A hotly-disputed penalty and a last gasp goal saw title favourites, Maidstone United, achieve a slightly flattering victory against a spirited Eastbourne Town at the excellent Gallagher Stadium on Saturday.
Maidstone United’s return to the county town has been a mightily impressive one, as they look odds on to take the league crown and the crowds they are attracting are the envy of many in the non-league arena.
1,657 supporters crammed into their new stadium on Saturday and they would have been impressed with the disciplined and focused performance given by the visitors.
Town’s game plan, backed up with plenty of heart and hard work, subdued the home fans and upset any rhythm the hosts wanted.
Playing on the 4G surface didn’t prove to be a problem for Town as they played with no fear, matching their opponents throughout.
Maidstone’s main ploy was to knock the ball long for their huge target man, Shaun Welford. He was, however, well marshalled by Steve Elliott and Ben Austin.
As the half came to an end, a long ball to Welford saw him get the wrong side of Elliott for the first time and, as the defender moved to correct this, he clipped Welford’s heels and the striker went over.
The linesman flagged for the foul but, to Town’s horror, the referee pointed to the spot, despite everyone in the Town red claiming the infringement was outside of the box. Those appeals fell on deaf ears and Welford himself lashed the penalty kick home.
Maidstone United gave a debut to former Chelsea star, Jon Harley, while Town had Ross Treleaven and Aaron Hopkinson back in their starting line up, in place of Dan Bolwell and Evan Archibald.
The opening minutes of the second period saw Maidstone on the front foot. Josh Pelling, in the Town goal, had to sprint to clear an early danger but, having only cleared the ball to Welford, the big forward lobbed high over the open goal, much to the relief of the many visiting supporters.
In a game of virtually no chances, both defences dominated. The table toppers were a little disappointing in possession and short of ideas, given their lofty position and it wasn’t until the 94th minute that they showed any real quality and that led to a second goal.
Town had forced three quick corners as they sought a late equaliser but an excellent run by Alex Flisher, tight to the left touchline, saw him elude both Luke Denton and Ross Treleaven, wriggling around each before setting the ball up beautifully for Ade Olorunda to guide past Pelling with what was the very last kick of the match.
Town should take plenty of confidence from this performance as, again, they proved to be very difficult opposition to master. Had the penalty award not been given, the hosts may well have struggled to have won at all. Eastbourne Town now have two Sussex sides to play over the Easter weekend as they look to get their play-off push back on track.
Town: Pelling 7, Denton 7, Sutton 7, Elliott 7, Austin 8*, Strevett 7, Lansdale 7 (McCrae 67mins), Treleaven 7, Curd 7 (Archibald 67mins), Hopkinson 7 (Greenfield 75mins), M.Crabb 7
MOM: Ben Austin