An Afternoon Maiden Heaven, As Campaign Heads Into The Unknown…
The Hatters, in what might prove to be their last competitive appearance for some time due to the coronavirus pandemic, edged out hosts Maidenhead by the odd goal in three to inch up a place and back into the play-off positions – with substitute Liam McAlinden unleashing a spectacular winner from distance in the final quarter of an hour.
Ash Palmer’s name was also on the scoresheet once more, courtesy of a header three minutes before the hour which cancelled out Maidenhead’s opener that had preceded the half-hour mark by the same time margin.
County took to the field showing a couple of changes from the starting line-up at Edgeley Park against Barnet a week previously. Newly-signed striker Richie Bennett was handed his debut only 48 hours following his arrival from Port Vale, and Adam Thomas returned after recovering from injury – with Nyal Bell and Ben Jackson the two players to make way.
Five minutes had passed before either side enjoyed a sight of goal – and then each did so in quick succession, as Danny Whitehall fired an effort shy of the right post for the hosts and, moments later, Bennett emulated the leading Maidenhead scorer’s feat by shooting wide at the other end.
Ten minutes later, Connor Dimaio tested home goalkeeper Taye Ashby-Hammond, who tipped over the midfielder’s well-struck free-kick from the left of the box. And the resulting corner, taken by Sam Walker on the right, led to the Hatters going even closer – with Bennett’s header ricocheting off the far upright, before being cleared away from the line by Seth Twumasi.
It was, then, rather against the run of play when the ‘Magpies’ stole the lead with their first shot on target. Dylan Ansoganyi, making his inaugural appearance on loan from MK Dons, broke with the ball before cleverly chipping it over County’s central defenders to Ody Alfa, who beat the offside trap to execute a right-footed volley that flew past Ben Hinchliffe.
Liam Hogan drilled beyond the left post, and the Hatters forced two further corners in quick succession as they strove in vain to get back on level terms ahead of the break.
HALF-TIME: Maidenhead 1 (Alfa, 27), County 0.
County made a double-substitution, bringing on Elliot Osborne and McAlinden, immediately upon the commencement of the second half – which saw the Hatters having to kick up the sloping York Road pitch – although the hosts created the new half’s first chances of note, as Hinchliffe used his legs and hands respectively to block shots from Whitehall and Josh Smile.
But cometh the hour – or, at least, sight of it – cometh the man, as Palmer rose to nod Paul Turnbull’s free-kick from the right across the six-yard area and into the far corner of the net for the equaliser, and his third headed goal in as many matches.
The Magpies launched a spirited response to getting pegged back – as Whitehall headed over a Ryheem Sheckleford cross from the right, and Smile saw his shot deflected off the face of Hogan and beyond the right post.
With 14 minutes remaining, McAlinden struck from 20 yards out – after Hogan had worked the ball out of defence. The substitute’s venomous shot flew into the top-left corner, as an unsuspecting Ashby-Hammond remained rooted on his line, to give County the lead.
The Hatters safely played out the remainder of the game, and its five minutes of added time, to avenge their opening-day defeat by the Magpies in SK3. Whether this afternoon’s contest will, by contrast, turn out to have been the season’s finale remains to be seen…
FULL-TIME: Maidenhead 1 (Alfa, 27), County 2 (Palmer, 57; McAlinden, 76).
Team (4-2-3-1): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Palmer, Hogan, Cowan; Turnbull (Capt.), Walker; Thomas, Dimaio (Osborne, 46), Lloyd (McAlinden, 46); Bennett (Arthur, 87).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Bell.
Attendance: 1,662 (292 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.