About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For nine seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The original aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. In August 2010 I also decided to write posts about all the matches I have attended. At the end of the 2010-11 season I stood down from all my duties at Maidenhead United due to an exciting development in my teaching career, but remain a director of the club and will continue to blog as time allows and inclination demands.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Tarpey or not Tarpey. Dave answers the question.

A trip to Concord carried echoes of Maidenhead's past in the Isthmian League where Essex clubs were predominant. With some seasons seeing up to nine clubs from the County in the same division as the Magpies, there were regular dull trips round the M25 to watch a game played at a drab but functional ground with little in the way of atmosphere against a powerful team bursting with pace and strength, with a draw being something of an achievement for United.
These thoughts came to mind as I stepped off the train at Benfleet, faced with a view of the bleak marshes beyond which lay Canvey Island, complementing their Dickensian equivalent on the other side of the Thames Estuary. 
Concord are fast becoming the new Weston-super-mare, comfortably in the top half of the table on merit despite modest resources. A glance at the programme prompts an amendment to this neologism. A better epithet would be that of a new Thurrock, as it was Rangers vice Chairman Grant Beglan who played such an important role off the pitch in taking the Lakesiders from nothing to the brink of the Conference, and is now well on the way to almost repeating the trick with Concord. 
Maidenhead lost both games 3-1 to Concord at opposite ends of last season. The first meeting between the two clubs last September in Essex saw an injury to Richard Pacquette spelling the end of any points for United that day, and sparked an awful run of league run which had hardly picked up by the time of the return fixture in April, when despite playing their third match of the week, Rangers romped to victory at breathtaking pace, leaving United trailing in their wake.
Thus it was no surprise that Drax elected to tinker with his squad to turn out a team able to stifle Concord's attacking endeavours. He did this by fielding loan signing Devante McKain as a defensive midfielder (reportedly this is where Gillingham manager Peter Taylor sees his future), sacrificing the flair of Danny Green and Dave Tarpey, with Adrian Clifton playing in his false nine position, a concession to the more defence minded set up being the deployment of Lanre Azeez and Reece Tison-Lascaris to dovetail any attacking forays with their pace.
This plan worked to the extent that Maidenhead enjoyed the lion's share of the play in the first half but without a cutting edge in the final third, there was little to trouble former Magpie Aaron Lennox in the Rangers goal. By contrast Concord were more ruthless when they had the opportunity, United's player of the 2010-11 season Sam Collins showing how he has matured with age by leaving the left wing he patrolled when at York Road for an influential central midfield role. On this occasion, Rangers wide threat was provided on the right where full back Jeremy Walker had an impressive performance.
Offside?
It was his pass which started the move for the game's opening goal, with video evidence suggesting Gary Ogilvie was marginally offside when receiving Walker's ball down the right wing, however Lewis Taafe was then allowed to tap in the cross unchallenged at the far post.
The goal on fourteen minutes came slightly against the run of play but as half time approached there was little promise of an equaliser. Hope for Maidenhead came five minutes ahead of the interval when Taafe was sent off for striking Mark Nisbet with his elbow. The decision by the husband of watching official Sian Massey, wasn't contested by Rangers' players or bench, and although there seemed to be no premeditated malice in the incident it was difficult to believe Taafe's protestations as he walked off that he "didn't touch him".
At the start of the second half Drax sought to press home the one man advantage by introducing Green and Tarpey to the fray, sacrificing right back Behzadi for whom Ashley Nicholls filled in, and the more like for like substitution of Azeez.
Unsurprisingly it was Maidenhead who took the initiative from the restart but they faced determined opposition urged on by their manager Danny Cowley crying: "60 minutes gone: we're climbing the mountain". 
The equaliser came in fortuitous circumstances nineteen minutes into the second half. A trademark driving run by Clifton was halted just outside the penalty area. Green's free kick was cleared only a far as Leon Solomon who lofted the ball back into the box. Matt Fry's fluffed clearance found Tarpey whose shot firmly struck the bar, again striking the hapless Fry to present Tarpey with a second chance to score which he duly took.
Just when it seemed though that Maidenhead had created a platform from which to push to victory, their advantage of manpower was removed when Tison-Lascaris was dismissed for pushing over Danny Glozier with play already halted for a McKain foul.
After a few minutes Maidenhead regained their rhythm and Tarpey had a good case for a penalty when he was brought down, the referee judging that the foul had taken place on the edge of the area although Tarpey was felled inside it.
The warhorse Clifton was replaced with Jacob Erskine whose physical presence was essential in creating the opportunity for Maidenhead to take the lead in the last minute of normal time. Nicholls combined with Green to send a ball in from the right wing. Tarpey's intial touch sent the ball skyward. At first glance it looked an elementary one for Lennox to catch or even punch clear but he found his path blocked not just by Erskine but two of his own defenders, and the ball bounced once more into Tarpey's path to fire home.
There were however the best part of five minutes of stoppage time remaining, and Concord sprang into life to retrieve the situation. It was Walker again who instigated his team's goal, hitting a long pass into the penalty area which substitute Tony Stokes collected then flicked up to score on the volley with a delightful strike.
Concord then almost had another last word with a shot which flew across the face of Elvijs Putnins goal before the final whistle blew to end a game which neither team deserved to lose nor win.
Celebrating taking the lead in the last minute

Sunday, 12 October 2014

That's All Right Elvijs

Much of the focus in recent weeks at York Road has been on the forwards, whether that be for their lack of goals, the signing of DJ Campbell or in the last fortnight their goal glut, but yesterday it was time for the defence to step up and dig in to ensure the Magpies would be in the draw for the fourth and final qualifying round on Monday.
Gosport have come along way as a club since they joined the Conference South in the summer of 2013, working their way through a transfer embargo, storm damage to the ground and the theft of their pitch to stand now as a formidable outfit. As United found out at the start of the season Borough play with strength, and discipline at a high tempo. They do the simple things well, and with the Magpies returning to top form a cracking cup tie was in prospect. Add in a heavy pitch freshened up by torrential rain at kick off and the bumper Cup crowd got exactly that in a game that although short on goals lived up to expectations as a tense affair with both sides happy to fight again on Tuesday for a place in the next round.
Attendance: 519+1 bear
The Gosport supporters however showed they were yet to adjust to life at a higher level, standing at the same end for the whole game, their flag somewhat dwarfing their surprisingly small travelling support given their home crowds.Their error was then compounded by the banging of a drum.
Drax had the luxury of being able to name an unchanged team and as on Tuesday the Magpies started brightly but without an end product. Twice within the first quarter of an hour DJ Campbell had chances to open the scoring, firstly with a free header from the edge of the six yard box and then later, having caught Brett Poate in possession, burst clear into the penalty area opting to square the ball to Adrian Clifton when he might have been more selfish and gone for goal himself with keeper Nathan Ashmore collecting the pass before it reached Clifton.
From this point on it was Gosport who had the upper hand until the final whistle. Their uncomplicated approach of defence in depth and direct early balls unsettling Maidenhead throughout. Winning the 50/50 balls in their half Borough were able to keep the United attack in check which enabled them to ratchet up the pressure on the opposition defence. 
The impressive Steven Ramsay served notice of Gosport's intentions with a dipping shot from distance which was superbly tipped over the bar by Elvijs Putnins. Maidenhead were then unable to clear their lines and within sixty seconds Justin Bennett headed in at the far post from a Ramsey corner in the nineteenth minute. Borough continued to press for a second goal, firing a number of crosses across the face of the United six yard box, with Andrew Forbes coming closest, his header being scrambled off the line by Putnins and Simon Downer.
Downer, protecting his unbeaten record in United colours was having another fine game, making some judicious tackles to hold the Magpie line which brought enough respite to create an opportunity to equalise nine minutes ahead of the break. A Campbell effort was blocked on the line by a collection of Borough defenders which typified their will to win spirit, but fortunately the loose ball fell to Harry Pritchard who thumped the ball into the top of the net.
Within a minute of the restart, Ashmore was given the opportunity to show his talent with an astonishing save to divert a rocket of a Clifton shot but from this point on the focus switched to the other end as Gosport gave it the kitchen sink treatment to try and force a winner.
With a succession of Gosport corners, the Maidenhead had to be at their absolute best to protect Putnins goal, with Downer and Mark Nisbet thriving under the pressure. Downer was required again to head off the line from a Forbes header whilst once more Putnins saved at full stretch from Ramsey, pushing his free kick round the post. To almost complete the repeat of the first half Bennett looked set to score with a shot only for Putnins to save one handed, diving along the ground to ensure the loose ball was also pushed out of the way of the opposition players following up.
The introduction of Reece Tison-Lascaris, Jacob Erskine and Lanre Azeez, provided the glimmer of a threat on the break, but despite some deft touches from Erskine, Gosport capably dealt with these attacks and understandably on a heavy pitch the action faded in the dying minutes to end the game in a draw.
All in all a fair outcome with all the plaudits being directed to the Maidenhead defence, and in particular Putnins whose string of saves under pressure ensured the hard work of his team mate was not wasted and gives everyone the chance to fight another day.
No bear left behind


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Weston's super 'mare

Weston-super-mare's annual visit to York Road is not one I look forward to. At one stage there were three goalless draws in a row, one of which literally saw bad play stop light as darkness descended briefly 'til someone found another penny for the meter. This run was broken in 2010 when Lee Barney scored a stoppage time winner, the only goal of the game, and since Weston have had the upper hand, as under the guidance of Craig Laird they defied the odds to take root in the top half of the Conference South.
I missed last season's defeat courtesy of the usual trainmaggedon from First Great Western and the way this week started on the mainline out of Paddington, a repeat seemed likely, something I wasn't overly troubled by given the likely outcome of the match.
Nevertheless I made it to York Road in good time for kick off, to see the evening's events follow the script for the first half hour. With Leon Solomon and Adrian Clifton returning for selection, Drax was able to field perhaps his strongest eleven. The Magpies started brightly but as was hitherto the case at home in the league, without an end product. Clifton couldn't capitalise from slipping the offside trap, manfully staying on his feet under a heavy challenge from a defender, whilst Dave Tarpey signalled his intentions with a stinging shot which was parried by the goalkeeper. 
Weston, who had lost the experienced Clayton Fortune to injury in the pre match warm up, took heart from staying on level terms and began to exert their influence on the game. It was thus no surprise when Jamie Lucas skipped through the Maidenhead defence to score the opening goal with a fine finish in the 24th minute.Cue the usual feeling of emptiness as yet again Maidenhead failed to take advantage of their early supremacy, and were punished by a more clinical opposition. The only conclusion could be that the rest of the evening would follow the trend set previously this season and over a decade of contests against the Seagulls.
By half time though Maidenhead had not only equalised, but had turned over the deficit and accelerated into a two goal lead. It all started to go right for the Magpies just after the half hour mark when Eddie Hutchinson had a header tipped over the bar by Luke Purnell. Nothing came of the resulting corner but from the next attack Tarpey drove into the box in trademark style, drawing the foul from Sam Teale to win a penalty.
The return of Clifton from suspension meant he now could take over penalty duty from Danny Green, and he began his new job in some style, keeping his back turned to the keeper until the whistle was blown, when he ran up to strike the ball into the back of the net. A minute later Tarpey had another shot deflected wide and once again Maidenhead's attacks were full of promise, which as half time loomed turned into the goals which would put United out of reach.
With six minutes to go until half time Green won the champagne moment of the match with a superb challenge to win a loose ball just outside the penalty area. His commitment resonated with a will to win, and almost by virtue of winning the ball appeared to take himself away from the Weston defence with typical elan. Heading towards the left wing, Green checked his run then with his pass found Hutchinson in the space the winger had vacated, the central midfielder drilling the ball home to put United ahead.
Tarpey then finally found the target on the stroke of half time to cap a stunning quarter of an hour for the Magpies. Within minutes of the restart they showed they hadn't finished for the evening as Clifton had a header scooped out from under the bar by Purnell who was fast becoming Weston's man of the match. Midway through the second half Tarpey beat him once more, and although Ryan Bath pulled a goal back for the visitors this only encouraged United to redouble their efforts with the dying minute seeing them threaten to turn the game into a rout.
Firstly Harry Pritchard, quietly efficient in his new role at left back, popped up in the opposing six yard box to tap in a cross from Clifton, and then Tarpey bagged a well deserved hat trick in stoppage time to leave the scoreline at a humbling 6-2.
The aftermath saw my head buzzing with statistics, 18 goals in the last 4 games, 10 goals in the last 2 home games when the previous four had produced none, 16 out of 18 points available won with Simon Downer in the team, and most importantly 6 points in October for the first time since 2009.
Overall though the numbers were nothing compared to the aesthetic pleasure to be gained from the dashing attacking performance by the Magpies. Danny Green had his best game of the season so far, Adrian Clifton proved his importance to the team is as big as his frame, and Dave Tarpey set off echoes of the legendary Garry Attrell with his wing play.
It is Attrell and his famed left foot which gives this blog its title and you can see him dribbling down the left hand side of this page. Tarpey reflects Garry's best abilities: his metronomic runs down the left wing providing a reliable outlet for his teammates, his clinical finishing in front of a goal, and most pleasing of all the way he drives into the penalty area and buys a foul from the defender. Attrell lives!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A stroll in the Meadow

Heading west out of Paddington in the Indian Summer sun, I contemplated a first ever trip to a County Cup tie in September. At last it seems the Berks & Bucks FA are moving towards my ideal of an early season tournament. Their website states that the semi finals will be played in January, surely meaning an end to the traditional final date of May Day Bank Holiday Monday, a time of year which is now filled with non league play offs.
On arrival at Loop Meadow though I was reminded of how the County FA is often arcane in its bureaucracy as it became clear that neither DJ Campbell or Louis Morrison-Derbyshire would be able to play as a seven day notice period is required for new registrations. This is in contrast of course with the FA Cup where DJ was able to play at little more than 24 hours notice. I understand that league forms can be signed up to midday on the day of the game! It seems that they are still using the pigeon post at County HQ which to be fair is somewhat remotely located in Faringdon, the quirk of the now redundant 1974 County Council boundaries, meaning that this address and indeed tonight's cup tie would be played in Oxfordshire.
Loop Meadow continues to be a curious ground. There is a maze of rooms and bars, which if you follow the correct path can end up with you entering the playing area for nothing, Barking style. To add to the air of magic, at first glance the kits used for last night's match looked like Arsenal home and away. Since my last visit they have place two tiny seated stands at opposing corners behind one goal, presumably to increase the seated capacity for ground grading reasons, whilst the covered standing behind the same goal is currently fenced off with some more building work apparent.
Didcot had risen to second in the Southern League Division One South & West on Saturday, and like our opponents in the previous cup tie at the weekend, Faversham Town offered much in the way of hard work, but ultimately were unable to threaten the Magpie goal. Thus with United again being gifted an opening first half goal, once Town ran out of steam, the goals were rattled in to give the score a rather lopsided look.
All things considered this was a pleasing outcome in view of the players Drax was able to rest. Traffic delays for Jacob Erskine meant Harry Pritchard continued in the left back slot, with Melchi Emmanuel-Williamson playing alongside Mark Nisbet in the centre of defence. Ryan Upward returned to the midfield to partner Ashley Nicholls, behind a full hand of wingers in Danny Green, Lanre Azeez, Tashan Adeyinka and Reece Tison-Lascaris.
The latter two players combined to open the scoring in the fifteenth minute. A cross from the left by Tison-Lascaris looked it would be comfortably collected by Didcot goalkeeper Alex Williams but he could not hold on to the ball which was scrambled into the net by Adeyinka.
This proved to be the only difference between the sides at the interval and the Didcot manager clearly got stuck into his team at half time as they came out fizzing with energy to enjoy their best spell of the match. They were unable to unduly trouble Elvijs Putnins and the introduction of Dave Tarpey with twenty five minutes left enabled the Magpies to go up a gear, creating countless chances of which three were taken in the last ten minutes.
Firstly an Azeez pass found Green in plenty of space in the penalty area, having time to pick his spot with a delightful finish. Good work by Jonathan Hippolyte again found Green, making it two goals in two minutes, before Hippolyte finished the scoring with the goal of the evening, firing home from just outside the penalty area.
An exciting end to the evening then but what it will lead to looks to be in some doubt as the page containing the draw details has changed radically. It appears that Wycombe Wanderers have withdrawn following the decision to fold their reserve team, whilst Reading having apparently returned to the competition are now nowhere to be seen. As of course MK Dons are not a real club, this leaves Maidenhead United as the biggest club in the competition, waiting for details of the quarterfinal draw, ties to be played by mid November.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Great Expectations Miss Faversham

Something of a media frenzy surrounded Maidenhead United following the announcement late on Thursday night that DJ Campbell has signed for the Magpies. Therefore it was a pleasant contrast that the FA Cup tie against Faversham at York Road on Saturday, played in beautiful sunshine in front of a modest crowd, resulted dare I say it in an efficiently dull 4-0 win for the Magpies.
Campbell went straight into the team in his usual striking role, but in a change to formation Stefan Brown played alongside him as Drax reverted back to 4-4-2. More changes to the line up came in the form of Dave Tarpey who returned from suspension, with Danny Green, Eddie Hutchinson, Simon Downer and Mark Nisbet all back in the team after injury. Finally Harry Pritchard made his first start of the season, ably filling in at left back.
Maidenhead started the game cautiously, fully aware that their opponents came to York Road full of confidence. For much of the first hour, Faversham gave the appearance of possessing an attacking threat but failed to trouble Elvijs Putnins, Josh Stanford blazing their best chance wide when well placed.
At the other end Faversham naturally seemed preoccupied by Campbell, with ex Magpie Jon Scarborough given the task of man marking him but this in turn created more space and time for the rest of the forwards, Brown playing well before having to depart at half time after receiving a knock from a heavy challenge.
The game's opening goal came from the penalty spot in the twentieth minute after Tarpey had been pushed over by Aidan Sherlock. Despite a miss from his last opportunity against Eastbourne, Green remained the man on penalty duty and this time sent goalkeeper Simon Overland the wrong way to score.
The score remained 1-0 at the interval, reflecting Maidenhead's marginal superiority which had been far from convincing as United having scored at home for the first time since the opening day of the season, looked to close out the win.
Kicking down the slope in the second half Maidenhead gradually took control of the game as the visitors ran out of steam. Campbell put the ball in the net from a Tarpey cross eight minutes after the restart but was flagged offside. With Tashan Adeyinka coming on for Brown at the break, further fresh legs in the form of Ryan Upward and Reece Tison-Lascaris then gave United the pep they needed to accelerate into the next round by scoring three goals in the last twenty minutes.
The crucial second goal was rather fortunate as a shot across the box by Campbell struck a defender,  the ball looping over Overland's head into the back of the net in the sixty ninth minute. Ten minutes later Overland managed to push away a Tarpey shot, then had the woodwork to thank as from the resulting corner Tarpey fired the ball against the cross bar.
With both Tarpey in a conventional left midfield role, and Green playing with more freedom across the pitch, Maidenhead were beginning to torment their opponents, and with six minutes left Green found Adeyinka in space on the edge of the penalty area, the big forward thumping home his first goal for the club.
At 3-0 down, Faversham rallied slightly, forcing Putnins to scoop a corner to safety from under the bar and as injury time began Matthew Bourne hit the bar with a header. The £4,500 cheque for the winning team was soon signed, sealed and delivered though as Tison-Lascaris skipped through the defence in trademark fashion to score United's fourth.
Mission accomplished for the Magpies then with progress on the first of the three Cup fronts which will hopefully take up the lion's share of the autumn fixture schedule.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Super Hooper

In today's papers you will see pages of in depth analysis of Saturday's football. Primarily this will take the form of probing a welter of post match quotes, there'll be the odd chalk board and pop psychology on the mental state of some of the sport's more outlandish characters. All of this though is so much froth to a game whose appeal is it's simplicity, to whit scoring more goals than the other team. This crude reduction was reflected in cruel fashion at York Road yesterday where Havant & Waterlooville left with all three points thanks to the effectiveness of their finishing in contrast to the ineffectiveness of Maidenhead United in front of goal.
However with the Hawks starting the game on the back of a run of six wins in seven outings which had taken them to fourth place in the table, and scoring in the third minute, there was an immediate fear of a opposition goal deluge. The opening goal itself was well crafted, with a smart defence splitting pass from Bradley Bubb being collected on the edge of the penalty area by JJ Hooper who applied a fine finish to give Elvijs Putnins no chance of stopping his shot bound for the far corner. What was most impressive though was the Maidenhead response to conceding a goal, as they tore into their opponents and enjoyed their best spell of the game.
Soon after the restart, Adrian Clifton crossed into the penalty area to Reece Tison-Lascaris, only for the youngster's shot from close range to be blocked on the line by goalkeeper Ryan Young. The Magpies went onto pepper the penalty area with testing balls, Dave Tarpey and Ashley Nicholls both shooting wide.
This profligacy in front of goal was then shown up again by Hooper twenty five minutes into the first half. The striker picked up the ball in his own half, crossing the half way and running unchallenged towards the United goal before unleashing a shot from twenty five yards out which flew into the top corner. Hooper who only back in April had sealed what had been Maidenhead's bleakest defeat of last season, had essentially confirmed the destination of the points with this early brace of goals.
United continued to push for a goal in much the same vein as before and on the half hour mark Tashan Adeyinka received the ball in the clear inside the penalty area, but he was not able to beat Young who dived to his right to save one handed. Later in the half Leon Solomon cleared off the line from Josh Huggins and with the half time whistle came the end of any serious attempts on goal for the rest of the afternon.
In the second half, Havant were content to sit back and defend their lead, ably dealing with Maidenhead's attacking threat whilst Hooper and then substitute Shamir Mullings lurked up front to offer the promise of a third goal.
The final whistle signalled a defeat which became inevitable once Maidenhead were unable to take their chances, a fact all the more galling for the absence of a number of key players in defence and midfield. Ironically Havant, who have been perennial Conference South achievers, look like they might be able to sustain a promotion challenge this season having shipped in a contingent of players from Farnborough in the form of Hooper, Huggins, Bubb, Donnelly and Ciardini.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bad Moon Rising

I've never seen Maidenhead beat Farnborough. I've managed to miss the few Magpie victories in recent years, and even though the visitors arrived at York Road on the back of a 5-0 defeat, the red moon shining like a beacon in the east for me did not suggest an omen of delight for the Stripes.
A quick glance at the opposition forum ahead of the game yielded little in the way of information tonight but an astonishing glimpse into their finances which to my untutored eye seemed to suggest they were £3 million in debt, and having repaid a lump sum of £10,000 to gain re-entry into the Conference South a year ago, had continued to pay down the debt at a grand total of £1 a month. Clearly one to watch in next summer's AGM Cup.
Maidenhead started the game in a similar mood to which they finished the one at Staines three days beforehand. However this time they found an implacable barrier to taking the lead in the form of on loan Leyton Orient goalkeeper, and ultimate man of the match Charlie Grainger. 
Follow the Hound
With eighteen minutes gone, Grainger denied the Magpies two full debutants in quick succession. Firstly he pushed a Tashan Adeyinka shot round the post, and then from the resulting corner tipped a Ryan Upward header onto the crossbar. Soon after Upward again went close with Grainger parrying his shot. Maidenhead continued to have the upper hand, with Mark Nisbet having an effort cleared off the line within two minutes of the restart after half time.
A substitution on the hour mark paid dividends for Farnborough as Dan Bennett came off the bench to fire home a loose ball after a Phil Page shot was blocked. 'Boro were then able to effectively stifle Maidenhead's attacking efforts and indeed for the remainder of the game looked most likely to score with Fey Okenbarmie drawing a couple of fine saves from Elvijs Putnins. 
One factor in the Magpies lack of threat was the substitution of effervescent Upward who suffered concussion following a blow to the head. This was part of a triple switch with twenty minutes left which had little effect on the game.
Deep into stoppage time a chance for an equaliser finally came when a ball into the box found Danny Green in space. The winger patiently waited to place his header wide of Grainger only for the keeper to keep his focus and pull off another excellent save to preserve his team's lead an ensured they took three points home.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Chappell leaves Maidenhead without a prayer

Not totally sure why, but I really enjoy a trip to Clarence Park, St. Albans. Easy to get to, nice walk through the park to the turnstile, and a few happy memories of Maidenhead wins. With the sun shining as well this afternoon all seemed set fair for a repeat of last Saturday's victorious trip to Staines. Initially everything went to plan. 
Passing through the turnstiles I met Peter Knock on the other side, exactly where he always was when I last went to Clarence Park before the Saints were relegated. Following Peter's customary warm welcome I took in the familiar scene of this neat little non league ground, only marginally spoiled by the grey metal fence which surrounds the perimeter.
In the lead up to kick off I learned that Drax had decided to tinker with his team, giving a full debut to Melchi Emmanuel-Williamson and Bobby Behzadi a rare start as a defensive midfielder. With Behzadi replacing Reece Tison-Lascaris, this looked like a move to bolster the defence, one which looked wise from the start as St. Albans looked to get on the front foot. In the early exchanges Maidenhead gave as good as they got though and took the lead in the seventh minute. A Danny Green free kick swung into the box. The defence were unable to clear it and the ball found its way to Adrian Clifton on the edge of the penalty area who fiercely struck the ball to score.
This did not deter St. Albans, with Elvijs Putnins soon saving well at the feet of Sean Shields. The home team were not backwards about coming forwards and their was an urgent directness to their play. It soon became clear that the touchlines had been brought in significantly to provide Lee Chappell with a long run up to unleash a throw in straight into the penalty area. This up and at 'em attitude extended throughout the team, which led to a niggly match, well controlled by referee Lloyd Wood. 
The Saints managed to get under the skin of the Magpies for much of the game, and this boiled over into a confrontation in the nineteenth minute between Tom Ward and Clifton. With Ward getting into Clifton's face, the midfielders response was to push the defender over, with the inevitable consequence of a red card. The dismissal hit Maidenhead harder than merely going down to ten men, as with the player whose strong running has done so much to link the midfield with attack missing, United retreated and then crumpled under a revitalised onslaught from St. Albans.
At first Putnins was able to stem the attacking tide with a flying save to deny John Frendo but within ten minutes Steve Wales had equalised with a goal remarkably similar to Clifton's.This was swiftly followed by a second when Putnins pushed a Chappell free kick from the halfway line into his own net. Chappell then completed the comeback by collecting a pinpoint crossfield long ball on the left hand side of the penalty area, beating Emmanuel-Williamson with his first touch then Putins with a fine finish.
Blown away by three goals in ten minutes, Maidenhead rallied slightly before half time and should have pulled a goal back when Stefan Brown hit the cross bar from close range. 
The interval provided time for reflection. On the pitch Maidenhead had failed to deal with St. Albans' direct approach and looked quite unsettled by the home team's aggressive approach. Off it City looked a resurgent club. The crowd was a season's best 707, significantly helped by free tickets distributed to local schools, with many youngsters enjoying half time on the pitch in their kit. I wasn't so sure about the mascot, supposedly a Roman which looked like it had the head of a lion, but liked the fine array of big flags being re-hung at the home end, even though some of the imagery was a little incongruous given the leafy suburban surroundings.
As the teams trotted out for the second half, Drax brought on Daniel Brown for Emmanuel-Williamson, moving Behazdi into the right back slot. Maidenhead made a better fist of the second half, with Ryan Upward in particular driving the team forward in midfield. With thirty minutes left, United then saw a way back into the game as Upward was brought down by Ward in sight of goal. With Ward already cautioned for the incident with Clifton he now followed him into the dressing room. However with a two goal cushion St. Albans were able to sit back and soak up Maidenhead's attacking endeavours which were now reinforced by Reece Tison-Lascaris and debutant Sam Barratt. 
Stepping up from the Hellenic League, the teenage Barratt showed no signs of being overawed with some nice touches on the left wing, whipping in a couple of decent cross. Yet it was St. Albans that looked most likely to score when they counter attacked and two minutes into stoppage time Chappell completed his hat trick. There was still time for Ashley Nicholls to test goalkeeper Joe Welch with a shot from distance but the die was cast for a comfortable win for St. Albans.
Once again the absence of key players Simon Downer and Dave Tarpey was keenly felt, whilst the unscheduled departure of Clifton showed his importance to the team.An apology from the latter was swiftly forthcoming, although he will now be suspended for the FA Cup tie in a fortnight's time, and probably the two games following that. Tarpey will be available next Saturday and its to be hoped that Downer will be fit enough to join him, with the Magpies being unbeaten in every game the defender has played so far.