Crunch game ends all square
England Schoolboy international Aslett keeps amazing Whitstable run going
Maidstone United 1 -1 Whitstable Town
Go Travel Kent League Premier Division
Tuesday 17th February 2004
by Ruth Tunnell - www.bbc.co.uk/kent/sport
This was billed as one of the crunch games of the season.
Second placed Whitstable Town, who had won 12 games in a row, travelled to
Maidstone United, who were looking to gain their seventh consecutive victory.
It was a testament to the ground staff that the game actually went ahead with the pitch waterlogged in places.
Perhaps the Stones would have preferred a postponement. They looked sluggish until the last 20 minutes and were outfought by a strong and skillful Whitstable side who played some of the best football seen at Bourne Park this season.
Certainly the Oystermen can consider themselves unfortunate to not take all three points from the game in which Mal Watkins described the Stones performance as "Poor, poor and poor."
The Stones did get off to a great start though and forced Atherton into making his first save in the 4th minute when Yianni charged into the box, wriggled into space and produced a goal bound shot.
Some neat sweeping play that involved Bradbrook, Yianni and McCabe saw the Stones press forward again and win a throw down the right hand side. The ball went to Overton and he delivered an enticing cross for Rowland who powered in a good header to give the Stones the lead in the 6th minute.
However, indecisive defending from the Stones just two minutes later nearly saw them lose their lead. Constable, who was a thorn in the Stones defence all night, produced a smart ball into the box that was touched onto Robinson but he could not keep his shot down and the ball only just cleared the crossbar.
The game was proceeding at a frantic tempo. Debutante Overton was heavily involved in the Stone's forward play and in the 13th minute his sent a terrific curling ball into the path of Austin. The ball came back out to McCabe, who was in a good position, but he delayed his shot and Atherton saved comfortably.
Overton was again instrumental in carving out an opportunity for the Stones in the 30th minute. Barton's free kick was only cleared as far as Overton who lifted a delightful ball into Austin's path but he shot over the bar under heavy pressure from the Whitstable defence.
Shortly after, the Stones had a superb opportunity to increase their lead when Rowland raced through on goal. Atherton advanced out of his area and just managed to get to the ball first but his clearance only found Sinden.
Unfortunately, Atherton reacted quickly and as he retreated backwards he managed to block Sinden's shot.
This let off seemed to galvanise Whitstable and the Stones spent the rest of the first half pinned back as Whitstable turned on the style with some slick and pacy moves on a skiddy surface.
With ten minutes left before half time Whitstable had a strong claim for a penalty turned down when Barton, who had shone in the Stones defence, appeared to handle Constable's cross.
Robinson had a further opportunity to equalise for Whitstable when he headed Skinner's cross agonisingly wide. The Stones were clinging onto their lead as they struggled to contend with the movement of the Whitstable forward line.
Deep into first half injury time Hudson missed his punch from a throw and the ball was driven back into the Stones box. The ball dropped over Prett's shoulder and he could only send a difficult header just over the bar.
Unfortunately for the Stones, Whitstable quickly picked up from where they had left off after the break. All too often the Stones midfield was over-run and the Oystermen seemed to be first to every ball.
It was inevitable that Whitstable would equalise and they did so in the 59th minute. Harrison squared the ball from a free kick on the edge of the area to Aslett, who showed why he had received a call up to the England Under 18s squad with a drive which gave Hudson no chance.
Watkins immediately replaced Austin with Kedwell and he instantly injected some much - needed urgency into the Stone's play. Whitstable were still looking potent though and with half an hour to go Hudson had to react smartly to palm over Harrison's shot which was destined for the top left hand corner of the goal.
With voids being left by the Stone's midfield Whitstable kept creating opportunities. Several times in the last quarter of the game Barton had to be alert to make last ditch tackles from Prett, Marshall, Davis and Aslett, who had on many occasions throughout the game had teased the Stone's defence at will.
Parker replaced the industrious Prett with three minutes remaining as fatigue from both sides began to set in after a high paced game on a stodgy pitch and with the 45 minutes up the Stones had a glorious opportunity to win the game.
Sinden did well to flick on Lacy's throw, who was on as a substitute for Yianni, and the ball fell to Overton. Hit shot squirmed underneath Atherton and as the ball stuck in the mud Davis was inches away from poking home a winner but Atherton managed to smother the ball.
Mal Watkins said after the game he thought the Stone's performance was not good enough and that there were no excuses for this. He believed the Stones, in contrast to Whitstable, had not played as a team or unit.
Mal said he thought the Stones should have built on their early advantage and that the crucial factor had been the Stone's inability to keep possession.
He added that Maidstone had looked short on quality and that Whitstable had been unlucky not to claim all three points. On a positive note, Mal thanked the ground staff for enabling the game to go ahead.
Maidstone United: Hudson, McCabe, Barton, Edwards, Davis, Overton, Yianni (Lacy 73), Austin (Kedwell 51), Sinden, Rowland (Griffen 84), Bradbrook. Sub not used: Hogg
Whitstable Town: Atherton, Davis, Skinner, Collins,
Keir, Robinson, Harrison, Aslett, Marshall, Constable (Brimstead 73), Prett
(Parker 87). Subs not used: Sayer, Lanes