I’m not going to lie, it took a while to get over the First Round. It was incredibly fortunate that my first attempt at the Road to Wembley coincided with one of my favourite local clubs making history. Haringey Borough’s TV debut was all very surreal on the night, but after Wimbledon won the game with a deflected goal in the final seconds it felt like a massive anti-climax. The draw for the Second Round didn’t particularly help. Local options and interesting ties involving non-league clubs were at a premium.
The Monday night game lifted my spirits. Hampton & Richmond Borough, featuring most of the Hendon squad from last season nearly made it past League Two Oldham, were it not for two more late goals from a Football League club. The Latics reward was a return to the southeast and a visit to Maidstone United. For me, this was my standout option. The only issue was the availability of tickets. Fortunately, Maidstone being the forward-thinking club that they are made it easy. I secured my spot for the next stage of my Road to Wembley.
Competition: FA Cup Second Round
Ground: Gallagher Stadium
Dogs spotted: none
Who are ya, Maidstone United?
The current incarnation of Maidstone, also known as the Stones, were created in 1992 following the demise of the first version. The original club was created in 1897 and 102 years later made the Football League for the first time. The club’s rise left them with large debts which they were unable to pay-off despite the sale of their ground and several players, including Warren Barton. They went out of business in 1992. Maidstone were the last Football League club to go out of business. Their sad end led to the league increasing the stadium capacity requirements for promoted sides.
The youth side Maidstone Invicta were taken over within days of the original club folding and they joined the fourth division of the Kent County League. At the beginning of the new millennium, the club successfully applied to become a senior club and won promotion to the Kent League (step seven). The Stones were promoted into the Isthmian Division One South in 2006 and in 2015 won the Isthmian Premier to earn promotion to the National League South.
They finished third in their first season in the National League South. The Stones were then promoted via a play-off penalty shootout victory over local rivals Ebbsfleet. Maidstone have finished in 14th and 19th places in their two seasons so far in the National League. In 2012 the club finally moved into their new stadium in the town.
The original Maidstone had a strong FA Cup tradition reaching the Second Round of the cup eleven times including several visits to the Third Round. This is their third visit to this stage since the club was reborn. In 2014 they lost away at Wrexham and last season they were beaten 4-1 away at MK Dons.
Ground 96: The Gallagher Stadium
Maidstone’s Gallagher Stadium is pretty easy to reach via public transport, only five minutes walk from Maidstone East and Maidstone Barracks Stations. There are also car parks near the stadium that seemed to be well used. There was a buzz in the air on the walk from the station and this wasn’t just because the locals were adorned in amber and black stripes. The stadium is visible as you pull into Maidstone East. I could already see plenty of fans in the ground with an hour to go until kick off.
The stadium is built into a natural valley in the town which gives it a more imposing feel. There is a spectacular terrace at one end, a large seating area down one side, a smaller terrace at the end closest to the entrance, and an open side. It’s a good looking ground all round and the Stones average over 2,000 for their home games. There were a few more in for this chance to slay a relative giant.
The large terrace filled up quickly. A third was given over to the visiting fans from ‘up north’ and their very well trained drummer. The rest was packed out with home fans. The two sets of fans in the large terrace provided a great atmosphere for the duration of a fairly uneventful game while the rest of us looked on with envy and occasionally clapped along. There appeared to be some needle at times but it was largely good-natured and for periods they seemed to sing along to the same tunes.
Latics easily move Stones in their path
It’s been a tough season so far for Maidstone. Jay Saunders was sacked as manager in September with the club around the relegation zone in the National League. Former Billericay manager Harry Wheeler came in to replace him. They are still currently in the bottom three despite positivity over Wheeler’s start at the club. The Stones had lost their previous two league games following a four-game unbeaten run that included the First Round cup win over League Two strugglers Macclesfield.
Oldham were relegated last year following a 14 year run in the third tier of English football. The Latics are currently in mid-table but have only won once, 3-1 versus Cambridge, in their last five league games. They have a good FA Cup pedigree, however, having made the semi-final on three occasions. They lost to Aston Villa in 1913 and then twice in replays to Manchester United in 1990 and 1994.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to the excitement or the atmosphere. Maidstone were fairly timid in the first half, sitting back and all too often hitting aimless long balls forward. Oldham knocked the ball around quickly and efficiently. They didn’t look at all uncomfortable on the 3G surface, outlawed in the Football League of course. They took the lead in the first half when Peter Clarke finished following a set piece. Maidstone’s best chance of the half was a tame effort from Romain.
The Stones were more forceful in the second half. They were higher up the pitch and created a lot more pressure in the midfield areas. Oldham just about contained their opponents but Paxman and Phillips, in particular, were much more involved in the game. Romain again had the best chance but it was well saved by Iverson. Oldham then delivered the killer blow. O’Grady turned well in the box and his shot from a tight angle was deflected past Smith.
It was a professional job from the Football League side who had previously survived a scare against Hampton & Richmond in the previous round. Maidstone might be slightly disappointed at their first-half performance considering they’d already beaten a League Two club and the top side in the National League in the cup. The Latics and I await the Third Round draw to see where we might be off to next.