Saturday 25 April // Ryman League Premier Division // Attendance: 2,226 // Report by Ruth Tunnell
Maidstone United are the Ryman Premier Division champions. The Stones crowned a brilliant season with victory over East Thurrock United which meant Maidstone finished three points ahead of second placed Hendon.
The Stones looked in a relaxed mood from the outset and they could have taken the lead as early as the eighth minute. Jamie Coyle came in from the right and slipped a decent pass into Billy Bricknell who shot from an acute angle and whilst it went past David Hughes in the East Thurrock goal, it also went wide of the far post.
A long ball from Steve Watt was then headed up in the air by Ryan Sammons. Tom Mills was lurking nearby and his volley from out on the left flew just wide of the target.
Maidstone continued to dominate and Matt Bodkin saw a rising shot claimed by Hughes before the Stones took the lead on 22 minutes with Bodkin instrumental in the build up. The Stones’ winger went on a surging run down the left hand side and cut in before squaring the ball into the middle where Jay May swept in his 24th goal of the season.
But with 30 minutes gone, a strange referring decision handed East Thurrock the chance to level the scores. Steve Watt appeared to make a decent and fair tackle on Sam Higgins inside the box only for the referee, Mr Marks, to point to the spot. Higgins himself took the penalty and he crashed it against the right hand post.
The party mood soon went up another notch when the Stones added a second goal. James Rogers gave the ball to Billy Bricknell who worked his way across the edge of the box before picking his spot and leaving Hughes rooted to the spot as the ball went into the left hand side of the net.
In the later stages of the first half Maidstone could have added to their tally. May and Frannie Collin exchanged passes whilst pushed forwards and Collin’s eventual cross was met by Bricknell who scooped the ball over the bar from about six yards out.
Then shortly afterwards, Bricknell expertly turned into space and went on a strong run forwards. He then waited before playing May in on goal. Hughes came rushing off his line and although May went round him, he was forced too wide and the opportunity passed.
East Thurrock came flying out of the blocks in the second half and Lewis Smith’s low shot just missed the left hand post. The Rocks continued look threatening and on 54 minutes, Smith was involved again when his low drive was creeping inside the right hand post until Lee Worgan intervened with a superb one handed save.
Just before the hour, Smith got in on goal only for Worgan to make another fantastic block. Then at the other end, substitute Jack Paxman went on a good run which ended with Bodkin’s shot just failing to be turned in by Collin as Hughes came off his line to snuff out the danger.
It was East Thurrock who looked the more likely to score though and they should have done so just past the midway point of the half. Smith found substitute Joe Paxman who picked out Higgins and he dragged his effort wide when well placed.
However, the Rocks did pull a goal back on 75 minutes. Smith gave the ball to Mitchell Gilbey inside the box and he fired a neat finished into the right hand side of the net.
But if anyone in the ground was getting concerned that East Thurrock might be about to slightly spoil the afternoon, Maidstone pulled further ahead. Collin chased Tom Stephen all the way back into his own half and Stephen tried to pass the ball back to goal keeper Hughes. Hughes made a hash of his attempted clearance leaving Bricknell with the simple task of side footing the ball into an unguarded net.
Then with just six minutes remaining, Max Cornhill scored with a bullet header but it wasn’t to matter as the Stones hung on to be crowned champions and round off their best season since reforming with their 29th league victory of the campaign.
Maidstone United: Jay May 22, Billy Bricknell 38, 83
East Thurrock United: Mitchell Gilbey 75
Maidstone United: Lee Worgan, Jamie Coyle, Tom Mills, Steve Watt (Sonny Miles 63), Shane Huke, James Rogers (Alex Brown 68), Matt Bodkin, Jack Parkinson, Jay May (Jack Paxman 61), Frannie Collin, Billy Bricknell. Subs not used: Craig Stone, Will Godmon
East Thurrock United: David Hughes, Ryan Sammons, Tom Stephen, Paul Goodacre (Simon Peddie 45), Ben Wood, Nicky Symons (Joe Paxman 68), Mitchell Gilbey, Connor Witherspoon, Sam Higgins, Max Cornhill, Lewis Smith. Subs not used: David Bryant, Ellis Brown, Kye Ruel.