A perfunctory 2-0 victory in Somerset secured the Magpies' Conference South status for another season, the fact that this was only the second league win in 2015 and the first away from home since October reflecting a season marking time. Further confirmation of United treading water on the pitch came when consulting the programme post match and noting that the Seagulls had been beaten by an aggregate of 8-2 over the two games against United, and have taken just 1 point out of the last 21, yet remain one place ahead of the Magpies. Thus this was a journey made to Woodspring Park, not so much in a tense frame of mind, as in say 2008, but on the outward leg in expectation, and on the return in satisfaction that planning for the future post Drax can continue in certainty now that prospective managers know for certain which division Maidenhead will be in next season.
Two tightly packed trains heading west necessitated a stroll to the sea front on arrival in search of fish and chips, a strong wind laced with Saharan sand meaning we were happy to catch just the slightest glimpse of the sea before heading for the shelter of the Oxford Corner cafe, whose banquette seating was original rather than retro and therefore came with bargain prices to match.
A dearth of town centre pubs saw us head back towards the station to the Bristol Hotel for a couple of pints before a taxi ride to Woodspring Park where as usual a warm welcome meant you could walk untrammeled into the ground which although now looking a little worn ten years into its existence had changed since my last visit with a sprinkler system greeting the teams on the pitch, whilst the big terrace behind the goal had sadly been blighted by the seats necessary for the play off challenge the Seagulls had tilted at during the years of over achievement in the charge of manager Craig Laird.
Waiting for kick off I reflected on the slight but necessary improvement I had seen from United in recent weeks.A few days away in Cornwall and work commitments meant that the only football I had seen of any description in mid March was Reading's replay romp to the FA Cup semi-final, beating a one dimensional Bradford City with such ease, as to make the Bantams stupendous third round win at Stamford Bridge mind boggling, in view of the Royals moribund league season.
|No Pyro. No Party. Ugly Scenes.|
|Escape route Vauxhall Road|
I returned to York Road for the Gosport game, where Borough's clinical strikeforce of Bennett and Wort meant Maidenhead's pressure was virtually in vain until a late strike from the Golden Tarp, giving if not hope at least a suitably reflective look to the scoreline. The pain of defeat was soon forgotten when it was discovered Farnborough had conceded twice in stoppage time at Bishop's Stortford to stack a 2-0 lead, and guarantee an even more entertaining than usual weekly episode of the Spencer Day post match interview.
Easter weekend saw United turn their good attacking intentions into points. On Saturday I made my first visit to Vauxhall Road, home of Hemel Hempstead Town. Alighting from the rail replacement bus at Apsley the long walk up the hill saw the surroundings become increasingly seamier. It was quite pleasing that the football ground was in the least desirable part of town and was properly non league, the differing structures surrounding the pitch reflecting a piecemeal approach to ground development, although I'm not sure about the Greek statues in the club house. I particularly liked the terrace at the top of the slope behind one goal, although a superb performance from goalkeeper Laurie Walker meant that Maidenhead couldn't hit the back of the net in front of it.
|Bottom of the slope|
|Top of the slope|
Typically Hemel scored on the stroke of half time when lanky striker Oliver Hawkins rose unchallenged to head home. However Maidenhead redoubled their efforts after half time, Stefan Brown shaking off the curse of my player sponsorship to score his first goal for the club and deservedly equalise, a last ditch save by the feet of Ashley Timms securing the point.
|My chauffeur driven coach|
The sole occupant of the rail replacement coach returning to London, I was satisfied with the point, confident that the rumours of financial strife emanating from Bromley would lead to us taking something from the game on Easter Monday. Not that I imagined the eight goal thriller that would ensue.
The Bromley match was comfortably the best game of the season, it was just a shame that the quality of the Maidenhead goals contrasted with the clumsiness of those conceded. At least Tarpey's exocet equaliser was just reward for the timewasting tactics of the champions elect.
With Farnborough continuing to lose, in theory a point was required by the Magpies at Weston although in practice, the Hampshire club would relegate themselves. Nevertheless United strolled to a comfortable win thanks to a Dave Tarpey goal at the beginning of each half.
Maidenhead took the lead in the eleventh minute. A lively Stefan Brown had already fired in two shots on goal to serve notice of the Magpies' intention before the extra power Tarpey was able to apply meant goalkeeper Dan Jackson was beaten for the first time. Six minutes later Tarpey beat him again with a rasping volley, only to be denied by the underside of the crossbar. With Danny Green unable to capitalise on free kicks around the penalty area, the second of which was surely for a foul committed inside the box. the lead remained a slender one but one that was never really challenged by the home team. Indeed the biggest threat to a win for Maidenhead came after half an hour when play was suspended by the referee.
The action halted for no perceptible reason, the mere position of the referee by the dugouts suggesting something untoward was going on. A man standing behind us who turned out to be the groundsman was beckoned to the front where he was informed of a hole on his pitch. Worries that the players might start to disappear before our eyes were soon allayed when it became apparent that one of the sprinkler caps had popped open, so after a short delay play continued.
|Logic channels Rodin's thinker|
Within a minute of the restart, Maidenhead doubled their lead virtually from the kick off. Some neat passing across the midfield found Tarpey free in space on the left and he made no mistake with his shot from just inside the box to cue a synchronised celebration from myself and Russ.
From this point on the only threat to the lead came when Elvijs fell awkwardly following a collision with one of his defence, but he recovered, going on to save well from George King's shot from distance. In the meantime Maidenhead had been given a man advantage when Jake Mawford departed early for a second caution, the sunshine and end of season happiness allowing the game to play itself out quietly and a chance to congratulate Benjy Downster on his fine new flag.
The train ride home provided an opportunity to ponder the future at York Road, on and off the pitch, with my bold pre match prediction that Drax would repeat his feat of 2008 and close the season with a manager of the month award given further traction by the result. Something to play for before the season closes with the Berks & Bucks Cup final on May Day.