Stevenage 0-0 Maidstone United - The players and supporters were outstanding, says proud Saunders

Sunday 09th November 2014
The FA Cup First Round
Sunday 9th November 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Broadhall Way

MAIDSTONE UNITED manager Jay Saunders says he was proud of his players after they held League Two side Stevenage to a goal-less draw in The FA Cup First Round.

There were 54 teams separating sixteenth-placed Stevenage and second-placed Ryman Premier Leaguers Maidstone United, but the Stones can look forward to a potential televised replay on their 3G pitch at The Gallagher Stadium on or around 18 November after deservedly claiming a second bite of the cherry.

The FA Cup magic failed to grip the Stevenage public as Maidstone United took 1,375 fans of the 2,935 that were inside the stadium at Broadhall Way.

And the fans from Kent certainly gave their team brilliant, passionate support before and during the game and gave their players a deserved standing ovation at the final whistle.

“I’m proud of the boys, I thought they were outstanding today,” said Saunders afterwards.

“They’ve had a few chances towards the end, which is what you expect. A little bit of tiredness set in for our boys, obviously with their (Stevenage’s) full-time training, but if I’m being honest with you, I thought we had some real chances on another day we might have taken one of them.

“I’m proud of them. I thought to a man they were superb.

“You need everyone to be on their game when you’re coming to places like this.  Stevenage are a decent side, they were League One last year.  Graham Westley is an experienced manager and he knows what he’s doing.

“You need everyone to be on it and I thought we were.  I thought we defended superbly. When we broke, we looked dangerous.”

The Maidstone United defence, well marshalled by Steve Watt and Sonny Miles, kept Stevenage quiet during the early stages of this stalemate.

Maidstone United squandered an excellent chance to open the scoring inside the opening thirteen minutes.

Winger Matt Bodkin went on a 30-yard run with the ball to cut in from the right flank towards the edge of the D, before cutting a fine pass to put striker Frannie Collin through on goal but he dragged his left-footed angled drive across keeper Chris Day and past the far post.

“On another day he puts them away,” said Saunders.

“He’s had two really good chances today Frannie and I think he’s thinking he should have scored them.

“But we created chances.  No, I haven’t got a problem with that (miss). He’ll miss chances and he’ll always score goals for us and he’s reliable for us but unfortunately today he’s hasn’t taken his chances.”

The Stones threatened again just 129 seconds later when Collin laid the ball off to Alex Flisher before Bodkin cut the ball back and Collin’s shot on the turn deflected just wide.

Stevenage appeared to be nervous, playing with fear, during the early stages of the game.

Flisher launched a trademark long throw into the Stevenage box where Watt glanced his header straight into Day’s grateful hands.

Stevenage took nearly 22 minutes to fashion their first opening.

They were patient, passing the ball from the back into the midfield where winger Charlie Adams rode Tom Mills’ sliding tackle before cutting into the middle before stroking his left-footed drive which flashed wide of the right-hand post from 25-yards.

Worgan was forced to scamper across his goal to make a comfortable save low to his right to prevent Stevenage midfielder Dave McAllister stroking a shot into the corner from 25-yards.

The home fans saw their side press for the breakthrough during the final five minutes of the first half.

Charlie Lee turned Mills down the right to whip in a low cross and Miles cleared the ball away after he was initially turned by former Wealdstone winger Tom Pett on the edge of the six-yard box.

Pett then whipped in a fine low cross from the left which striker Chris Whelpdale turned to stroke his shot towards goal, which Worgan saved low to his right.

Lee then drilled a right-footed shot from 30-yards, which sailed over Worgan’s crossbar and into the travelling fans behind the goal before Saunders told his side at the interval to give it more of a go for the second half.

He said: “I think they had a spell last fifteen minutes of the first half where we struggled to keep hold of the ball.

“We sort of said at half-time just go out there and enjoy it and try to look after the ball and have a real good go. We did that and on another day we could have nicked a win.”

Maidstone United forced a corner inside the opening three minutes of the second half.

Flisher swung in the ball from the left towards the far post where targetman Jay May directed down and past the near post.

But Maidstone United really should have sent their fans into raptures after 57 minutes.

Bodkin slipped a low pass in behind the Stevenage defence into Flisher’s feet, who saw his left-footed angled drive from sixteen-yards deflect agonisingly past the foot of the far post.

Saunders said: “Normally when he gets in one of those positions, it’s a goal. Normally he’s so dangerous in those areas. 

“What was pleasing was they were areas where I thought we could get joy and we did.”

Maidstone United right-back Jamie Coyle clipped the ball over the top of the Stevenage defence but Bodkin couldn’t shrug past last defender Jon Ashton, who cleared the danger on the edge of the penalty area.

Stevenage had their best spell of the game during the final fifteen minutes when Maidstone United’s players began to tire and were hanging on.

Stevenage should have grabbed the victory when substitute Roarie Deacon burst towards the by-line before whipping in a cross which was headed over the bar by the unmarked Whelpdale.

The Stones were almost in dreamland and in the Second Round for the 12
th time in their history and for the first time in 23 years with an excellent chance with ten minutes left.

Collin skipped past the Stevenage defence to reach the penalty area but keeper Day advanced off his line to make a crucial save with his legs.

Saunders said: “If he was on the other side, on his right-side, I would have expected him to tuck it away but the keeper’s done well. He’s stayed big but we’ve had some other breakaways and I thought we had some good chances.

“But we kept going.  At the end we were under a bit of pressure but you expect that.”

Bodkin then hit Stevenage on the break and played a fine diagonal pass to substitute Ben Greenhalgh down the right, who cut inside his marker to float over a cross towards the far post which Flisher headed into Day’s arms at the near post.

Graham Westley’s side were clearly alarmed and went on to dominate the rest of the game, but Saunders was full of praise for all of his players, especially his back four.

He said: “Steve Watt was superb.  I’ve got to be honest with you, I won’t single anyone out. I think every single one of them, even the lads that came on, stuck to what we asked them to do and I thought they were outstanding.

“Watty’s been like that all season for us and since he’s been with the club, that’s why I signed him and that’s why I like having him here.

“But it would be unfair to single him out. Sonny Miles was superb. Tom Mills was brilliant at left-back as was Jamie Coyle (at right-back) so all the back four were outstanding, but again I wouldn’t single anyone out. The midfield, up front, everyone worked for each other and that’s great to watch.”

Former Gillingham attacker Whelpdale flashed a right-footed shot past the near post, before Westley threw on striker Chris Beardsley, who didn’t start through a hamstring strain.

Lee played a lovely diagonal pass to pick out substitute Deacon, who took the ball on and drilled a low left-footed drive which beat Worgan and bounced off the foot of the near post from eight-yards.

Saunders said: “At the end they’ve hit the post and you expect that. They’re a lot fitter than us but we defended superbly.

“Sonny Miles made a great block. People were throwing their bodies on the line and I stood there thinking we don’t deserve to lose this!”

Maidstone United received another piece of luck when Beardsley’s far post header beat Worgan and clipped the same post.

Saunders added: “Sometimes you deserve that luck! You make your own luck in football and I thought we deserved it.

“Last fifteen minutes we did sit and I thought we showed them a little bit too much respect and you expect them to have good spells in games because they’re a League Two side. They’re fitter than us, you’d expect them to have spells. 

“What I did ask the lads to be was disciplined and they were.”

A late move involving substitute Simon Walton and Whelpdale resulted in Lee Barnard’s looping header being caught by the Maidstone keeper.

The final whistle brought another roar from the proud travelling fans, who gave their players a heroes reception and the Kent side must fancy their chances for the home replay, inside a packed stadium.

“I don’t think they’d be too many League Two teams that will bring that support that we’ve brought today,” said Saunders.

“It’s a credit to everyone that’s travelled up. Being Remembrance Sunday, I know there was a lot of trouble getting coaches and trains and everyone made the effort.

“The first thing the boys talked about in there was the support, it was fantastic.  Kids and adults and seeing that at the end, it was amazing, an amazing day.

“Maidstone’s a big club and I’m sure we could have brought more today, a few more would have travelled.

“They were fantastic and they got behind the boys. 

“I said before the game if we go out today all I wanted was for us to put on a performance and show we’re a decent side, which I think we are and we’ve come here and done that and that’s why I’m pleased for them.

“I don’t think I can put it in words (how I’m feeling) to be honest. I’m a very, very proud man.  You can’t forget games like this and I’ll always remember that (ovation) at the end, walking over to those supporters.  I thought the players were outstanding and I thought the supporters were outstanding.

“I kind of felt, without being cocky, I kind of felt we could give them a game.  I said all along I’m not saying we could win this and do that. I believe that we’ve got a good squad and I believe in the lads in there.

“All I was concerned about was coming here, when you bring that amount of supporters, is that you didn’t come here and get a good hiding because the supporters have made the effort and it doesn’t do the lads confidence any good going into a game like Dulwich so for me it was important that we came here and put on a good performance.”

Maidstone United return to the bread and butter of the Ryman Premier League and a home game against fifth-placed Dulwich Hamlet on Wednesday night.

“We’ve got a big game on Wednesday and that’s our main priority but it will be nice to be in that draw.

“We go into that (Dulwich game) and we have to get ourselves right and prepared because I’ve said all along the league has been our priority and it still is.

“My main concern is we have to get them right. Dulwich are a very good side so that’s our main priority.”

And when asked whether he thinks the replay should be televised, Saunders replied: “I think that’s what the chairman will be hoping for.  It will be lovely if we could but we’ll see.”

Will Stevenage relish playing at Maidstone for a replay?

Saunders replied: “It’s new for them. It will be a new experience for them. I’m sure it will be a sell-out but they’re a Football League side and maybe that would have been our best chance to beat them today. I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll give them a good game back at The Gallagher.”

Stevenage: Chris Day, Ronnie Henry, Darius Charles, Charlie Lee, Jon Ashton, Dean Wells, Charlie Adams (Roarie Deacon 60), Dave McAllister (Simon Walton 60), Lee Barnard, Chris Whelpdale, Tom Pett (Chris Beardsley 85).
Subs: Sam Beasant, Bira Dembele, Jerome Okimo, Tom Conlon

Maidstone United: Lee Worgan, Jamie Coyle (Aaron Simpson 89), Tom Mills, Steve Watt, Sonny Miles, James Rogers, Matt Bodkin, Jack Parkinson, Jay May (Ben Greenhalgh 73), Frannie Collin (Alex Brown 87), Alex Flisher.
Subs: Bradley Jordan, Charley Robertson, Richard Davies, Will Godmon

Booked: James Rogers 23, Jack Parkinson 39, Alex Flisher 74

Attendance: 2,935 (1,375 away fans)
Referee: Mr Brett Huxtable (Torrington, Devon)
Assistants: Mr Joe Clarke & Mr Alix Pashley
Fourth Official: Mr Dean Treleaven (Chichester, West Sussex)