For my first game of 2022, I decided to revisit Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium for the Vanorama National League South fixture between the home team and their local rivals, Tonbridge Angels.
The Gallagher Stadium is a modern ground, opened as recently as 2012, with a large main stand, offering 750 seats and a newly added large covered standing terrace behind the goal at the North end which allows for 1768 fans. The total capacity at the ground is 4,200. The West (river) side of the ground remains undeveloped. Facilities are of a high standard with club shop, clubhouse, bar and food and refreshment stands tucked away behind the South stand. The ground also boasts a high quality 3G pitch.
Maidstone United have won five out of their six previous fixtures, to lift themselves to second in the table, as they bid to reach the National League, which they last occupied between 2016 and 2019. Tonbridge Angels find themselves uncomfortably close to the relegation place in the National League South, and will be keen to secure a revenge victory for a narrow 0-1 home defeat to Maidstone United, only a week ago in the Boxing Day fixture. Tonbridge secured promotion to this league in 2019.
Maidstone United are managed by Hakan Hayrettin, who played professionally for Wycombe Wanderers and Cambridge United. Hayrettin came under pressure earlier in the season after an inconsistent patch, which saw Maidstone drop from the play off places, but recent form has seen him become a firm favourite with home fans, who appreciate his honest approach to the game and obvious passion for their club. Maidstone’s top scorer this season is former Barcelona academy winger, Juan Luque, with 9 league goals from 15 matches.
Tonbridge Angels are managed by Steve Mckimm, previously coach at Sutton United and who has been in post since 2015, having taken the side out of the Isthmian League, via the play offs, in 2019. Although Tonbridge lack points this season, their goal difference of just -8, coming into the game, reflects their defensive strengths. They lack goals this season.
The team were announced at 2.00 pm and Maidstone’s team showed that Phillips and Brown had come into the team to replace Corne and McGlashan who had picked up injuries in training.
As the players came out to warm up I was stood next to the pitch and was really surprised when one of the players, Jerome Binnom-Williams, came over and wished me a happy new year and asked how my Christmas had gone before talking about his holiday period. I saw the rest of the team were doing the same with other fans alongside the pitch. It felt like a really positive move and showed this team really see the fans as part of their success.
There was a crowd of 3116 in for the match, which is an exceptional figure for the National League South. The atmosphere was incredible with the Maidstone and Tonbridge fans singing loudly to each other, throughout the game.
The game started with Maidstone United and Tonbridge Angels both creating clear cut chances. The rain moved from being light to being torrential, which made the passing play more difficult.
On 36 minutes, Maidstone’s Dominic Odusanya let fly and put the ball high past the Tonbridge keeper, to put Maidstone United 1-0 ahead.
With a minute to go before half time, Maidstone United increased the gap to 2-0 when Juan Luque stabbed the ball home to send the home fans wild.
The second half saw Tonbridge battle to come back into the match and Maidstone counter attacking dangerously. The 3G surface was skiddy after the heavy rain and tackling was difficult.
Tonbridge had chances to score which they failed to capitalise on and Maidstone also seemed to find it difficult to get the ball in the net, despite some good opportunities.
With just four minutes left, Tonbridge Angel’s Doug Loft was dismissed, with a straight red for a bad tackle.
At the final whistle the sides had a bit of pushing and shoving, before both sets of players went to their fans and applauded their exceptional support, on a wet Bank Holiday weekend Sunday.