I finished my summary of the previous weekend's football with a suggestion that a first clean sheet of the season should be a priority for the Magpies. That this came to pass against the early season pace setters Eastbourne on Saturday shouldn't be dismissed but was overshadowed by the literal missed opportunity to take all three points courtesy of a penalty early on in the game.
Likewise a watching crowd, perhaps as much as three time what was expected due to the offer of free admission, would have been suitably entertained despite the result stating a goalless draw.
With Drax fielding what perhaps is his strongest eleven, Maidenhead started the game strongly and with Eastbourne naturally confident following their good start to the season, it looked like a open game would ensue.
For my money Borough were the best footballing team in the division last season but lacked a cutting edge up front. In the summer, manager Tommy Widdrington had remedied this by signing Richard Pacquette, Elliott Charles and Gavin McCallum, all attacking players with a good pedigree at this level. Pacquette looked a mite unfortunate to be adjudged offside as he sought to breakthrough the defence early on, and regardless or maybe because of what was soon to happen at the other end, the trio proved to be a handful for the United defence all afternoon.
The game's crucial incident occurred in the eighth minute. Adrian Clifton drove into the box only to be brought down by Marvin Hamilton. The only matter of conjecture appeared to be the location of contact so with Hamilton the last man a red card was produced. The referee concluded that it was also a penalty and after a little discussion Danny Green stepped up to take the spot kick. Goalkeeper Lewis Carey guessed right by diving to his right, and with Green's kick lacking pace and height, Carey was able to push the ball to safety.
Green almost made amends for his penalty miss five minutes later when his curling shot from the edge of the box beat Carey, only to hit the post. By this time Widdrington had reorganised his team, welding two midfielders to the front of the defence, virtually sacrificing midfield by keeping his three front men well up front. The result of this move led to a frustrating afternoon for Maidenhead as they struggled to find a way through the defence, whilst Eastbourne maintained an attacking threat which only grew as the game went on.
On the stroke of half time both Pacquette and Dave Tarpey were denied only by saves at full stretch from Elvijs Putnins and Carey respectively to preserve both teams' clean sheets and set up an intriguing second half.
What followed after the break set out the Maidenhead United conundrum which Drax has not consistently been able to solve for over twelve months now, that is how to mould a fine array of attacking wide players into a formation which will produce a steady stream of goals. Last season Green, Harry Pritchard, Reece Tison-Lascaris and towards the end Lanre Azeez all showed in varying quantities their ability to breakdown defences and score. In the close season they were joined by Tarpey and Stefan Brown who already have proved to be real assets to the team. Naturally this type of player tends to exploit his talent in a counterattacking style which maybe reflects the fact that Maidenhead have achieved better results away from home over the last season. Certainly this contributed to the win at home to Sutton, who went all out to win the game on the opening day of the season. In contrast when confronted with the resolute defences of Hemel and Eastbourne, United were unable to maintain a goalscoring threat after early promise. Some people see a big centre forward in the style of Tashan Adeyinka as the answer. Personally I think you need to play to the strengths of the wide players and utilise a passing game with the emphasis on keeping the ball to wear the opposition down. Even at this level the pitches have improved to allow this, all you need to add is the superior fitness to complement the approach.
Thus the second half saw the defence earn their stripes as they soaked up increasing pressure from the visitors which was enhanced by the introduction of Darren Lok and culminated in a Sam Beale free kick in stoppage time which hit the woodwork.
So a hard won point for the Magpies. As they say if you don't concede you won't lose, but unfortunately the early penalty miss and red card will lead to the game being seen as a missed opportunity although on this evidence I fully expect Eastbourne to sustain a title challenge this season.