Maidstone United 2-1 Wealdstone
2 - 1
In an edgy performance at Bourne Park, Sittingbourne on Saturday, Wealdstone often looked like a side bearing the heavy weight of expectation on their shoulders. The heady realisation of players and supporters that the team’s outstanding exploits of the past two weeks have propelled them into the play off zone, meant that high standards and levels of performance need to be maintained each and every game to keep the dream alive. Of course that degree of consistency under pressure is rarely possible and so it proved against a big and physically strong Maidstone United side with an agenda of their own to deal with.
Stones drew level to a poorly conceded goal in a good first half performance but rarely stamped any sustained authority on the game and in the second period it was mainly huff and puff and they lost out to a winner from United in the 61st minute, despite some late pressure.
Ben Alexander came in for Davis Haule who was rested and Carl Martin returned to the centre half position with James Gray serving a two match suspension. Sean Thomas served his one match ban on Saturday with Luke Woods deputising.
The uncomplicated but effective style of the home side was to lump the ball into the wide areas giving freedom to their lively forwards, particularly Meshach Nugent who was a threat throughout. Within a minute of the start United sent a shot over Woods and Stones backline needed to be on the alert and needing to watch their communication. Woods was tested only minutes later as a quick break saw the home side almost break through as Stones defence appeared strangely static.
Stones were dealt a serious blow on 11 minutes when Carl Martin appeared to lose his footing from an awkward inside pass from Marvin McCoy. That was all the space Meshach Nugent needed and he nipped pass Martin to shoot past Woods who was completely exposed.
But Wealdstone hit back and began to show in attack straight form the restart. From a good move down the bone hard pitch minutes later Maidstone conceded a corner. David Hicks took the kick and Greg Ngoyi got up brilliantly to head home with a thumping text book header for the equaliser.
A super way to get back into the match and the perfect tonic for Stones who now seemed to have their confidence surging back. For a while it looked good and Ngoyi soon had another chance as he used his pace to get clear of his marker but his firm strike was blocked by United keeper Andy Walker.
But Stones defence was looking less assured than of late and combined with a failure to hold possession consistently, United continued to threaten – albeit sporadically.
Just before the half hour mark, from a United corner, only a desperate goal line clearance prevented a further reversal. The bone hard pitch was causing problems for both sides with the high bounce from kicks and long balls forcing errors and making close control difficult.
Undoubtedly Chris O’Leary’s tremendous work rate was keeping Stones tempo up – his constant harrying of the opposition and chasing down of 50/50 balls made him a clear contender of Stones man of the match.
Stones had two more chance to take the lead before the break. First Ryan Ashe was forced to shoot weakly when presented with an excellent chance from Kieron Forbes who generally had a frustrating afternoon by his high standards.
Then Forbes put in a superb cross but Ngoyi’s flying header was just of target and their best chance to take the lead was gone, and, as it turned out probably for the remainder of the match.
The second period saw scrappy play from both sides as Stones struggled to assert any real authority in the midfield and penetrating attacks were at a premium.
Stones were struck a serious injury blow when outstanding centre half Alan Massey limped off going in for one challenge to many and pulling his already niggly hamstring. He will probably be out for the remainder of the season. Darren Locke replaced on 55 minutes.
The away side’s play looked increasingly edgy but a rare chance presented for Chris O’Leary who got forward from a Hicks free kick.
From an even rarer United attack that looked threatening in the final third, Nugent again was the danger man. Locke seemed to have the situation covered but Maidstone’s lively No7 had other ideas as he turned the bearded substitute and shot past Woods from a tight angle. The surprisingly mute home crowd seemed as surprised as Wealdstone’s defence.
The game was now being chased and slipping away from Stones and for all their late efforts could not break down a stubborn United rearguard. The remaining substitutes were used – Danny Spendlove being the most effective down the flanks. Ben Clarke was unable to gain the freedom on the floor that he needed as the ball was constantly sent skywards with frantic counter play.
The game fizzled out in disappointing fashion for an expectant Stones side but they just about got away with results around them in the Ryman Premier table and this gives them another bite at the play off cherry next Saturday (11 April) when they entertain fellow outside contenders, Dartford, at The Vale
Wealdstone: Woods, McCoy, Chappell, Martin, Massey, Ashe, Forbes, O’Leary, Alexander, Ngoyi, Hicks. Subs used: Locke, Clarke, Spendlove. N/u: Haule, Leggatt.