Maidstone United 1-0 Truro City - Promotion into National League will be the biggest thing that I've done in football, says Maidstone United boss Jay Saunders

Sunday 08th May 2016
Maidstone United 1 – 0 Truro City
Location Gallagher Stadium, James Whatman Way, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1LQ
Kickoff 08/05/2016 16:00

(Maidstone United win 3-0 on aggregate)
Vanarama National League South Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg
Sunday 8th May 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Gallagher Stadium

MAIDSTONE UNITED manager Jay Saunders says it will be his biggest achievement if he can win promotion next Saturday.

The Stones booked their place in the Vanarama National League South Promotion Final after beating Truro City 3-0 on aggregate.

Saunders men came away from Cornwall with a commanding 2-0 advantage on Wednesday night, courtesy of goals from Joe Healy and Alex Flisher.

Flisher scored again today, netting his seventh-goal of the season to get his home-town club through to the winner-takes-all showdown away to Ebbsfleet United as second-meets-third to see who will join champions Sutton United in the Vanarama National League next season.

Daryl McMahon relied on his side beating Whitehawk 3-2 on penalties after losing 2-1 after extra time after the tie finished all-square at 3-3 on aggregate.

“I’m pleased when the final whistle went as well. It was a bit of a nervy affair today,” said Saunders following his side’s victory.

“It’s a great achievement and something that the boys have worked very hard for this season, so I’m delighted.

“I set the players a target in the dressing room. I’d like to try to make play-off’s and I set that target to the players.  We changed a few, I thought we needed to make a few changes earlier on which we did and then we went on a great run.

“We thought we’d probably scrape through to the play-offs. I didn’t think we’d make the play-offs in third with three weeks to go or whatever, be safe in there.

“In all fairness, full credit to the lads, they’ve done it. Once you get into the semis and the final you need a little bit of luck and you need everyone to turn up and everyone to be fit and we’ve managed to get everyone fit at the right time.

“They’ve come through and got another big game to look forward to.”

On the hottest day of the year so far, Maidstone United could have put the tie beyond Steve Tully’s side inside four and a half minutes.

Winger Vas Karagiannis floated in a corner from the left and Coyle planted his free header over the bar from 10-yards.

Saunders said: I’m desperate for that to go in. If that goes in you’re in a good position. Unfortunately, it meant it was more tense as it went on.

“I just would’ve loved it if we could’ve scored an early goal in the first 20 minutes. If we could’ve nicked a goal that would’ve set us up. It was a nervy first half, I thought.”

Maidstone United started the opening 10 minutes on the front foot before Truro City started to get back into the game.

Cody Cooke cut the ball back to Ryan Brett, who whipped in a cross from the left and holding midfielder Dan Green looped his header over the Maidstone crossbar from 10-yards.

Truro City played the ball out from the back and right-back Aaron Dawson fed the ball into Ollie Knowles, who dropped deep to pick up the ball from his back four on numerous occasions.  He played the ball into Cooke, who drove his left-footed shot over the bar from 30-yards after a couple of step-overs.

Maidstone United went close to opening the scoring when Karagiannis put over a free-kick from the left and Flisher hooked his shot just past the left-hand post from 10-yards.

Maidstone United goalkeeper Lee Worgan was called into action in the 19th minute.

Matty Jay and Knowles linked up and right-back Dawson roamed forward and unleashed a right-footed drive from 40-yards towards the right-hand corner, which forced Worgan to dive to his left to push the ball around the post.

Saunders said: “You need sometimes players to step up, they’re key moments, that’s why he’s here, that’s why we got him here.  That’s why we gave him a new deal.  I personally think he’s the best keeper in the league. I know there were other clubs that wanted him earlier in the season because of that reason but he stayed here. He loves being here, we love having him here. He showed again at key moments he comes up with the goods.”

Saunders added: “Truro are a good side.  I mean we’ve beat them four times this season, which is all credit to our lads but they’re a good side.

“It was a difficult one.  They’ve come in with no pressure they’re 2-0 down, everyone thinks it’s game over, they’re coming here, it’s a big crowd. If I was Steve (Tully) I would’ve said ‘just go out there and enjoy it and play with no fear’ and I think they did that.

“First half they asked a lot of questions of us. I felt it was important that we got to half-time without conceding, which we managed to do.”

Brett swung in the resulting corner from the right and Aaron Bentley came up from the back and his towering header was hooked off the line by Flisher.

Worgan then produced his second save of the game when he used his legs to deny Cook poking the ball into the back of the net after Knowles swung in a corner from the left and the ball was flicked on at the near post by Brett.

Flisher clipped the ball from the centre of the pitch out to right-back Callum Driver, who cut inside Brett and his 25-yard drive deflected off Bentley and this took any sting out of the shot and allowed Martin Rice to make a comfortable save.

Maidstone United created another headed chance in the 32nd minute.

Driver pinged a 50-yard diagonal pass that struck Flisher on the back and dropped kindly for left-winger Bobby-Joe Taylor, who whipped in a cross into the penalty area for big target-man Dumebi Dumaka to plant his towering header over the bar from eight-yards.

Jay hit a long ball forward, the ball was latched onto by Brett, who cut inside and his shot was blocked by Driver and went behind for Truro’s fifth and penultimate corner of the game.

Brett swung in the resulting corner from the right towards the far post where Bentley rose to plant his free header over the bar.

Dumaka showed plenty of desire to steal the ball off Truro central defender Arran Pugh on the right touch-line and charged forward before crossing towards the near post where Flisher hurled himself at a diving header which sailed just wide from six-yards.

Truro City created another headed chance of the their own when Dawson floated in a cross from the right for Wright to rise and the ball bounced into Worgan’s hands.

Maidstone United went close five minutes before the break when left-back Tom Mills found himself on the edge of the box to steer his left-footed shot just past of the left-hand post after Taylor’s cross wasn’t cleared by Truro’s defence.

Truro City went close to taking the lead when Green’s cross from the right saw Cooke and Wright jump up together inside the six-yard box and Cooke steered his header across Worgan and just past the left-hand post.

“We wasn’t happy at half-time,” said Saunders. “The performance first half wasn’t good enough, second half was better.

“We needed to look after the ball a bit better, have a bit of quality in key areas and we had that for the goal. I suppose at that point once you score they’ve got to go forward and leave more gaps. It’s a very hot day and it was very hard for the players out there. You’ve got to give Truro full credit because on the day they were good.”

Maidstone United created the first chance of the second half after only 19 seconds when Dumaka waited for a long ball to drop before hitting his low right-footed shot past the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Truro City called Worgan into making a comfortable save in the 53rd minute.

Midfielder Jay played a lovely diagonal pass to Cooke, who cut inside both Mills and Taylor to enter the penalty area but stroked his left-footed shot which was comfortably gobbled up by the goalkeeper.

Maidstone United relied heavily on Flisher’s long throws and Rice pulled off a great save in the 56th minute.

Flisher launched the sixth of his eight trademark long throws into the penalty area and Truro City failed to clear their lines and Coyle headed the ball into the mix and Manny Parry’s looping shot which was heading for the top right-hand corner was pushed over the bar by Rice.

Brett swept in a free kick into the Maidstone United box from the right and the ball came out to Cooke whose right-footed shot rolled into Worgan’s hands for a comfortable save just before the hour-mark.

Truro City then threw more men forward as they only had 30 minutes left to grab two goals but the game was only going to be settled by one goal.

“They’re a side that put a lot into your box, free-kicks, aerially and we’ve had to deal with it and in the four games that we’ve played them we’ve managed to do that,” said Saunders.

“At some point they showed their hand and they’re going to go for it and in the end they went four up front and we dealt with it.”

Maidstone United turned defence into attack with a long ball – which summed up the game.

Truro City striker Wright was chasing a ball down the right channel and Mills stopped him in his tracks, flicked the ball past him and hit one big long ball down the pitch.

Substitute Jay May held the ball up and laid the ball out to Karagiannis, who cut inside and lashed his shot over the bar from 17-yards.

Truro City then enjoyed a spell of pressure and substitute Les Afful hit his right-footed drive from 25-yards straight down Worgan’s throat.

The football purists in the crowd of 2,508 waited patiently for some football played on the deck – and Maidstone United scored the winning goal in this manner with 73 minutes on the clock, timed at 27:17.

May flicked a pass into Taylor, who played a sublime through ball to put Flisher through on goal.  The winger-turned-striker kept his composure when he only had Rice to beat and drilled his left-footed shot into the near corner from eight-yards.

Saunders was full of praise for the fans’ favourite.

“I’m fortunate at the club we’ve got lads who can score goals and Flish has managed to do that,” said Saunders.

“He’s one of those players, a big game player. He gets in those areas and it’s a great finish! Great composure, I’m pleased for him.

“People have got to realise he had ten months out and the lads worked his socks off to get back to where he is. He’s still, what I would call say at least 70% fitness, which is quite a scary thought when you see what he offers you!

“We’ve moved him a bit more central over the last two games and he gets us two goals. I’m delighted for him. He works hard. If he’s not having his best games he’s one of those players, do you know what, he might not be having a great game but he’ll work his socks off. He done that again today and got his reward.”

This goal killed off Truro City’s promotion hopes and Maidstone United created yet another headed chance when substitute Dan Sweeney powered his header over following Flisher’s corner from the left.

Saunders brought on substitute Jack Paxman and he came within inches of scoring just seconds after coming on.

Paxman played a one-two with Healy on the right-hand corner of the Truro penalty area and twisted and turned the defender before his right-footed angled shot trickled across the keeper and agonisingly past the foot of the far post from 15-yards.

Saunders said: “His feet were unbelievable for that! He’s twisted the defender. Just before he came on Nicky (Southall) said ‘come on to twist the defender up’ and he did it with his first one.

“I was giving him stick last week. He doesn’t score enough goals and he’s capable of that and I’m just gutted he didn’t put it in the corner because he deserves a goal.”

Truro City kept pumping balls into the Maidstone United penalty area and Wright met Knowles’ deep cross with another towering header which he failed to get on target.

Both teams should have scored inside the final five minutes.

Driver pumped a free-kick into the Truro City penalty area from the right and Sweeney knocked the ball down but Parry produced a centre halves finish by lashing his shot over the bar from six-yards, when it seemed easier to score!

Worgan pulled off a brilliant diving save to deny Truro City with the last kick of the game.

Knowles took a small run up to stroke his right-footed free-kick towards the near corner from 25-yards, but Worgan dived full-length to his right to turn the ball around the post.

“He’s top class and he’s shown that again today,” said Saunders.  “I’m delighted with him. He just gives you that re-assurance. As a defender in the team he takes so much pressure of the lads because he’ll come and claim it and pull off key saves.”

Ebbsfleet United have made Saturday’s Promotion Final all-ticket and Saunders cannot wait for the Stonebridge Road winner-takes-all showdown.

Saunders, who played for Gravesend & Northfleet earlier in his career, said: “It’s one we can look forward to as a player. What would I’d give now to come out of retirement and play because it’s going to be a huge crowd and it’s going to be a great day.  You don’t know what’s going to happen in a one-off game.

“We’ve had some big games since we’ve come back to Maidstone. It’s another one for us and one that we can really now prepare this week and look forward to it.

“It’s a really difficult game. They’re a side that finished second in the league, they were top for a long time. I think their squad’s very good. Whatever team Daryl McMahon picks will be a very difficult game for us.

“It’s a massive bonus for us to be here for a club just come up from the Ryman (Premier League) and we’re up there competing and we’re there on credit, I think.

“We’re in the final on credit, it’s one we can look forward to but without a doubt it will be a difficult game.”

When asked what promotion would mean personally, Bearsted resident Saunders replied: “I think personally it would be probably the biggest achievement to date. I feel that we were kind of expected to get out of the Ryman South, we were expected to get out of the Ryman Prem, even though it was hard, we managed to do that and now I feel at this level we weren’t expected to do it and we’ve done it with a very young side. We haven’t broken the bank, we’re doing it sensibly and it will be the biggest thing that I’ve done in football.”

Maidstone United: Lee Worgan, Callum Driver, Tom Mills, Jamie Coyle, Manny Parry, James Rogers, Vas Karragiannis (Dan Sweeney 74), Joe Healy, Dumebi Dumaka (Jay May 62), Bobby-Joe Taylor (Jack Paxman 78), Alex Flisher.
Subs: Callum Davies, Will Godmon

Goal: Alex Flisher 73

Booked: Jamie Coyle 58

Truro City: Martin Rice, Aaron Dawson, Connor Riley-Lowe (Les Afful 62), Ryan Brett, Aaron Bentley, Arran Pugh (Jamie Richards 48), Ollie Knowles, Dan Green, Matthew Wright, Matty Jay, Cody Cooke (Ben Adelsbury 69).
Subs: Tom McHale, Shane White

Attendance: 2,508
Referee: Mr Carl Brook (Hastings, East Sussex)
Assistants: Mr Scott Williams (Hackney, London E8) & Mr Tom Ratheram
Fourth Official: Mr Neil Hair (Peterborough, Cambridgeshire)