Saturday 17 January // Ryman League Premier Division // Attendance: 2,086 // Report by Ruth Tunnell
The Stones have pulled three points clear at the top of the table and still have two games in hand after they ground out a win over a tricky AFC Hornchurch side.
It is difficult to imagine that the Urchins will finish the season down towards the bottom of the table on this showing. After all, they looked like one of the better sides to have played at the Gallagher Stadium this season and had they taken the opportunities that they created, they might have condemned Maidstone to their first home defeat of the 2014 / 2015 campaign.
Right from the off, the visitors looked the stronger of the two sides. With just two minutes gone, Kieran Bishop hooked a good pass to George Purcell who was entering the area but he shot well wide.
Bishop and Purcell were involved again shortly afterwards. Bishop did well to get a cross into the box which Purcell couldn’t quite get hold of and the ball came to Thomas Gogo who saw his low drive deflect wide of the left hand post
With 14 minutes played, Steve Watt got caught in possession by Bishop. However, Tom Mills rescued the Stones with an excellent challenge just as Bishop looked to be getting a clear sight of goal.
Not long after this, the two Maidstone debutants – Shane Huke and Billy Bricknell – were involved before Bricknell slipped the ball into Matt Bodkin. The Maidstone winger hit a shot with the outside of his right boot which threatened to creep inside the left hand post before Sam Mott intervened with a fine full length save to push the ball behind for a corner.
It was then Lee Worgan’s turn to demonstrate his goalkeeping prowess. Purcell got in down the left hand side despite Huke’s trying to catch him and he managed to get a shot away which Worgan did well to push away from goal with Toby Joseph waiting to pounce.
On 28 minutes played, Worgan could do nothing to prevent Gogo’s free-kick clipping the outside of the right hand post after Jack Parkinson had fouled Junior Luke. Then Purcell rushed forwards and unleashed a shot from just outside the box which flashed inches wide of Worgan’s right hand post.
Hornchurch continued to look dangerous going forwards though and after Huke’s long throw had been cleared, they broke quickly through Bishop. Bishop was chased all the way into the box by Mills who was already on a booking and so couldn’t risk bringing the Urchins player down before Mills picked his moment and nicked the ball away from Bishop with a tremendous sliding challenge.
Then on 37 minutes, the Stones took the lead against the run of play. Ben Greenhalgh put a good delivery into the box from a free-kick which picked out Nathan Elder. Elder’s header looked to be trickling in and although Mott got a hand to it, the Hornchurch keeper could couldn’t stop Steve Watt from tapping the ball in from all of a couple of yards out.
The second half followed a similar pattern with the visitors enjoying a decent amount of possession and on 55 minutes they squandered an excellent chance to draw level. Huke was beaten to a header by Luke out on the Maidstone right and Bishop found himself in acres of space with the goal at his mercy but he blasted the chance wide.
It wasn’t long before the Urchins threatened again though. The visitors drove forwards in numbers and the ball came to substitute Danny Johnson who struck a low shot goalwards but he was denied by another fine stretching save from Worgan.
Hornchurch’s failure to take their chances was always likely to prove costly and as the game entered its final moments, the Stones pushed on in search of a second goal. On 84 minutes, Bricknell headed the ball into Bodkin who tried to lob Mott but he was unsuccessful before seconds later, substitute Alex Brown did well to pick out Bricknell whose shot was tipped behind by the Urchins’ keeper.
Then with just two minutes left, Maidstone made sure of the victory. Brown won the ball just outside his own box and the ball was worked to Parkinson in midfield. Parkinson threaded the ball to Bricknell who ran forwards and cut inside before hitting a hard effort which Mott spilled. On hand to take advantage was substitute Frannie Collin and he did well to keep his composure and find the back of the net to give the Stones their second win in a row.
Maidstone United: Steve Watt 37, Frannie Collin 88
AFC Hornchurch: –
Maidstone United: Lee Worgan, Shane Huke, Tom Mills, Steve Watt, Sonny Miles, James Rogers, Matt Bodkin (Alex Akrofi 89), Jack Parkinson, Nathan Elder (Frannie Collin 78), Billy Bricknell, Ben Greenhalgh (Alex Brown 76). Subs not used: Phil Starkey Will Godmon.
AFC Hornchurch: Sam Mott, Alex Bentley (Danny Johnson 63), Chris Bourne, Elliot Styles, Billy Roast, Frankie Curley, Toby Joseph (Dominic Smith 78), Thomas Gogo, Kieran Bishop, George Purcell, Junior Luke (Billy Coyne 64). Subs not used: Martin Tuohy, Joey May.