"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Sunday 17 April 2011

Away Day (sort of) Diary: Thurrock 1-2 Maidenhead United (16/04/11)

Bad luck. Injuries. Referees. Financial constraints.

All of the above excuses reasons have been used to explain why Maidenhead United have struggled so badly this season.

Well, they say things even up throughout a season, and it would seem that the Magpies were repaid in kind at Ship Lane on Saturday for eight months or so of not having the "rub of the green". Indeed, the Maidenhead Advertiser should be a "bad luck, injuries, referees, financial constraints" free zone this week. However, the same might not be true of the Thurrock Gazette.

With Jefferson Louis (widely regarded by Gasheads as THE worst player to wear the blue and white quarters of Bristol Rovers ... and that's some statement!) out through injury, Craig Faulconbridge got the nod - ahead of Alex Wall - to start up front for United. Rainey had commented, in the car on the way to the game, that he would rather Kieran 'I run faster off the pitch - at the end of the game, having not clapped the fans - than I do on it' Knight than either Woking loanee Faulconbridge or yellow card magnet Wall. Bob the Plumber agreed in the bar pre-kick-off and went so far as to say that even he was quicker than Faulconbridge!

However, less than five minutes gone, and Faulconbridge was in the thick of the action: manhandled as a cross came into the Thurrock penalty area. The ref had no option but to point to the spot, allowing a striker with convictions for animal cruelty and affray to squeeze the free shot under the keeper. I was able to play Nigel Keene and get a decent photo of the action (below, top). I didn't join in the celebrations of the twenty or so Magpies fans behind the goal (below, bottom) owing to the identity of the goalscorer; I'm still not happy that we signed Anthony Thomas (family club, my arse).

On a dry and patchy pitch, Thurrock was the better side after that, increasingly forcing Maidenhead onto the back foot. Nevin Saroya (who was presumably picked instead of Grant Cooper because the 'Male Model' cannot play too many games in a short space of time) looked distinctly uncomfortable against Danny Hockton, while the ever-impressive Matt Bodkin was enjoying himself against Bobby Behzadi (out of position at left-back). Will Hendry looked less than match-fit, and Faulconbridge, although sure of touch, was ponderous and failed to win (m)any headers against the towering Paul Olima.

Therefore it was no surprise when Thurrock equalised. Maidenhead keeper Steve Williams (who flapped several times throughout) palmed a shot straight into the path of ex-Magpie midfielder Dean Cracknell, who made no mistake from close range. Indeed, Thurrock should have led at the interval, but an unmarked player headed wide at the far post as the goal gaped. A bout of shoving between Williams and Saroya perhaps best summed up Maidenhead's first half.

The Fleet, cheered on by their small but boisterous band of followers (who made themselves heard throughout, in contrast to those who had travelled from Berkshire), continued their dominance into the second period and would have taken the lead if it were not for some bad luck; the ball hitting the Maidenhead bar and then being cleared off the line after another Williams flap and an almighty goalmouth scramble. They were then hampered by injury when Bodkin was forced off, severely reducing their attacking threat.

Then the referee began to take centre stage (never a good sign). First, he decided the 'Alex Wall (on for Faulconbridge) yellow card sweep stake' and then, on the advice of the linesman, awarded Maidenhead a free kick just outside the box after the aforementioned young striker had thrown himself theatrically to the ground upon minimal contact. If it was a foul (and it shouldn't have been, IMO), then the offending Thurrock defender should have walked, no question. Instead, he followed Wall into the book. Before the resulting free-kick was taken (below, middle), Hendry became involved in a slanging match with irritant Thurrock full-back (and Bez-from-Happy-Mondays lookalike) Lee Flynn, sparking some minor fisticuffs (which continued at the final whistle). The ref, rapidly losing control of the game at this point, spoke to seemingly everyone bar Flynn!

Thurrock's major gripe with the ref came after the game's winning goal, though, which in turn followed the belated introduction of Ashley Smith (how he cannot get into this Maidenhead side, I'll never know ... Well, I do, Drax doesn't like him). The goal was also preceded by several Maidenhead fans, including me, lamenting what a dreadful game we were witnessing (one particularly aimless Saroya hoof brought audible groans) and saying that we'd happily take a draw (bearing in mind Thurrock's difficult run-in). As it was, the hitherto ineffective Max Worsfold (tidy but a bit lightweight) cut inside a defender onto his heavily favoured left foot and lifted a delightful curler into the goalkeeper's top right-hand corner, sending the travelling support into raptures (Leicester Les ripping my coat in the celebrations!). As soon as he hit it, we knew it was in. A great feeling!

The perhaps-overly-dramatic PA man announced the goal as coming in the 91st minute, so we naturally assumed the final whistle was imminent. However, it wasn't until after 5pm that the game ended; the official inexplicably found several extra minutes (of 'Fergie time'). During this nervous period, he nearly gave me and several other Magpies fans, I'm sure, a heart attack when blowing his whistle as a cross went into the Maidenhead box and a loud appeal went up. It initially looked like he had given a penalty, but instead, he had awarded us a free kick. Mr Logic spoke to the noisy Thurrock lads in the bar afterwards, and they were adamant it was a clear handball by a Maidenhead player before any Thurrock indiscretion.
As such, our relief was palpable at the end of the game. Chants of "we are staying up" were tempered somewhat by the realisation that we had played a 'get out of jail, free' card, robbing the Fleet of (at least) a point. To be fair - in stark contrast to Dartford - Johnson Hippolyte was quick to applaud the fans, followed by most of the players (the irony being that the vocal support at Princes Park was significantly more impressive than the comparative whimper at Ship Lane). Hats off, performance-wise, to Ashley Nicholls - who was comfortably the best Maidenhead player - and full-backs Leon Soloman (a good outlet on the right) and Bobby Behzadi (tireless, as ever). John Scarborough was also solid, while Worsfold's goal was a beauty. Everyone else, to varying degrees, had games to forget.

Still, the result, rather than the performance, was the (vitally) important thing. Thurrock is more or less down now, and the desperate look on their fans' faces in the bar afterwards told their own story. Even though they were probably the better side on the day and (at least) deserving of a draw, IMO, this is the worst Thurrock side I can remember. Well, perhaps not the worst, but certainly the most timid. Bodkin going off didn't help them (he destroyed us at York Road last season and had the beating of Behzadi on Saturday). But the days of Cliff Akurang, Tresor Kandol, Jimmy McFarlane, John Purdie, etc. bullying other teams seem long gone. There was a sense as we left the ground that we might not be back again any time soon. Good riddance, some might say. And while I certainly won't miss visits to Thurrock - I've always quite liked the ground, if not the journey around the M25 to get there - I wish their supporters, particularly the (relatively) new ones who clearly like a sing-song, all the best.

As for Maidenhead, (belatedly) splashing the cash on a plethora of experienced players (in addition to a plethora of inexperienced players) in a bid to beat the drop is seemingly paying dividends. Some clubs in this division might have more financial muscle than us, but complaining about being unable to compete with the likes of Farnborough CVA misses the point. Bristol Rovers, for example, cannot compete financially with the likes of Southampton in League One. However, they can compete (and some) financially with Dagenham & Redbridge and Exeter City, for example, in the same way that Maidenhead United can compete financially with the likes of Weston-super-Mare and Thurrock. The artificially-created Conference South is starting to 'right itself', however. As aforementioned, Thurrock will more than likely go this year. Who else, among the 'have nots', will be left? Not many. For "real sense of achievement", if/when we beat the drop this year, read "blowing another £125K on merely delaying the inevitable".

Enjoy it while it lasts, they say. Well, the only things I enjoyed on Saturday were the pre-match cheeseburger (are the famous Fleet burgers still available? I didn't see them advertised), Worsfold's superb strike, the fact that Maidenhead won (albeit undeservedly, what was a pretty dire game between two poor sides, which cost a rather steep £12 to watch) and the chance to meet with some friends who I hadn't seen for a while (Bobby P, for example, was regaled during the first half with anecdotes from last month's trip to Berwick). 

I suppose this is why I usually drink at games! (I was the designated driver on Saturday.) 

Hey ho, here's to Fancy Dress away day at Truro next season!

P.P.S. While the Maidenhead fans didn't make much in the way of concerted noise on Saturday, there were several expletives shouted, especially in the first half. I trust a certain MUFC Ltd Director has been busy writing letters today and that a certain MUSA Secretary made notes of names and faces, so he can admonish people unrelated to these events, in years to come ...

P.P.P.S. I read on the forum today that, in a bid to beat the 'York Road curse', the manager urinated in each corner of the ground after our goalless draw with Humpton (which preceded our 1-0 win over Eastleigh, our first home win in more than seven months). Apt. As some might say that Drax has been taking the piss all season!

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