FC Halifax Town v Maidenhead United: Opposition focus

We spoke to Daniel Darlington from the Maidenhead Advertiser, before The Magpies’ match against Yeovil on Wednesday, for the lowdown on FC Halifax Town’s opponents on Saturday.
Alan Devonshire, manager of Maidenhead United. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)Alan Devonshire, manager of Maidenhead United. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
Alan Devonshire, manager of Maidenhead United. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

How has Maidenhead’s season gone so far?

Pretty well. Doing a little better than anticipated given last season’s brush with relegation – saved by the skin of their teeth on points-per-game calculation after the season was ended early due to the pandemic.

Once again there was a major overhaul of players, with seven or eight being moved on and the same number being brought in. But despite the uncertainty over how the new signings would get on, and whether they’d hit the ground running, it seems the club have invested wisely in the squad. They started in wretched fashion, losing their first three games before finding some form with an unexpected 1-0 victory at Wrexham. This was followed by a 3-2 victory at Notts County and those results really got the campaign up and running. A run of five/six victories on the spin lifted them as high as third at one stage, and despite manager Alan Devonshire missing over a month out of the dug out because of hip surgery, they’ve managed to sustain a reasonable run of form with victories at Chesterfield, Eastleigh and home to Wealdstone. Due to COVID events at other clubs, Saturday’s goalless draw at Woking was their first competitive match since Boxing Day, and they would be hoping to build on that point at home to Yeovil Town this Wednesday (January 27). They’re currently 10th, but only a point off the play-off spots with games in hand on some of their rivals, however, the league is so congested a poor run of form could see them pulled back into the lower half of the table fairly rapidly.

Who have been their stand out players and why?

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Sam Barratt was brought back to the club after an injury-hit spell with Southend United and hit the ground running with a flurry of goals. He netted a hat-trick in a 3-1 home win over Solihull Moors, but – having missed a few matches through injury – the goals have dried up a bit of late. Still one of the club’s top scorer this season though. Josh Coley has made a real impact since arriving in the summer. The former Norwich City academy product has an eye for goal himself and stretches teams with his clever runs and willingness to never give up on a lost cause. Danilo Orsi-Dadomo and Nathan Blissett have also come in to provide the Magpies with additional – and very different – goal threats. So, while they’ve been hard to beat in the past, the Magpies are now also more than capable of scoring goals and this makes them a difficult proposition for pretty much every side in the league. Defensively, they’ve looked solid in recent weeks, with Manny Parry playing well at centre half alongside skipper Alan Massey, while George Wells has also settled in well at left back. When they have been exposed goalkeeper Taye Ashby-Hammond has often got them out of a tight situation with some fine saves.

What would be a successful season for them, and can they achieve it?

A mid-table or top half finish would be a successful season for the Magpies, and, given the start they’ve made and the form they’ve shown, I can see them achieving that. The first goal, as always given their size and part-time status, will be survival, but if they get that wrapped up sooner rather than later the players will be confident they can push on for their best ever finish in the National League. You won’t hear manager Alan Devonshire talking of a play-off bid, but it’s possible and – in this strange, unique season, I wouldn’t bet against it. Having said that, some of the league’s bigger sides are starting to find form now as well so they could be crowded out. I don’t expect them to be dragged down into a relegation fight again, that’s for sure.

Who will be your danger man on Saturday?

If fit, Josh Coley would be the danger man. They tend to have more attacking threat if he’s in the line-up. However, they’re more than capable of winning without him and Sam Barratt will be looking to end his recent spell without a goal as soon as possible. Rohan Ince is another who could make a difference. The former Brighton midfielder has been signed on loan from Cheltenham until the end of the season and has helped the Magpies dictate play in the time he’s been with the club so far.

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What can Halifax expect from Maidenhead - what is their style of play?

It really depends on who Alan Devonshire selects for the game. One of the advantages of having a larger squad this season is they can shake things up depending on the opposition. He may decide to play Nathan Blissett as a target man and look to get crosses in from out wide and people around him for the second ball, or he may go with Orsi-Dadomo, more of a live-wire forward, who plays off the shoulder of the last attacker in the manner of a Danny Ings. It’s likely they’ll set up in a 4-4-2 shape with four across the back and try to be difficult to break down. I wouldn’t anticipate an open, free-scoring game and could see either side winning by the odd goal.

What shape do they come into the Halifax game in generally?

The mood in the camp will be good. They’re in reasonable form having beaten Wealdstone 4-0 at home and followed that with a 0-0 draw at Woking. However, those two matches were more than a month apart, so they’ll be short on match practice and sharpness and this could have a bearing on the outcome.

Any injuries/suspensions?

Quite a few of their longer-term injured players have returned to the fold in recent weeks. The likes of James Comley, Dan Sparkes, Josh Kelly However, Shaun Donnellan is likely to miss the rest of the season after undergoing an operation for a hamstring injury. Alan Massey also missed the game against Woking through injury.

Likely line up and formation?

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4-4-2: Ashby-Hammond; Wells, Parry, Massey, Sheckleford; Ince, Upward, Sparkes, Coley; Blissett, Barratt. Subs: Orsi-Dadomo, Comley, Twumasi, Smile.

Follow all the action from Saturday’s game at The Shay with Town writer Tom Scargill’s live blog at https://www.halifaxcourier.co.uk/sport/football/halifax-town.