Monday 6 March // Ryman Youth League East // Attendance: 58 // Report by Josh Bailey
Maidstone progressed to the semi-finals of the Kent Youth League Cup in a nail biting end-to-end thriller, thanks to a late goal seeing them past their divisional rivals Ashford.
After a stalemate opening ten minutes, Maidstone took the lead with their first shot on target after the ever-productive Sidney Warden found himself in acres of space, feeding it through it to Josh Stirman, who had the easy job of slotting it home.
The Stones lead was nearly cancelled out three minutes later when Ashford’s Brandon Williams got the luck of the bounce, hitting the ball on the half volley but not generating enough power to find the equaliser.
Eventually that precious equaliser came as Kieran Bull lashed at the ball from outside the area. It looked like a comfortable save for the Maidstone keeper but an unlucky deflection against one of his defenders sent him the other way, leaving a bouncer to bring the scores level.
In the second half the Stones picked up where they left off, with Max Borland forcing a super save from Aarron Wharton at his near post.
Immediately Ashford were down the other end and had their second goal of the night. It was all thanks to Charlie Sharp and some immaculate finishing.
Maidstone failed to clear a corner, the ball landed to Sharp, who from six yards out, decided against the cross, instead going for the shot, curling it in the very top right hand corner, finishing from a near impossible acute angle.
Maidstone were not behind for long and it was Warden who would grab his first of night. A throw in was catapulted into the area towards Max Borland. He got just enough of a touch on it to direct it towards Warden, lofting it over the keeper and bringing the scores level for the second time at the Gallagher.
Ashford, who all evening had been good on the counter attack, once again punished Maidstone, with Brandon Williams finding the back of the net for the away team. Ashford, who were attacking towards the new stand, had men over on the right-hand side, exploiting that space very well. They found Brandon Williams who was able to bring himself closer to the keeper, smashing the ball home before a defender could reach him.
Just like the story of the night, Maidstone once again showed the determination to find another leveller. Tom Barton outpaced his marker, delivering a pin point cross in towards Warden who still had the deceivingly difficult task of stretching the ball into the net making it 3-3.
With the clock ticking, Ashford had numerous amounts of chances – Clark Woodcock with the best but he couldn’t quite finish at Nathan Akhlaq’s near post.
Then deep into injury time, with it looking more likely that Ashford were going to find a winner, Warden pumped the ball upfield to the substitute striker Dale Ashman. He initially missed his touch but as the keeper went to catch the ball, he headed it out of his hands in a fair contest. With the keeper in no man’s land, Ashman tapped it into an empty net, leaving Ashford’s dreams shattered but putting the Stones through to the cup semi-finals.
Ashford will have to get over their heartbreak quickly as they return to league life with a trip away to lowly placed Raynes Park Vale later today (9 March). However, the Stones next game does not fall till Wednesday 29 March, where they will have a crucial tie with Corinthian.
STONES TEAM: Nathan Akhlaq, Lewis Scotter, Sam Fairweather-Oates, Harrison Hume, Ben Fitchett, Tyler Dockwray, Josh Stirman, James O’Halloran, Lucas Murrain, Sid Warden, Max Borland. SUBS: Dale Ashman, Tom Barton, Lewis Risk, Colby Wait