Saturday 11th November 2017, 1500 KO
Maidenhead United FC vs Gateshead FC
The Build Up
There is an odd anomaly in the top goalscorer table for the Vanarama National League. Sitting near to the top is a man who hasn’t played since August. With 44 goals last season, Dave Tarpey was one of the key factors propelling Maidenhead United to the Vanarama National South title. After seven goals in August, he earned a move to Barnet (where, guttingly, he promptly picked up a serious injury), and many casual observers may have thought that would be the end of the Magpies’ survival bid.
However, said casual observers would have been wrong. As November trundles along, Maidenhead are sitting comfortably in 11th, and have taken to this division like the proverbial ducks to water. Joint second top scorers in the league, they have dealt with the loss of their talisman admirably. An unbeaten league run stretching back to a surprise 4-0 loss to Torquay on October 3rd was interrupted by a loss away to Coventry City in the FA Cup last weekend. Maidenhead would be looking to get back on track against today’s visitors to York Road – Gateshead.
Last time I watched Gateshead was at Gander Green Lane, where they drew 1-1 with then league leaders Sutton United. Since then, The Heed have dropped down to 18th in the division, after a patchy October. Two wins, two draws and two losses may be endearingly symmetrical form, but unfortunately symmetry isn’t a key criteria for most fans when assessing form.
A 2-0 victory over Chelsmford Town last week saw Gateshead into Round Two of the FA Cup, and Steve Watson will certainly hope that his side can continue the good feeling away in Berkshire.
York Road is an unusual football ground, in so much as it is right in the centre of town. Typically, I like to arrive at a stadium a few hours before and walk around, take some photos, and generally just experience the pre-match atmosphere. As lovely as Maidenhead undoubtedly is, this was a mistake today. With no parking available at York Road itself, it ended up costing an irritatingly expensive £8 to park for the day…
The ground itself is a proper, old-school football ground. With one seated stand, and the rest of the ground terracing, it really lends itself to noisy, claustrophobic supporting – the travelling Gateshead fans, around a hundred of them, duly obliged. A portion chips and curry sauce (£3), a diet coke, and a programme (£3) took the edge off some ropey music pre-match. Clearly an angry teenager was on the playlist, as it sounded like a Kerrang album from around 2002. A £15 ticket would take the day’s activities well over twenty quid, but that is still below the admission prices at a lot of Maidenhead’s contemporaries in the Vanarama National.
With all the players out on the pitch, the referee blew to signal the minute’s silence in honour of Remembrance Day, which was impeccably observed as it usually is. A second blast, a round of applause from 1,377 fans in attendance, and the game was underway.
It took only two minutes for Gateshead to threaten the Magpies’ goal. With their incredibly vocal fans calling them towards the goal, number nine Danny Johnson hit the crossbar with a (potentially unintended) cross-cum-shot. It wasn’t long before The Heed went one better.
A pass out to the left was dummied by Jordan Burrow, and ran to Luke Hannant. Hannant took his shot early before Carl Pentney had chance to set himself in the Maidenhead goal, and Maidenhead’s maidenhood was stolen as the ball bustled in the right hand corner of the net. Hannant then took advantage of the slippery surface to give the patented knee-slide celebration a go.
Not to be outdone, and appropriately on the Saturday before Remembrance Day, Captain Dick Winters got in on the goalscoring act just four minutes later. When a long range shot hit beat Pentney but not the crossbar, Damien Lewis lookalike Danny Johnson was johnny on the spot with the rebound to make the score 2-0. A passionate celebration with the fans saw a few of “Stevie Watson’s Barmy Army” rebuked by the stewards. I’ll be honest, judging by their next round of shirtless singing, I don’t think they cared.
Maidenhead United just couldn’t clear their lines at all in the first half, and it was a surprise that Gateshead only went in two up at the break. Some great interplay between the Gateshead players was keeping the Magpies firmly pinned in the defensive third, and every time they hoofed the ball clear, the imperious Fraser Kerr and Neil Byrne knocked everything straight back. This is the second time I’ve watched Gateshead this season, and the second time I’ve been seriously impressed by this central defensive partnership.
The difference between Gateshead today, and when I watched them against Sutton was all down to style. Inspired by Luke Hannant and Danny Johnson, ably supported by Jordan Burrow, Russ Penn and Luke Maxwell, some of the one and two touch passing was wonderful, and a direct contrast to aerial assault they launched against Sutton.
Just before half time, Johnson sprinted 80 metres with the ball, breaking from a Maidenhead free kick, squaring the ball across the front of Pentney’s goal. His burst really deserved a goal, but JJ O’Donnell was only able to blaze the ball over.
At half time, the only Maidenhead players who could hold their heads up were Alan Massey, who recovered from a shaky opening ten to provide some energetic defence, and Harold Odametey. The former Hampton & Richmond man’s driving runs from midfield appeared to be the only avenue from which Maidenhead might get back into the game.
Alan Devonshire made a half time change, bringing on Christian Smith to try and inject some energy to the midfield, but within five minutes his plans were in pieces. A quick break down the right by Gateshead, and the ball was slipped into the box. When O’Connell was unable to squeeze it past the assembled defenders, the ball broke to the penalty spot, where an onrushing Hannant notched his second, and Heed’s third.
For a ten minute period between 70 and 80 minutes, Maidenhead pushed to get back into the game, and could have done but for Dan Hanford in the Gateshead net. Two good saves in quick succession, one from Montserrat international Adrian Clifton, and another absolutely superb close range shot from a back post header.
The last chance of the match though, unsurprisingly, fell to the visitors. Substitute Richie Peniket latched onto a ball played into the left hand channel. Bearing down on goal, he released a firm shot towards the roof of the net, which brought Pentney’s best moment of the game, as he palmed the shot onto the crossbar and over.
Just a few minutes later and referee Samuel Allison had seen enough, blowing his whistle for full time. The Gateshead fans were in raptures – by this time almost all having discarded their shirts in the Baltic conditions. I assume the delirium was due to the result, but under retrospective consideration, it could easily have been hypothermia…
The Wash Up
A very impressive display by Gateshead, who have developed a habit of performing much better on the road than they do at home. There can’t be many better organised defences in the league, and between Hanford, Kerr and Byrne they’re absolutely rock solid through the centre.
I thought Russ Penn had a very good match in central midfield, and seemed the first man to almost every loose ball, whilst the midfield was well anchored by the powerful Luke Maxwell. Had the central midfield been off their game by even 10%, then Odametey could have made them pay. He was the best player for Maidenhead by a country mile today. I remember his quality on the ball from watching him against Ebbsfleet last season, but his drive and penetration really stood out today, regularly bowling past 3 or more players before a lack of movement ahead frustrated him.
Man of the Match though, goes to Luke Hannant. Not only did he score twice, but he looked dangerous throughout. With decent pace, close control and fine shooting technique, Hannant caused Rene Steer problems at left back all afternoon. The winger from Great Yarmouth signed his first professional contract this summer, and had a highly impressive performance today.
As for Maidenhead, this is a match to forget quickly and move on. Devonshire will be keen to consign this to history, and maybe the result can be put down to post FA Cup sluggishness. However, the performance will need to be much improved if they’re to get anything away at Woking next weekend
Gateshead’s manager Steve Watson, by contrast, will want to bottle this and use it every week. The 3-0 victory moves them up to 15th, and only one place below Maidenhead. In such a tight league (only 9 points between 1st and 14th…) a good run could see them quickly become play off contenders. After seeing their fans in action today, some of the best support I’ve seen a team receive at any level, it’s the least they deserve.
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