Against All Odds
Monday 26th August 2013
—Margate FC 1 Maidstone Utd 0—
In my previous blog post, I referred to the fact that in this league, anyone can beat anyone.
This is not to underestimate the ability of the side I support, but Maidstone arrived at Hartsdown Park today unbeaten, largely supported (their crowds average over 1,000 – a rarity at this level) – & widely tipped to win back to back promotions, come the end of the season. Nervous was an understatement.
A sunny Bank Holiday Monday was the backdrop for this Kentish derby, & as I prepared to leave my house for the short journey to Margate, something, someone (OK, Terry) told me that reinforcements would be needed. After getting changed into my Margate shirt, jeans & lucky blue bracelet (superstitious, moi?) I set off with Kevlar the inflatable shark & Dave Dolphin, resplendent in his MFC shirt with number 22 on the back (plans to rename him Desmond are currently ongoing)
Attracting the usual display of strange looks, I decided to take my mind elsewhere & ponder on how the game might pan out… Staying optimistic was the verdict, but would quite happily have settled for a draw. A reminder never to sell any team short, particularly your own, was taught to me today.
As I arrived at Hartsdown Park, a sea of amber shirts greeted me – not long after walking into the bar & exchanging pleasantries with Jim & Ivesy (the latter doing a superb job with the pitch as always, & still being available to trim your bush for the reasonable sum of £12.50!)
As more & more Maidstone fans entered the ground, I marvelled at the amount of supporters that had made the trip & silently wondered whether this would lead to us having a four figure attendance of our own (the eventual figure turned out to be 887)
Flicking through the programme nervously & stepping out onto the terrace with a dolphin attracted some looks of disdain from some Maidstone fans – a bit rich I felt, seeing as a couple of them had Del Boy face masks on! A roar from their support in the bar told us how vocal their support was, & one of the first songs they sang was about disliking Ramsgate, a subject on which both sets of fans could probably agree.
One of the best things about non league football is the friendliness between both sets of supporters – this seemed to be lacking today as the general atmosphere I got from the Stones fans was very much of the ‘Billy Big-Time’ variety, & the impression that they thought dispatching us followed by some fish & chips on the beach was but a mere formality.
I believe the phrase “pride comes before a fall” would be most appropriate to put here.
As the teams came out to the familiar strains of ‘Singing The Blues’ (no Chas & Dave today unfortunately!) the Maidstone contingent burst into various songs, to which the choir responded magnificently. Then it was the obligatory mad dash down to the Coffin End, Dave Dolphin in hand (can slightly understand the looks a bit more now!) before the game got underway.
There was little to choose between the two sides in the early exchanges, although Margate shaded things with a real drive to get at Maidstone from the off, pressurising & playing their own crisp passing game, using the wings to good effect with Kinchy & Avo shining in the centre of midfield.
Indeed, midfield would be a telling factor in todays performance, Zac Attwood on his own up front after Walshy, the thorn in many defenders sides this season, had to pull out due to injury. Already missing another influential striker (Charles Ademeno) I confess to wondering if our under strength side would be our undoing.
As the half progressed however, these doubts were beginning to be replaced by fresh optimism – our lads were making Maidstone look like a very ordinary team indeed, with the midfield trio of Kinchy, Avo & Jake Hessenthaler causing no end of problems for the opposition, not to mention the threats of Bodkin & Whitely on the wings (the latter, on being met with chants of ‘Maidstone reject’ – promptly responded by giving the Stones defence a roasting all afternoon)
After a few half chances for either side, mass delirium exploded as a good passing move found Kinchy, whose shot appeared to bobble slightly, before going past the Maidstone keeper into the net. 1-0 Gate & on the balance of play, no more then we deserved. Kinchy took off towards the crowd to share his delight at scoring his first league goal for Margate, the tough tackling midfielder fast becoming a fans favourite at Hartsdown Park.
Nirvana (and a 2-0 lead) could have been achieved before half time, but Zac Attwood shot straight at Worgan after being played through.
Half time arrived, & this clearly wasn’t in the script for many of the travelling fans. Given their teams lacklustre performance, I can only imagine what was being said by Maidstone manager Jay Saunders at the break. I had a slight inkling it might strip the paint from the walls, call it an educated guess!
As for Margate, I was overwhelmed with how good the first half performance was, & could honestly say that it was the best 45 minutes I’ve ever seen from the lads. More of the same & hoping that they hadn’t burnt themselves out too soon were the main two thoughts on my mind, as the teams trotted out for the second half. It later transpired that our Player / Manager Craig Holloway had invested in a fitness coach over the summer – a move that has clearly paid great dividends on todays showing, & yet another doubt blasted away from my mind.
It would be fair to say that Maidstone had more chances after the break, but a combination of breaking up their play in midfield before it got a chance to get going (the Kinch-Avo-Hessenthaler trio working wonders again!) & stout defending, particularly from John Beales & Joe Vines, who are forging a formidable partnership in central defence, made sure their efforts were in vain. As howls of derision came from the gold shirted fans (‘Sort it ahhhht Saunders’ was one anguished cry!) Gate continued to frustrate & ask questions of Maidstone in equal measure.
When Jake Hessenthaler took Stones defender Steve Watt by surprise, he found himself clean through before being virtually rugby tackled in the area (you’re going nowhere, my lad!) a penalty was surely the only outcome – a decision later corroborated by Maidstone fans & manager alike – only for the referee to inexplicably wave away Margate claims. A shocking decision as it really was a stonewall penalty.
As Maidstone applied late pressure in the four minutes of injury time (seemed to be a lot longer, not sure if the ref might have added a magical extra minute there!) Hollers made an exceptional save from a blistering strike, tipping over the bar – yet again proving how invaluable his ability is, both playing & managing.
By this point, as the choir sang heartily, surpassing themselves & 500 odd sullen Maidstone fans, my legs had gone to jelly. As the final whistle sounded, a faint cheer of jubilation was all I could manage.
A quite simply majestic performance from the boys in blue, & a timely reminder for me, or indeed any other fan, not to underestimate this group of players. We have now moved up to 4th in the table, & although the season is very much in the early stages – four wins from six games is the form of champions, or at the very least promotion contenders.
Truly a result that our management, players & fans deserve to savour, before Saturday’s trip to Met Police. Here’s hoping we can steal three points!