"They've found their feet again" - Maidenhead United v FC Halifax Town: Opposition Focus
How have Maidenhead been doing this season?
Well, they’ve found their feet again after a dreadful run of results, which saw them lose six from seven in all competitions, conceding 24 goals in the process.
The bizarre 7-4 defeat at Halifax in the FA Cup seemed to damage confidence defensively but they’ve regrouped in recent weeks with the 1-0 win over Bromley, the 1-1 draw at Aldershot Town and last night’s magnificent 3-2 win over Chesterfield, a result that I’m sure was celebrated as much by Halifax/Boreham Wood/Stockport fans as it was in Maidenhead.
The result lifts the Magpies seven points clear of the relegation zone and, for the first time this season, it feels like the club is looking up the table rather than over its shoulder.
Whether they can replicate Tuesday’s performance in Saturday’s game with Halifax remains to be seen, however, I do expect them to be much more resilient than they were in the FA Cup defeat.
Why have they struggled so far this season?
For much of this season they’ve struggled defensively, and the poor performances led to a loss of confidence.
For many weeks they just weren’t able to get out of that rut, but Alan Devonshire always said that when players returned from injury/suspension/illness (COVID) they’d improve and that seems to be the case.
The mood will be much better than it was in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when the club was beset by injuries and COVID cases which led to them withdrawing from the FA Trophy and county cup competition.
French defender Remy Clerima spoke last week of the side having a newfound energy following their results against Bromley and Aldershot, while manager Alan Devonshire has also mentioned that the mood is better around the training camp.
It might have been even better had their two matches against Wealdstone over the Christmas period not been postponed due to COVID cases in the Stones camp.
They’re looking to maintain some of the momentum they’ve built up in recent weeks but face a tough run of fixtures (Halifax, Stockport and Wrexham).
Do you think they'll stay up?
I think they’ve got a great chance of staying up. Firstly because of their improved form of late, but also because of the lack of form shown by their rivals Weymouth, King’s Lynn and Dover.
With only three sides going down, and Dover almost certainly one of them, they simply need to stay out of the bottom three which I feel they’re more than capable of doing. Tuesday’s win should further boost their confidence of doing that and I’d predict them to pick up a few more unexpected results in the coming weeks when they play Halifax, Stockport and Wrexham.
How did they play against Chesterfield on Tuesday night?
To a man they were excellent, but it was Josh Kelly who stole the show. They dominated the first half and were unfortunate not to take a two-goal lead into the break.
Possibly the thing that impressed me most is the character they showed in the second half after Chesterfield got it back to 2-2 and were pushing for a winner. They put their bodies on the line to prevent that from happening and, when the visitors lost a little focus, they seized their opportunity to wrestle back momentum, with Kelly scoring the winner late on.
Who have been their stand out players so far this season?
Josh Kelly has returned to form in front of goal this season and is the Magpies leading scorer. He led the line superbly against Chesterfield and added a couple more goals to his season’s tally.
He also found the net brilliantly in their 1-1 draw with Aldershot and was also a menace in the side’s 1-0 win over Bromley.
Goalkeeper Dan Gyollai, signed on a permanent deal from Peterborough United last week, has also pulled off a string of fine saves in the last few matches to help the side pick-up crucial points. He made one crucial save from Jim Kellerman against Chesterfield and you feel he’ll have to be at his best again if the Magpies are to emerge victorious against Halifax.
Jay Mingi has been excellent for the Magpies since signing on loan from Portsmouth, but it’s unclear if his loan deal will be extended and he’s also suffered with injury of late. Sam Barratt has returned to training recently, but it remains to be seen if he’s fit enough to start on Saturday or if he will be used as an impact player off the bench.
What can Halifax expect to come up against on Saturday, what is Maidenhead's style of play?
I would imagine the Magpies will look to replicate their performances against Bromley and Chesterfield.
Having received plenty of criticism for their errors and mistakes in defence they were much tighter at the back in both matches. And when they did break through Gyollai was there to foil them.
But it would be unfair to characterise either as smash and grab victories. They showed plenty of endeavour going forward in both games with Dan Sparkes linking up well with Josh Kelly.
Kelly, on current form, will also be a handful for every defence in the league.
The loss of Dan Sparkes to an injury against Chesterfield will be a blow. Alan Devonshire confirmed last night he’d be out for a couple of weeks. He played really well in the first half against the Spireites and scored the Magpies’ second from a free kick.
Nathan Blissett is also likely to miss the match after picking up a knock against Aldershot, but it’s possible they may be able to call on Sam Barratt who is close to a return from injury.
Likely line-up and formation?
4-4-2: Gyollai; Sheckleford, Massey, De Havilland, Beckwith; Smith/Wells, Clerima, Adams, Donnellan; Acquah, Kelly.