Sunday, 18 November 2012

Maidstone United 1 v 1 Walton Casuals

Saturday 17th November 2012
Ryman League Division One South
Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone
Admission: £10.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 1755
Match rating: 4

On a seemingly rare Saturday that was not taken up with a Charlton game or a game in the Premiership, today would finally be the day when I would make my long awaited first visit to Maidstone United's brand new stadium. With reports of an excellent stadium and almost unbelievably high attendances of people making the most of being able to watch their team play back in the town after an absence of 25 years (as a senior club - they did play in the town in their years in junior football after their brief stay in the Football League ended in the club's liquidation)

The Gallagher Stadium is very conveniently located just about five minutes walk from either Maidstone East or Maidstone Barracks rail stations, or just a little more from the town centre, and as one may expect of a newly built stadium that has been desired for so long by the club, it is a very neat, smart and impressive facility. As one enters the ground at one corner of the ground, having paid a rather hefty (for the level of football) £10.00, there is a large grey building housing the clubhouse and changing rooms. Further along this length is the only seated accommodation in the ground, with just under 500 seats. Behind both goals are metallic stands covering a few steps of terracing, and around the whole pitch is spacious hard standing. The metallic fencing enclosing the ground actually looks quite attractive too, to complete a very easy on the eye stadium. The main talking point arguably is the pitch, which is of the 3G, plastic variety. To my knowledge, they are the first senior club in England to have installed a plastic pitch, time will tell if it proves to be a sound investment. The club will certainly benefit from hardly any games being postponed, but it may hinder their long term progress as a club, as plastic pitches have not yet been approved by leagues higher than the Ryman League. Indeed the ground does have the feel of a place where the club has little prospect of climbing through the leagues, with a small ground with surprisingly relatively few seats placed in the one main stand. The programme was also very attractive, in full colour and consisting of 36 pages, almost half of which were advertising, but there was still plenty of interest to read.

Maidstone United have certainly christened their new stadium with successful football on the pitch, and they went into today's game two points clear at the top of the table, with two games in hand. A run of ten games unbeaten in all competitions came to an end in midweek, when an understrength team lost a Kent Senior Cup game against Tonbridge Angels in midweek. They would apparently be "home bankers" for this game, with today's visitors Walton Casuals rock bottom of the league, and in their last league game last Saturday, they contrived to throw away a 6-1 lead to draw 6-6 at home to Merstham.

On a heavily overcast afternoon with another amazingly large attendance - 1755, Maidstone's second highest of the season - the game quickly settled into a pattern of Maidstone dominating proceedings and creating the best chances to score. As the chances were being missed, there was a feeling that, if one went in, that could be followed by several more, although to be fair to the lowly visitors, they played reasonably well too and had chances of their own. Surprisingly, the scoreline remained goalless at half time.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, if anything Maidstone dominating more and the chances being missed were ever more gilt edged, with a combination of poor decision making and some excellent goalkeeping. Just as it looked like Maidstone would kick themselves and have to settle for a point from a goalless draw, soon after they had a goal disallowed for offside, it seemed they wouldn't even get that as Walton Casuals took the lead completely against the run of play, and what a poor goal it was for Maidstone to give away. Poor, as well as bizarre. A long ball over the top left a one on one opportunity. Initially the keeper looked favourite to clear the ball, but inexplicably he turned his back on the ball and jogged back towards the goal, allowing Kieran Dias to knock the ball past the all-at-sea keeper. The home side certainly did not give up after this hammer blow, and continued driving forward in search of a goal. One finally came in the fifth minute of added on time, when a ball was played low across goal from wide by Warren Whiteley, and the ball was tapped home at the far post by Michael Phillips.There was still time for the visitors almost to go back into the lead, with just about the final kick of the game, but this time the keeper saved well.

Video highlights at