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|Margate||1||Leon Braithwaite 69|
|Striker Leon Braithwaite rekindled his
love affair with Margate Football Club by scoring the winning goal on the
club's emotional - and his - return to Hartsdown Park today, writes
A passionate crowd of 1,279 packed into the "semi-new" 2,000 capacity Hartsdown Park as Chris Kinnear's men got their debut Ryman Premier League campaign off to a winning start.
Braithwaite, 32, who scored 35 goals in 131 appearances before his switch to Dagenham & Redbridge in March 2003, admitted he was delighted to score the club's first goal back at the ground following their troubled three year exile.
But now they can look forward to a much brighter future.
The East London based fireman extinguished any hopes a disappointing Maldon Town side had of stealing a point as the home side created numerous chances but had to wait until the 69th minute to find the back of Paul Catley's net.
Mark Green's corner wasn't dealt with by the Essex side's defenders and Braithwaite - just back from coaching in Canada - was there to rifle the ball high into the top left hand corner from close range. A scrappy goal, but who really cares?!
Former Dartford midfielder, Steve Hafner - he must be mad leaving the Darts with their move to Princes Park on the horizon - stood out for the visitors but they will be disappointed that they didn't test Margate goalkeeper Charlie Mitten at all.
Maldon's first of two chances came in the 28th minute when Paul Goodacre's left-footed 30-yarder flew over Mitten's crossbar.
Margate, however, dominated proceeding's throughout and should have won by more than one goal.
But considering most of their players have just been put together by Kinnear, with only Mitten, Greg Oates, Bill Edwards, John Keister and Braithwaite having played on the ground before, they did, however, rise to the occassion on this beautiful day for everybody concerned with the Thanet club.
Following a knock down from Darren Watson, Braithwaite turned to fire a shot just wide of the far post and Gambian International, Hasim Deen drilled a shot wide inside the opening seven minutes.
Maldon striker, Simon Parker, who banged in the goals during their promotion winning campaign (via the play-off's) last season, finally met his match against Margate's Conference standard back-line.
One of these stars, Keister stroked the ball upfield for Braithwaite and seeing goalkeeper Catley off his line, his cross-come-shot dropped down on the roof of the back-peddling goalkeepers net.
Dean Standen, however, missed a golden opportunity to hand the home side a deserved lead just before the break when he drove Braithwaite's cross agonisingly wide of the foot of the far post.
Another chance fell Margate's way early in the second half. Big striker, Darren Watson latched onto Keister's long ball, but in trying to curl the ball inside the top far corner, the ball sailed wide.
Mitten's long ball was then slipped into Braithwaite's path by his strike partner Watson, and after being crowded out inside the box, he laid the ball into Standen's path but the former Welling and Erith & Belvedere midfielder drove a first time shot wide.
And at the other end, grey-haired visiting skipper, Nicky Smith blazed high over Mitten's bar from 25-yards.
Another chance went begging for Margate on the hour mark when Watson brought Bill Edwards' cross under control, turned to unleash a shot that flew agonisingly wide.
But Margate's long suffering fans had, at last, something to celebrate with 21 minutes left when their favourite Braithwaite brought the memories flooding back.
Margate still created more chances late on with skipper Pat Gradley busting towards goal but seeing his shot strike the left upright, only to roll along the line into the grateful arms of surprised Catley.
And with two minutes left, Gradley played the ball over the top of the Maldon defence for Braithwaite on the right. Cutting the ball back to Watson, all the big striker needed to do was fire the ball into the net, but his shot came off the goalkeeper into Braithwaite's path. Sadly for him, the offside flag was already raised before he fired the ball into the net.
Braithwaite, however, wants to bring the glory days back to Hartsdown Park.
Speaking in the post match press conference, he said: "The club has had a difficult time over the last 3 or 4 years.
"Just to get back, with the ground, massive crowd and it's always good to get a goal and get the first win in the league.
"It's very important for the club that we are back at our own ground. That huddle at the start of the game was just to tell everyone, the new boys, how it used to be when we were in the glory days here.
"This is our home patch and we don't give up points easily here and you can see that.
"A goal and our first win was definitely important for the club."
And manager Chris Kinnear - one of the most respected managers in Kent football - was a proud man, celebrating nine years with the club, and their victory, with a deserved glass of red wine.
Not many managers would have dealt with the ups and downs he has during those nine years, but he is determined to get Margate back to where they should be.
"I'm (feeling) ecstatic really," he said in the post-match press conference.
"I mean that was wonderful. I thought we played very well but we've still got a lot of work to do, it's not quite right.
"I'm very pleased and what a great day! There's so many supporters here and I think we put on a good show."
Kinnear was full of praise for his match-winner, adding: "Leon is pleased to be back. He's done great for us and to be fair hasn't lost any of it has he?
"He worked very hard and he wants us, and himself, to do well."
"We've got quite a young side really with one or two old heads, and I think the old heads steadied the ship and did very well."
Margate travel to Staines Town (Tuesday) and Harrow Borough (next Saturday) before former Nationwide Conference South rivals, Redbridge travel to Hartsdown Park on Monday, 29th August.
"Our pre-season didn't rip up any trees and was a bit average but we were just trying to watch players and find out people's strengths.
"Today I thought the atmosphere, application and the dedication of playing for the team was first class today.
"I really enjoyed it. It was like I started again as a manager really after what we've gone through I was really enthusiastic and really enjoyed it."
Visit www.margate-fc.com for photographs
WELCOME HOME EVERYBODY: Margate fans have waited three years to watch their heroes play again at Hartsdown Park. Almost 1300 turned up to watch their 1-0 victory over Maldon Town, as both clubs made their Ryman Premier League debut today Photo: www.margate-fc.com
|Margate: Charlie Mitten, Greg
Oates, Mark Green, Bill Edwards, Kola Okikiolu, Hasim Deen, John Keister,
Pat Gradley (Capt), Leon Braithwaite, Darren Watson, Dean Standen.
Subs: Paul Egan (GK), Osman Sesay, Andrew Burke
Maldon Town: Paul Catley, Simon Clarke, Chris Whelpdale, Sean Bell, Paul Goodacre, Danny Cross, Steve Hafner, Dean Parrat, Gary Answell, Simon Parker (Alex Fiddes 89), Nicky Smith (Capt, Craig Huttley 79). Subs: Adam Holmes, Sam Clarke, David McCartney (GK)
Referee: Gavin Hoare
Assistants: P Harris & I Regan