Kamarusi.
Ben Davisson then doubled his side’s lead with a marvelous strike into the top corner from thirty yards. A Grays throw deep in their own half was quickly given away to Booth, and the former Lewes man laid it off to Davisson who did the rest. It had been a fairly quiet game for the diminutive midfielder, however he again proved his quality with a goal that must be among the best in this year’s cup so far.
Suddenly two goals down, Athletic were on the ropes, and all defensive shape was out of the window as centre back Junior Baker plundered forward to plot some sort of retort to Booth and Davisson’s finishes. However it was to be the Stones who swiftly got a third, putting the game beyond doubt. The returning Sam Bewick picked the ball up on the right, and his switched pass comfortably took out the few remaining Grays defenders to leave Davisson to confidently slot home for his second.
With the game in the 90th minute Grays went into full-on implosion mode as the Stones added a fourth and fifth courtesy of their two wide midfielders. Bewick took advantage of a catastrophic lack of communication between Flynn and Grant Cooper to leather the ball past Kamarusi, and Flisher then made it five, having the freedom of the left-side of the pitch before finishing with ease.
However it was to be at the other end of the pitch, deep into stoppage time, that perhaps best defined the spirit of this Maidstone performance, with rasping shots from Kenny Beaney, Danny Bunce and Jack West all simultaneously blocked by the Stones defence and Ibrahim, throwing their bodies on the line when it would have been easier not to bother with the score at 5-0.
And with a team with that sort of courage and determination, coupled with the obvious attacking talents of Saunders’ charges, it might not be long before people start asking whether Maidstone United are capable of doing something very special in this year’s FA Cup.
Grays Athletic (4-2-3-1): George Kamarusi; Craig Pope, Junior Baker, Grant Cooper, Lee Flynn; Jake Hall (Jack West 80), Leon Lalite; Luke Marshall (Danny Bunce 57), Joe Sweeney, Joao Carlos; James Bunn (Kenny Beaney 68). Subs not used: Ryan Kirby, David East, Jamie Richards, Dan Fry.
Maidstone United (4-4-2): Deren Ibrahim; Ryan Cooper, Nicky Humphrey, Tom Mills, Tommy Osborne; Kaiyne Woolery (Sam Bewick 63), Ben Davisson (Michael Phillips 81), Tim Olorunda, Alex Flisher; Shaun Welford (Ian Draycott 79), Paul Booth. Subs not used: Jay Saunders, Steve Ward, Danny Lye, Charlie Mitten
Maidstone United goalscorers: Paul Booth 68, Ben Davisson 76, 78, Sam Bewick 90, Alex Flisher 90.