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(FM'09) 'Maid Of Stone', Back In The UK - A Chance To Rewrite History, Part IV

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Wednesday 12th March 2014
Club job number four begins today, and my god is it going to be a job and a half. This is not what I had in mind for my first job in English football. And if we don't get things right in a hurry, it might well be a very short job too. Maidstone United are in real relegation trouble at the bottom of the Blue Square League South Division. It's their first season back at this level for the former Football League club, and it has not gone well.

They hired 34 year old ex Luton Town, Yeovil Town, Doncaster Rovers, Barnsley, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bristol City winger, Michael McIndoe as their new manager. But their real problem was a fundamental lack of quality in the playing squad. Loan players from Charlton Athletic and Queens Park Rangers propped the playing staff up, but when their loan deals were not extended into the New Year the lack of quality really bit into the side.

The match I attended last night was away to Forest Green Rovers, who sit second in the table and dismantled Maidstone far too easily. We need some players in here, and we need them in a hurry. We will host Eastleigh on Saturday, and they are only four points ahead of us. It's unlikely we will be able to get any players into the club in time for that match, but we are already sounding out possibilities.

There are nine games to go until the end of the season, and we have six of them at home, but quite a few of them against clubs who are in the top eight of the table. Add to that that the club is homeless right now, and playing their home matches 12 miles away in Sittingbourne, and we have a club that is in a real struggle at the moment. I have a three year deal, but if I can't keep Maidstone in the sixth tier, I will be out of work in two months.

----------------------------
Neil Hoskins.
36 years old. Welsh. Uncapped.
Reputation :- Local. Contract :- Full Time, 3 years, £275 per week.
Previous Experience :- Sunday League Footballer.

Managerial Statistics :-
Club/Player Loyalty :- 7. Domestic Players Bias :- 18. Financial Control :- 9.
Hands On Approach :- 2. Squad Discipline :- 15. Tactical Consistency :- 17.

Season Expectations :-
Save the club from relegation (Not being judged this season).
Transfer Budget :- £0. Wage Budget :- £4,100 per week. Currently Spending :- £2,195 per week.

----------------------------

Maidstone United FC.
Founded :- 1992. Nickname :- The Stones. Status :- Semi-Professional. Reputation :- Obscure. Value :- £50,000.
Chairman Status :- Happy To Stay. Finances :- Okay (£46,001).
Club Colours :- Home - Yellow with White Trim. Away - White with Black Trim.
Club Legends :- None
Club Icons :- None. Favoured Personnel :- None.
Fierce Rivals :- None. Other Rivals :- Dartford, Tonbridge Angels, Gillingham.
Honours :-    *Blue Square Premier Winners - 1984, 1989
                        *Blue Square Premier Runners-Up - 1983
                        *Isthmian League First Division South Winners - 2007

Last Season :- Promoted from Tier Seven.

Bourne Park, Sittingbourne, England.
Capacity :- 3,000 (200 seats). Condition :- Average. Surface :- Grass. Surface Condition :- Poor.
Adequate Corporate Facilities, Basic Training Facilities, Minimal Youth Facilities.
-------------------------------

2013/14 Blue Square League South Division Table (Bottom) - Up To & Including Wednesday 12th March 2014

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 11th  |       | AFC Wimbledon      |       | 33    | 13    | 9     | 11    | 44    | 36    | +8    | 48    |
| 12th  |       | Hampton & Richmond |       | 33    | 13    | 9     | 11    | 49    | 44    | +5    | 48    |
| 13th  |       | Bognor Regis       |       | 33    | 14    | 3     | 16    | 50    | 48    | +2    | 45    |
| 14th  |       | Eastbourne Boro    |       | 33    | 11    | 12    | 10    | 39    | 44    | -5    | 45    |
| 15th  |       | Weston-super-Mare  |       | 33    | 13    | 5     | 15    | 44    | 43    | +1    | 44    |
| 16th  |       | AFC Hornchurch     |       | 33    | 12    | 6     | 15    | 35    | 50    | -15   | 42    |
| 17th  |       | Lewes              |       | 33    | 12    | 5     | 16    | 32    | 40    | -8    | 41    |
| 18th  |       | Eastleigh          |       | 33    | 9     | 5     | 19    | 37    | 46    | -9    | 32    |
| 19th  |       | Chelmsford         |       | 33    | 8     | 8     | 17    | 34    | 49    | -15   | 32    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 20th  |       | Bishop's Stortford |       | 33    | 8     | 8     | 17    | 32    | 50    | -18   | 32    |
| 21st  |       | Maidstone          |       | 33    | 6     | 10    | 17    | 29    | 64    | -35   | 28    |
| 22nd  |       | Oxford City        |       | 33    | 4     | 6     | 23    | 22    | 76    | -54   | 18    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

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Posted (edited)

2013/14 Maidstone United Pen Pictures 

Goalkeepers :-

Peter Hylton (GK). 22 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'11. 12 stone 8lbs.
Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £30 per week. Value :- £5,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Sutton United (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 4. Goals Conceded - 7. Clean Sheets - 1.
Career :- League Matches - 17. Goals Conceded - 30. Clean Sheets - 3.

Tom Brooks (GK). 21 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'1. 13 stone 3lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £475 per week. Value :- £5,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Woking (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 30. Goals Conceded - 57. Clean Sheets - 4.
Career :- League Matches - 44. Goals Conceded - 78. Clean Sheets - 8.

----------------

Defenders :-

Stuart Milne (SW, M RC). 31 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
5'8. 10 stone 9lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £90 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Bunillidh Thistle (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 15. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 197. Goals - 18. Assists - 27.

Mark Williams (D L). 18 years old. Irish (Uncapped).
5'10. 12 stone 6lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £170 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Galway United (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 8. Goals - 0. Assists - 2.
Career :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 0. Assists - 2.

Steve Reid (D LC). 20 years old. Irish (Uncapped).
6'3. 13 stone 9lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £25 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Tobermore United (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 14. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 18. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.

Matthew Bradshaw (D C). 16 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'4. 14 stone 0lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £5 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 on a Youth Contract.

This Season :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.

Grant Hanley (D C). 22 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
6'2. 11 stone 9lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £300 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Killymoon Rangers (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 15. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 65. Goals - 1. Assists - 3.

Matthew Mkhwanazi (D C). 21 years old. Swazi (8 caps/0 goals).
5'10. 12 stone 1lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £85 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Queens University Belfast (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 23. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.
Career :- League Matches - 48. Goals - 0. Assists - 2.

Sean Neill (D C ). 20 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
6'4. 14 stone 2lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £250 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Comber Recreation Club (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 14. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.
Career :- League Matches - 45. Goals - 0. Assists - 2.

Ian Rossiter (D R, WB R). 33 years old. Irish (Uncapped).
5'10. 11 stone 0lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £90 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Arklow Town (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 31. Goals - 6. Assists - 2.
Career :- League Matches - 340. Goals - 36. Assists - 8.

----------------

Midfielders/Wingers :-

Chris Pike (M RLC). 16 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'0. 12 stone 8lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £5 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 on a Youth Contract.

This Season :- League Matches - 12. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.
Career :- League Matches - 12. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.

Alan Winter (M C). 21 years old. Welsh (Uncapped).
5'9. 11 stone 9lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £90 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Ruthin Town (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 15. Goals - 1. Assists - 5.
Career :- League Matches - 112. Goals - 4. Assists - 17.

Brian McAuley (M C). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'9. 12 stone 1lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £25 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Chesterfield (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 31. Goals - 1. Assists - 2.
Career :- League Matches - 31. Goals - 1. Assists - 2.

Glen Logan (AM R). 20 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
6'0. 12 stone 12lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £40 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Linfield (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 1. Assists - 2.
Career :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 1. Assists - 2.

Neil O'Leary (AM R, ST). 17 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'1. 13 stone 0lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £5 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 on a Youth Contract.

This Season :- League Matches - 13. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 13. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.

Nick Dunn (AM L). 20 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
5'10. 12 stone 3lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £25 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Cowdenbeath (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 19. Goals - 1. Assists - 3.
Career :- League Matches - 19. Goals - 1. Assists - 3.

Willie Strachan (AM L). 20 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
5'11. 12 stone 3lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £55 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Inverness Caledonian Thistle (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 15. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 15. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.

----------------

Strikers :-

Gavin Doherty (ST). 32 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
6'2. 13 stone 7lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £90 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Rosario Youth Club (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 11. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 177. Goals - 46. Assists - 10.

Iain McMillan (ST). 21 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
6'4. 14 stone 4lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £325 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Partick Thistle (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 22. Goals - 9. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 28. Goals - 9. Assists - 0.

Jamie Waggett (ST). 21 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'11. 12 stone 8lbs.

Contract :- 3 months, £90 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Denbigh Town (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 16. Goals - 2. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 76. Goals - 12. Assists - 1.

Graham McLoughlin (ST). 16 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'11. 13 stone 0lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £5 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2013 on a Youth Contract.

This Season :- League Matches - 6. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 6. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.

Simon Smith (ST). 16 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'9. 11 stone 13lbs.

Contract :- 1 year 3 months, £5 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 on a Youth Contract.

This Season :- League Matches - 11. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 11. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Thursday 13th March 2014
If nothing else, that squad list shows you I'm not exaggerating about how bad the squad is right now at Maidstone United. We are doing everything we can to get reinforcements in, but in our position, it's not an easy sell of course. With nothing in the Transfer Budget, we may need to take some money from the Wage Budget to pay small fee's if it's going to speed negotiations along. Several players are now sat on offers from us, and by late evening, we have two new players on board.

The first is 28 year old Northern Irish left sided player Chris Wilkinson. We have signed him on a Free Transfer from Northern Irish First Division side Carrick Rangers. He can play anywhere down the left side of the park, which is handy for us as we have a decent left back already, and that will hopefully be the start of a good combination between Wilkinson and Mark Williams. Getting some service to our front players has to be a priority, and this signing helps. Wilkinson joins on a short term deal to the end of the season at £80 per week. The fans believe he is the kind of calibre of player we should be aiming to sign.

I'm not sure the next signing falls into that category, but 33 year old Daniel Boateng was an easy signing to make on a Free Transfer from non-League Northern Irish side Blackers Mill. The former Arsenal and Leicester City youngster has spent a lot of his career moving around clubs in and around the London area, and was keen to return from Northern Ireland, where he has played for nearly six seasons. It's another short term deal, this time at just £25 per week. He can play in midfield, behind the strikers, or up top, giving our small squad some versatility.

Friday 14th March
I was hoping that today we would be able to get a few more new signings in through the door ahead of that big home match tomorrow. The day started very well in that regard, as a third new signing arrived before lunch. Northern Irish right back Andy Miskimmon arrives on a Free Transfer from Ulster based side Downshire Young Men, where he had been out of contract. More defensive minded than would be absolutely ideal, the 27 year old had spent his entire career to date at the non-League side, but jumped at the chance to move to England. It is a short term deal once again, and Miskimmon will pick up £75 per week.

Unfortunately, we would fail to get any more deals across the line today ahead of tomorrow's vital League match at home against Eastleigh. They have lost their last three games, and sit in 18th just four points ahead of us, meaning if we beat them we could really drag them down into the fight with us. The bookies have us as marginal favourites for the match, which is obviously a must win for us. They all are for the rest of the season now.

Saturday 15th March
Right at the death last night, we got another signing over the line, and he will be eligible to play for us today against Eastleigh. The new player is 6'1 goalkeeper, 20 year old Josh Derry. Born in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, he hasn't played much football, and this season signed for our Division rivals and promotion hopefuls, Staines Town. He only played a couple of games there too, and now he has moved to us on a Free Transfer, and will be pitched straight into today's match.

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Eastleigh
Attendance :-
330. Weather :- Wet, 22c.

Three debutants will make their first appearances for Maidstone this afternoon, with another potentially available from the substitutes bench. Josh Derry is in goal, replacing Tom Brooks. There is also a debut at right back for Andy Miskimmon, as attempt to shore up a back line that has already leaked 60 plus goals this season, the second worst in the Division. Chris Wilkinson is also making his debut on the left wing, where I'm hoping he can provide some ammunition for a strike partnership of Jamie Waggett and Iain McMillan. Our midfield partnership of Chris Pike and Brian McAuley is desperately short of quality and experience. Our other new signing so far, Daniel Boateng, is on the bench today. Centre back Grant Hanley, perhaps the most recognisable name in the team is the new Captain.

The state of the pitch at Bourne Park is ridiculous, and that would do nothing for my nerves. It's not just the future of Maidstone United that is on the line over the coming weeks. I've put my very career on the line to try and save them from relegation. So I was heartened at our start, Andy Miskimmon chipped the ball down the right, and Iain McMillan chased the ball down. He kept it in, then took on his marker, getting into the box before squaring the ball for Chris Pike, his first time shot pushed away by David Crawford. It was at the other end of the park where I was more worried though, David Matthews held the ball up and picked out Lewis Smith, the midfielder dragged his shot across the face of goal, missing the far post by a yard at most. Even when Eastleigh won a free kick on halfway, they were still keen to shoot, Josh Derry was at the edge of his box organising our fragile defence when Rob Fitzgerald took it quickly, our debutant keeper having to back pedal and turn it over to prevent their skipper finding the top corner with an audacious effort. I was forced into an early change when midfielder Brian McAuley went off injured, his replacement was another debutant, forward Daniel Boateng playing a little bit deeper than he or I would like. We were not toothless though, and McMillan lobbed a free kick into the box that Chris Wilkinson won in the air, his header back across goal only just missing the mark. We had a strong work ethic, and that contributed hugely just over ten minutes before the break. Striker Jamie Waggett was back in his own half helping out, and he won the ball. He played it to Pike, who's first time 50 yard cross field pass found Glen Logan in acres of space. Éamonn Seydak came across to challenge him, but Logan got past him and slung over a cross, which McMillan met with a downward header from 12 yards out which found the bottom corner! 1-0 up at half time, the second half would be a big one for us.

I can see why we have problems, as with a lead to defend, everyone automatically dropped ten yards deeper than they should've been. That caused us immediate problems, as Eastleigh poured forward at every opportunity. And we would pay a hefty price just after the hour. Two subs combined, Shane Gavin sending the ball out to the left into space for Cameron Park, and he drilled a low cross that Grant Hanley tried to clear, the ball hitting Chris Shephard and bouncing against the goal frame, but he buried the rebound from five yards out! We tried to answer right back, McMillan swinging a free kick around the wall and just over the bar. Mark Williams and Wilkinson worked an opening down the left, playing the ball square to Pike, but his curling effort was too high. Into the final ten minutes, Miskimmon showed he had a turn of pace, getting into the box and staying on his feet when he could have gone down under a tackle, before cutting the ball back to Daniel Boateng, who's shot was blocked. We weren't the only ones going for the win though, and Gavin lifted a long ball over our defence who were now pushed up towards the halfway line. Hanley's foot speed wasn't impressive, and Shephard chased him down and stripped the ball off him, and lifted the ball past Derry, only for it to crash back off the cross bar, Miskimmon hooking away the loose ball. A point apiece, not ideal, but better than a defeat, and we're off the mark.

Maidstone United (1) 1 - Ian McMillan (34)
Eastleigh (0) 1 - Chris Shephard (63)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon, Matthew Mkhwanazi, Grant Hanley ©, Mark Williams; Chris Pike, Brian McAuley (inj - Daniel Boateng 25); Glen Logan, Chris Wilkinson; Jamie Waggett, Iain McMillan.

Unused Substitutes :- Steve Reid, Tom Brooks (GK), Ian Rossiter, Willie Strachan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 50% - 50%. Man of the Match :- Iain McMillan (Maidstone United).

The general consensus was that Eastleigh were a bit lucky to get out of Sittingbourne with a point, and while I don't agree with that 100%, hopefully that match will have built confidence in the players a little bit. So it's a bit of a shame that a lot of them won't be playing next weekend when we host Lewes, as I intend signing a fair few players over the next week.

One is already agreed. If you want to improve your defence, start with a man mountain, 6'7 Jamie Curtis from Farnborough. A Sunderland lad who played for Gateshead for years, before finding himself in Wales with Prestatyn Town. The 31 year old played the last almost two years with Farnborough, and did a great job as well, but jumped at the chance to move up a level. We get him on a Free Transfer, so it looks like either Grant Hanley or Swaziland International defender Matthew Mkhwanazi will be losing their place in the side.

Also losing his spot will be Brian McAuley, who has suffered a groin strain, and will be out of three weeks. Hopefully we will be able to sign someone who can play in the centre of the park, as it is one of our weaker positions. While I would still like to get a striker in as well, our need has lessened somewhat after that outing from Iain McMillan. He scored his ninth goal of the season, and looked good, so he might just be the man to fire the goals that keep us up.

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Sunday 16th March 2014
The Jamie Curtis deal is a done one, and the giant Mackem centre back will be at training tomorrow morning. Another target is not coming to United though. If you have been following from the start, you might remember David Sinton, who was one of my first signings at Lurgan Celtic. He was superb for me during my time in Northern Ireland, but he left Knockramer Park last summer to sign for Ards. He has done well at the First Division club, but he has taken the chance to move south of the border in the summer, as he rejects us to sign a deal with Athlone Town.

He wasn't the only player originally from across the Irish Sea we were chasing though, and one came to fruition later in the day. 20 year old 6'3 forward Matthew Hatch has been playing in Wales with Guilsfield after signing there last summer from FC United of Manchester. He has also played at this level with AFC Wimbledon, who he had on loan spell with from Mervue United. He can play either up front or on the right wing. Which position he fills will likely depend on how the rest of the week goes regarding player arrivals. There is expected to be several.

Monday 17th March
The Stadium was busy today, with players arriving for talks, medicals and potential deals to be made. Two were done by lunchtime. The first was another addition to our defensive options. 30 year old Martyn Giles arrives on a Free Transfer from Bedford Town. The Welshman rejected offers to move to Ireland with Kildare County and Wexford Youths in the process. The former Cardiff City, Hereford United, Newport County and Chelmsford City defender who can play in the middle or on the left has also played in the Welsh Premier League, and has over 300 League games under his belt. He brings some leadership and experience to our squad. The fans are delighted to have him here.

They are less delighted with the next signing. 31 year old attacking midfielder Jamie McMaster was very keen to have another crack at football in England after the former Leeds United and Chesterfield player had spent the last nine years back in his homeland with Central Coast Mariners and APIA Leichhardt. He had also had a short spell in Denmark. So why wouldn't the fans be delighted with the signing of a confident and ambitious Aussie with a track record of winning? Well, he might have arrived shouting off his mouth about how good he is and how he can turn the clubs fortunes around. It might have been a better idea to do his talking on the park with his feet. It might also have been a better idea not to bite back at the fans, suggesting they had got him all wrong and should be grateful to have players like him at the club. Not exactly a PR dream.

With a loan offer for a centre back accepted and contract negotiations being held with a midfielder, we are not even close to being done yet.

Tuesday 18th March
It looked like today was going to be a bit of a wash out when it came to arrivals. But after a long hard day of negotiations with several different clubs and players, we finally got a deal done late in the day. Brentford's young centre back Daryl Potter arrives on loan for the rest of the season, the 6'4 nineteen year old has played twice in Coca-Cola League Two for the Griffin Park club. He's a bit raw, but he is going to be an option as cover for us.

Wednesday 19th March
I was hoping yesterday's long day of negotiations would reap rewards today, but instead it was more of the same. We have offers accepted for another defender and a striker, while we are still negotiating with another club to try and get permission to speak to a winger.

Thursday 20th March
Our offer for the winger is accepted, but there is no further progress on any of the other deals, and we are very aware that time is now starting to run short if we are to get any more players into the club in time for this weekends match against Lewes.

Friday 21st March
We are being made 6/4 favourites for that match tomorrow, as 16th placed Lewes get set to visit Bourne Park. We go into this match still four points from safety, and with some very tricky fixtures coming up. We desperately need to come out of this one with a three point haul to boost our chances of beating the drop.

There is another addition to the squad to help us out, and it's more help at the back. It's more experience and leadership, this time in the form of 31 year old Canadian centre back Aaron Steele. He was playing at a level well under his own with Toronto Lynx and London City, and moved to the UK almost two years ago now. A superb season with Hinckley United led to a move to Guiseley. He was no less impressive there either, and now we have paid £2,000 to bring him south to Maidstone United.

It wasn't all good news today, as we missed out on the signing of 28 year old Curzon Ashton midfielder Tom Field, who has decided to wait until the summer to make his move, when he will join Scottish non-League club Girvan.

Saturday 22nd March
I thought we had done all the deals we were going to get done, but very late last night, I got news that another had got over the line, this time for 20 year old Jack Collins. Born in Chorley, he was a youngster on the books of Preston North End, and only got First Team football from loan spells with Harrogate Town and Stalybridge Celtic. He made a permanent move to Ebbsfleet United at the start of the season, but wasn't getting the game time he hoped for. He has now joined us on a Free Transfer and can play in midfield, down the right, or up front. More versatility, and a player more talented than most that were already here. It's another signing that the fans are very happy about.

I suspect they would have been happier yet still with the signing of the striker that agreed to join us on Saturday morning, but they may have a long wait for that deal to be completed. We had agreed a fee of £4,000 with Dartford for the transfer of 30 year old Chris Beardsley. But I no longer have the room in the Wage Budget to take the money for the transfer fee. The pot is dry there, and while I have stalled them for a week to buy some time to come up with a solution, I don't see a way to get that one over the line, and we'll probably have to look elsewhere.

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Lewes
Attendance :-
289. Weather :- Breezy, Wet, 7c.

There were plenty of changes made from last weeks draw here against Eastleigh, including a change of formation. It's a fairly subtle change, as we match up with how many of the sides in this Division play, utilising a defensive midfielder to sit in front of the back four. That does mean sacrificing a striker, not ideal, but as most of ours are not that good anyway, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. More of an issue is that we don't have a Senior player who is a natural defensive midfielder. 16 year old Chris Pike is selected to play the role, probably the best we have right now. Both Grant Hanley and Matthew Mkhwanazi are dropped from the back four, Aaron Steele and James Curtis replacing them. With Brian McAuley injured, and Chris Pike moved back slightly deeper, Jack Collins and Jamie McMaster are selected to play in the middle of the park. There is also a change on the right wing, Matthew Hatch selected ahead of Glen Logan, while Jamie Waggett is the striker who is dropped. He is on the substitutes bench, joined by Martyn Giles, Ian Rossiter and Daniel Boateng.

Two poor teams played out a pretty dire opening half hour of football, marked only by Liam Mullan collecting a booking in the 23rd minute. It would still take almost another ten minutes for either side to manage a shot worthy of being called that, Ben Brosnan's long range effort not threatening Josh Derry's goal. They would get a lot closer moments later, Derry having to make a smart stop to keep Shaun McAuley's shot out. The main event of the first half would occur just five minutes before the break, Matthew Hatch beating Steven Allan for pace down our right, and just outside the box a pull back on his shoulder from Mullan was enough to half the wingers progress. He gave the referee very little choice, a second yellow card, and Lewes would play the entire second half a man short. We simply had to make it count!

Ten minutes after the restart, we were almost a man up and a goal down, McAuley bringing keeper Andreas Arestidou's long clearance under control, and side stepping Aaron Steele and sending in a shot that beat Derry, before rattling the angle of the goal frame. We were not looking clinical enough to take advantage of anything that may come our way, Iain McMillan too slow to get in a shot when the ball dropped his way, and Jamie McMaster wanting too many touches when a goalmouth scramble saw the ball roll towards him on the edge of the box. When it comes to attacking set pieces though, my sides are always prepared. In the 64th minute Chris Wilkinson sent in an inswinging corner, and 6'7 centre back James Curtis got in between Arestidou and David Wheeler to power home a header. A debut goal, and we were now a goal up and a man up. Lewes immediately switched to a more attacking formation, or as best as they could do with only ten men. They were struggling to create much though, until sub Lyndon Share hit a long range curler that Derry had to tip onto his own cross bar, Lewes hitting the woodwork for the second time this half. I tightened us up into a more defensive formation, Chris Pike and Jack Collins brought off, Ian Rossiter brought on to join McMaster in a holding pair in front of the back four, while Daniel Boateng came on to give us some pace for a counter attack in the midfield. It did the trick though, as Lewes didn't manage to create anything, and we had a huge win on the board.

Maidstone United (0) 1 - James Curtis (64)
Lewes (0) 0
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Chris Pike (Ian Rossiter 84); Jack Collins (Daniel Boateng 84), Jamie McMaster; Matthew Hatch, Chris Wilkinson; Iain McMillan.
Unused Substitutes :- Martyn Giles, Tom Brooks (GK), Jamie Waggett.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 54% - 46%. Man of the Match :- James Curtis (Maidstone United).

Four points from six to start my career here is not too shabby a start at all, but it isn't enough to get us out of the relegation zone just yet. In fact, it doesn't even move us up a place. Bishop's Stortford are beaten away to AFC Wimbledon, but both Chelmsford City and Eastleigh earn a point apiece, at home to AFC Hornchurch and away to Basingstoke Town respectively. We remain two points from safety, but with a much worse goal difference as well, you'd just as well call it three points.

With a trip to bottom of the table Oxford City next week, we have a chance of moving ourselves a bit closer to safety. They were a club I was associated with moving to earlier this season, and another that I'm now made favourite to join is Bangor City. I immediately refute those rumours, not least due to the fact that they have just been relegated from the Welsh Premier League.

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Sunday 23rd March 2014
The Maidstone United Board are delighted that I've denied that there is any interest in the role at Bangor City, and hopefully I can give them another reason to be happy by helping us beat the drop over the coming weeks. The game at Oxford City is a big one. If the clubs around us are going to be picking up points, we can't afford to miss chances at three points against sides who are already all but relegated. City could potentially be relegated next weekend after their game with us.

Four clubs have today received bids from us for one of their players, and all have accepted the offers. The coming hours will see us talk to those players to discuss personal terms, and hopefully bring more strength and depth to our playing staff.

Wednesday 26th March
It's a huge day for the club, with no less than four players all returning their contracts and signing for Maidstone United today. And the first is an International player, though the chances are you haven't heard of him. 23 year old Ray Fitzgerald was in his late teens when I first became aware of him during my time at Lurgan Celtic. With a British passport, the Montserrat International attacking midfielder with eight caps and a goal to his name was not a difficult signing to make. He has played over 120 First Team matches at Ideal SC, and now has a chance to show off his skills in the lower reaches of the English game. He is signed up until the end of the season.

Next in through the door is a player that I believe, and hope, might turn out to have been very under rated and under valued by his club. Malcolm Carr had no real desire to leave Luton Town at all, but he was out of contract and they had shown no inclination to offer him a new deal. I stepped in, and landed him on a Free Transfer. The 19 year old  6'2 Sunderland born right footer can play the defensive midfield role that we are looking to fill, and can also move back into a centre back role, or step forward into the centre of the park. He's a strong and fit lad, who shows good leadership qualities, but as yet has not played any Senior football.

Lunch done, and the arrivals continued, with a striker next into the club. It's another 19 year old, this time Histon born 6'1 forward Daniel Walsh, who arrives on a Free Transfer from Witton Albion. With no shortage of pace, and good both in the air and on the deck, Walsh started his career at Cambridge City, breaking into their lineup at this level in 2010/11, before moving on to Witton. He played 40 times for them, and is having a career best campaign with half a dozen League goals. I'm hoping he can find his scoring boots and help us stay up. Like Carr, he is contracted through next season.

We were not quite done yet either, as we bring another Australian into the club before the day is out. Like compatriot Jamie McMaster, 21 year old Melbourne born Gavin Molloy is a centre midfielder with a British passport. Unlike McMaster, he hasn't left Australia to play for us, as we have signed him on a Free Transfer from Sutton United, who were relegated from our Division last season. Signed on a deal to the end of the season, we have taken a risk on this one, as Molloy has not gone through a medical due to him currently suffering from a concussion, which is expected to him out for no more than a week or so.

We have added some good squad options there, with the fans particularly pleased with all three apart from Fitzgerald, who they have little idea what to expect from. But while those deals were being finalised, we were losing some depth. 32 year old striker Gavin Doherty and 21 year old Swaziland International defender Matthew Mkhwanazi have both been injured playing for our Reserve side in a 1-1 draw with their counterparts from Welling United. It's Doherty who is the more badly injured, a twisted knee likely to sideline him for 2 or 3 weeks.

Friday 28th March
Oxford City lost 4-1 against Playoff hopefuls Staines Town last week while we were winning at home to Lewes, and they have been left with just 19 points on the board so far this season. They could be relegated this weekend if they don't get maximum points against us and other results go against them. Those other results would be bad news for us as well though, so I'll settle for the win that the bookies are expecting from us at Even money, and City clinging on for dear life with other clubs getting rolled over.

Saturday 29th March
Bad weather has meant that Eastleigh's match today, scheduled to be played at Silverlake Stadium against Bognor Regis Town, has been postponed a couple of hours before the game. While that will of course leave them with a game in hand on us, it gives us a chance to put some pressure on them if we can pick up a win today.

Blue Square League, South Division
Cout Farm Place, Headington
Oxford City v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
299. Weather :- Drizzle, 8c.

Malcolm Carr steps right into the starting lineup for his debut following his arrival from Luton Town. He will takeover the defensive midfielder role from Chris Pike, the 16 year old is dropped down into the Reserves to continue his development there. Aside from that, there is just one other change to the matchday squad, with young striker Daniel Walsh brought in amongst the substitutes in place of Jamie Waggett.

We had our players wound up and motivated for this match, and early on when Chris Tardif's clearance was poor from the City goalmouth, Matthew Hatch jumped on Alan Turner who wasn't paying attention and expecting the ball. Hatch fed it into the box, and Iain McMillan struck it first time, Gary Cooper managing to get enough of his body in to block the shot to take all the power out of the shot and Tardif had an easy save. At the other end, Mark White flashed a free kick through our penalty box and beyond the far post. McMillan was soon back in the action, Malcolm Carr showing some skill with the ball at his feet with a dropped a pass from the centre circle onto the head of Hatch on the right wing, and he headed it square towards McMillan, who with his back to goal let the ball run across his body before hooking a left footed shot on the turn only just over the angle of the goal frame. That would be Hatch's last contribution, the winger getting injured moments later, and he was replaced by Ian Rossiter, who would sit in the midfield pair with Jack Collins moving out to the right wing. We would get a golden chance midway through the half though. Andy Miskimmon dropped a pass from just inside the City half into the right channel of the box, setting off a race between Jamie McMaster and Shaun Timmins. We wouldn't find out who was the quicker, as Timmins reached out and grabbed a handful of jersey to bring McMaster to a halt, and the ref pointed to the spot, before showing Timmins a yellow card. You'd expect both McMaster and McMillan to be up there in consideration for the job of spot kick taker. But it wouldn't be either of them. Instead, it would be Irish teenage left back Mark Williams who was selected to step forward, and he held his nerve nicely, sending the ball low into the bottom corner and past Tardif's dive to score his first ever Senior goal. Our fans in the corner terrace here at Court Farm Place would have had a good view of that one. Less so ten minutes later though, Tardif's long clearance was flicked on by Alex Lamb, and Thomas Stevenson chested the ball down and drilled in his shot as it dropped, beating Josh Derry and levelling the match back up. We could even have been behind at the break, but Jamie Curtis first made a perfectly timed, and much needed challenge on Stevenson, and then had to make an important header clear just seconds later. All square it remained at the break though.

Ten minutes into the second half, we should have had our lead back. Chris Tardif wasn't looking great in the City goal, and when Josh Derry hoisted the ball long, the home keeper should've collected it easily, but spilled it, McMillan a little too fast for his own good on the chase, as the ball bounced right back past him and Danny Bird cleared the danger. Quietly, in the holding defensive midfield role, Carr was having a very solid debut, and he sent another beautifully placed pass from the centre of the park out over the defence and into the right wing. Collins latched onto it, and sent in a cross that McMillan managed to get his head to, but couldn't keep the ball down. Time was starting to go against us, and when Chris Wilkinson took a knock in the 70th minute, I couldn't afford to give the left winger time to run it off, Daniel Boateng on to replace him, while another Daniel would also come on for his United debut, Dan Walsh replacing McMillan up front. We were doing what we could to push, and Boateng was quickly into the game. He picked up a pass from Williams on the left, and then came right across the park as he looked for a gap. He eventually picked a pass to McMaster, but the Aussie midfielder couldn't hit the target. At the other end, City midfielder Marc Canham shaped to shoot from a free kick, then touched the ball sideways to sub Jason Gordon, and he threaded a pass into the box for Lamb. To his credit, Derry was off his line quickly forcing the striker wide, and he couldn't get a shot on target either. With just three minutes to go, debut striker Walsh showed them how it should be done! Miskimmon launched the ball high and long, and both Turner and sub Stuart Marsh were caught napping. Walsh was onto it in a flash as it came down, and then fired in a viciously struck shot that Tardif got plenty of, but the power of the shot took it through him, the ball creeping over the line to give us a very late lead! Now City had no choice but to throw everyone forward, and our heart was in our mouths late in injury time when Canham lined up a free kick. He got it all wrong, and for us, everything was alright.

Oxford City (1) 1 - Thomas Stevenson (33)
Maidstone United (1) 2 - Mark Williams (24 pen), Daniel Walsh (87)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Jack Collins, Jamie McMaster; Matthew Hatch (inj - Ian Rossiter 13), Chris Wilkinson (inj - Daniel Boateng 70); Iain McMillan (Daniel Walsh 70).

Unused Substitutes :- Martyn Giles, Tom Brooks (GK).
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Andy Miskimmon (Maidstone United).

That was a huge late debut goal from Daniel Walsh, and it's enough to see us climb out of the basement at 5pm today. With Eastleigh's match off, we found out that Bishop's Stortford had been beaten 3-1 at home to League leaders Weymouth, while it was also a defeat for Chelmsford City, who lose 1-0 away to mid table Dover Athletic. With 35 points on the board, we will now have to see how Eastleigh do in their rearranged midweek home match against Bognor Regis Town. That will determine how much wiggle room we have back to the sides in the drop zone.

That match will be a huge one as well, as we host our Promotion Playoff chasing Kent county rivals from Dartford. There are only 23 miles between the two towns, extend it to closer to thirty when you take into consideration that we are playing our games in Sittingbourne. I'm sure that will have no impact on a rivalry that has started to become a little more heated now the clubs are in the same Division again. It will be only the second competitive match between the clubs in the last six years. The first was earlier this season, and Dartford won it 2-1 back in December.

Our task next weekend will be made more difficult as we will likely be without both our wingers who went off with injuries. Chris Wilkinson suffered a gashed leg, and that match will probably be the only one he misses. It's a little worse for Matthew Hatch, a twisted knee means he will probably miss two or three weeks.

The deal that I stalled for a week before the game against Lewes for striker Chris Beardsley has now been cancelled. Unfortunately, I don't have a way of raising the £4,000 transfer fee for him right now.

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Sunday 30th March 2014
Andy Miskimmon's performance against Oxford City yesterday was well worth a mention. The 27 year old Ulsterman was wearing the Captain's armband for the first time in the United colours, and he put in a very worthy performance, defending well and firstly putting in the ball that allowed Jamie McMaster to win the spot kick, and then following that up with the assist on the winning goal by Daniel Walsh.

Offers went in today for two wingers, another defensive midfielder, and a forward. If we can get a few of them in through the door, we can look at moving out a few of the players that were here when I arrived that I don't think are going to be good enough for us going forward.

Monday 31st March
These clubs are playing hardball with us over these players, asking for inflated prices knowing how desperate we are to improve our squad options. It looks like it will be a hard week trying to get any players in before Dartford visit us on the weekend. Meanwhile, a dozen of our players are now in the final three months of their contracts without yet being offered a new deal.

To raise the tension levels ahead of the weekends Kent Derby another notch or two, I have tabled an offer to sign a player from Dartford. They have accepted that offer, and we are now discussing terms with the player. The Darts have already warned us that even if the deal does get over the line, for obvious reasons, they will hold off completing until after this Saturday's match.

Tuesday 1st April 2014
We move into the penultimate month of the domestic football season, and April will see five of our six remaining League matches take place. Three of those games will take place at home as well. If things go as well as they have been since I arrived, we could be out of trouble before the month finishes. With me being so new to the job, there is no monthly appraisal from the Boardroom.

Wednesday 2nd April
Brian McAuley was injured in my first match in charge against Eastleigh. He is now back in training, and is joined by a player I have yet to see in action, 21 year old Welsh midfielder Alan Winter, who has been out of action for around a month after breaking his arm.

There is good news for us this evening as well. Eastleigh are held to a goalless draw at home by Bognor Regis Town. They do go back ahead of us by virtue of their much superior goal difference. We are a point ahead of Chelmsford City going into the weekend, and two ahead of Bishop's Stortford. Cast adrift are Oxford City, who will almost certainly be relegated this weekend, as they face top half side Welling United.

Thursday 3rd April
An 18 year old Northern Irish defensive midfielder has signed a new deal with his club Killymoon Rangers. But Alan Dallas still has a clause in his contract stating that if a bigger club is interested, he is allowed to speak to them. We ask if we can take him on a Free Transfer

Friday 4th April
Our offer to Killymoon Rangers has been accepted by the Northern Irish Second Division club, and we will discuss terms with the 18 year old this weekend to see if we can persuade him to move to us.

Excitement is building ahead of tomorrow's home Kent Derby with Dartford, and we go into it on a three match unbeaten run since I took the job. But Dartford will be favourites, and they are sat in 5th, the final Promotion Playoff spot, as they have emerged as surprise contenders to move up into the Blue Square Premier.

With negotiations still ongoing to sign a player from tomorrow afternoon's opponents, I take diplomacy to a whole new level at the pre-match press conference, telling the press what a good job Callum Hughes has done to get Dartford in a position where they could get themselves a surprise promotion.

Saturday 5th April

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Dartford
Attendance :-
815. Weather :- Showers, 19c.

It's a season best League attendance at Bourne Park for this one, beaten only slightly by the figure that were here for the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round match against Chatham Town. I'm forced into changes from last weekend's away win against Oxford City, with both of my first choice wingers injured. So Jack Collins switches from the middle of the park across to the right wing, and Ian Rossiter steps into the starting eleven. On the left wing, young Scottish winger Willie Strachan is called up to play. Australian midfielder Gavin Molloy and Montserrat International forward Ray Fitzgerald are both named on the substitutes bench, hoping to make their debut for the club if needed this afternoon.

What a start we made! Andy Miskimmon cut out the ball down our right, and he received it back further up the park after the ball was played through Jamie McMaster and Jack Collins. Then Malcolm Carr was involved, lifting the ball foward, Collins heading it back across the edge of the box, McMaster let it roll though to Daniel Walsh, the young striker moved left, but then shot back across goal and inside the far post, putting us in front with less than two minutes on the clock! Dartford was absolutely shellshocked at what was happening, and Collins was quickly released down the right, his low cross played into the stride of Walsh, this time his shot was blocked. They couldn't keep us out for long though, Josh Derry collecting a long ball forward and quickly distributing the ball to Mark Williams. He sent the ball down the left, and Willie Strachan raced after it, sending in a cross that was cleared. We quickly got the ball back into the box though, McMaster releasing Collins into the right channel of the box, his cross shot was pushed aside by Niall Morgan, but not to safety, as Walsh was there to sweep the rebound in, giving us a two goal lead with just eight minutes played. The Darts fans looked on in misery as we continued to swarm forward, Walsh almost getting his hatrick in the 15th minute when Christopher Williams made a mess of trying to clear the ball and the striker robbed him of possession, his low shot aimed inside the near post his time pushed to safety by Morgan. The next try was from Collins, who cut inside a defender and tried to pick the same spot as Walsh had, but his effort midway through the half was dealt with by Morgan. The final two efforts of the half came from McMaster, the first just inside the box and just over the bar, the second from range, but well wide of the target. Any uninformed onlooker would certainly think it was us who were chasing promotion after watching that half of football.

I didn't want to praise up the lads too much at the break, or knock their spirits either, so I went with telling them to make sure they didn't give Dartford an easy foothold back into the game. That looked to be going very well when even their strikers resorted to dropping short to pick up the ball from throw in's, and then shooting from all of thirty yards out, James Peel's shot wasn't going to concern Derry anytime soon. With just over twenty minutes to play, we showed them how it should be done. Carr appears to have a party piece from midfield, dropping the ball over the oppositions left back. Marcus Heaton turned to find Collins already beyond him and at the byline, and he chipped the ball over Josh Langley to the far post, where Strachan was unmarked to half volley the ball home from close range. That was his first ever Senior goal, and at three-nil we were home and dry. I didn't make any changes though, hoping we would be able to add another one or two yet to improve our goal difference a bit more. Unfortunately, that wouldn't quite go as planned, as we created only one further chance, Aaron Steele persuading his team mates to let him have a crack from a free kick, which he blasted well over the bar. It wouldn't spoil our day, not even slightly.

Maidstone United (2) 3 - Daniel Walsh (2,8), Willie Strachan (69)
Dartford (0) 0
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Malcolm Carr; Ian Rossiter, Jamie McMaster; Jack Collins, Willie Strachan; Daniel Walsh.
Unused Substitutes :- Martyn Giles, Tom Brooks (GK), Gavin Molloy, Ray Fitzgerald, Iain McMillan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 50% - 50%. Man of the Match :- Daniel Walsh (Maidstone United).

If we had been playing like that all season, then we wouldn't be worrying about relegation right now. That was an outstanding performance, and it would now give us every chance of avoiding the drop this season. Another couple of outings like that over the next few weeks, and we would have nothing to worry about at all. The fact that we may have damaged the Playoff hopes of one of our closest rivals was simply an added bonus as far as we were concerned. That's three wins in a row now.

Daniel Walsh is proving to be a superb acquisition for us already, with two goals in one full match and a short cameo performance from the bench last weekend. The 20 year old is contracted through next season as well, and if he carries on at this rate, he'll save me from looking for a striker in the summer if we beat the drop. The chances of that happening improved as well. Because as Eastleigh beat AFC Wimbledon away from home, neither Chelmsford City or Bishop's Stortford were able to avoid defeat, while a defeat away from home to Welling United condemns Oxford City to their inevitable fate of relegation.

We had another player to join our relegation fight as well. Right after the match we completed the signing of Dartford's 28 year old right winger, Lewis McMahon. Our rivals had left him out of their lineup for the match with the deal done, but they refused to let him sign in time to be able to play against us. McMahon is from Doncaster, and spent his Youth years with Sheffield Wednesday, breaking into their team and playing 25 times in Coca-Cola League One between 2003 and 2005. He moved on, firstly to Notts County, and then York City for a season each, before four years with Gainsborough Trinity, including his best ever season in 2008/09. He spent a season in Northern Ireland with Dundela, before returning to England to play a season with FC United of Manchester, and then moving again to Dartford last summer. He has clocked up close to 250 League appearances now, and has 30 goals and 30 assists.

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Monday 7th April 2014
With Oxford City now relegated, I thought this would be a good time to try and pinch one of their best assets, 31 year old midfielder Marc Canham, who has scored ten goals for them this season. The former Colchester United and AFC Bournemouth youngster has spent most of his career with Team Bath, and now runs the risk of being relegated twice in the same season by potentially joining us. I'm prepared to run the risk if he is though, and make an official offer for the German born City skipper.

Another deal is already done, bringing in some cover for the defensive midfield role. The new arrival is 18 year old Northern Irishman and exiting young prospect, Alan Dallas. He only has two Senior appearances to his name with Killymoon Rangers, but our Scouts label him as a model professional with a bright future in front of him, and he's absolutely at home in the defensive midfield role. He signs a two year deal after our £1,000 offer is accepted.

If the deal for Canham is going to get done, I need to make some cuts now, and I release seven players who have now been replaced by new and better players, with another told he is free to find a new club. Those released are strikers Jamie Waggett and Gavin Doherty, wingers Nick Dunn, Neil O'Leary and Glen Logan, midfielder Stuart Milne and defender Steve Reid. At £475 per week, goalkeeper Tom Brook's weekly wage is not consistent with his ability, and with Josh Derry now at the club, I see no reason to keep him, particularly as he isn't interested in renegotiating his deal. We offer him out on a Free Transfer.

Tuesday 8th April
Jack Collins, who has been very impressive since moving to the right wing and has pitched in with three assists, has suffered a gashed head after a training ground clash of heads. The 20 year old is now likely to miss the weekends match away to another side at the sharper end of the table, Staines Town.

Our offer to Oxford City of £4,500 for Marc Canham has now been accepted, and we are able to discuss personal terms with the midfielder. That process goes fairly smoothly, and we now wait on his reply. However, we are going to need Tom Brooks to leave to stand any chance of getting this deal over the line. Ironically, one of the interested parties is Oxford City, which if I had known beforehand may have made the deal easier. The other side interested is non-League Welsh side, RTB Ebbw Vale.

Thursday 10th April
Both of the interested parties have now made offers to sign Brooks on a Free Transfer, while the deal to make Marc Canham a Maidstone United player is also ready to be signed. I ask Oxford City to give us a week to get the finances in place to complete the deal.

Friday 11th April
Tomorrow afternoon we have a tough trip to face third placed club Staines Town, who go into the match as slight favourites at 6/4. That looks a fairly attractive price from the bookies for a third place side at home to a 19th placed team, but they have won only once in their last four matches, while we are on a three match winning run and unbeaten in four since I arrived. If we can pull off a win tomorrow, our relegation worries will nearly over. Defeat, and we could be right back in the thick of it should both, or either of Chelmsford and Bishop's Stortford, can pick up a win.

Saturday 12th April

Blue Square League, South Division
Wheatsheaf Park, Staines
Staines Town v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
1,018. Weather :- Downpour, 8c.

The playing surface was in an appalling condition, and this match couldn't have been too far away from being postponed as the heavy rain continued in the hours before kick off. We make a pair of changes to the starting lineup that beat Dartford last weekend, both coming on the wings. The injury to Jack Collins means a debut on the right wing for new signing Lewis McMahon, while on the left, Chris Wilkinson is fit again and replaces goalscorer from last time out, Willie Strachan. There is one further change on the bench, Tom Brooks left out with a transfer potentially imminent, and he is replaced by Peter Hylton, who is called back up from the Reserve side.

Composure, balance and decision making would all be important today in these conditions. Dan Harvey was sadly lacking in the latter in the seventh minute, deciding to slide in to challenge Daniel Walsh as he tried to spin away from him, and the ref pointed to the spot. Mark Williams stepped up and drilled his left footed penalty kick low into the bottom corner, past the dive of Adam Legzdins, and we had an early lead. Harvey attempted to make immediate amends, sending over an inswinging cross from the left, and Ashley Yeoman connected with a downward header that hit the base of the post before Josh Derry grabbed the loose ball. Jon Duncan picked up a booking a few minutes later, but he played his part to a more positive extent for Staines as the half hour approached, as did the conditions. Duncan launched a free kick into the penalty box, Derry first of all misjudged the flight of the ball, and then failed to hold on to it. Aaron Steele should have made an easy clearance, but the ball didn't move anywhere, and Yeoman managed to poke it over the line from close range to put Staines level. And within ten minutes our good start was completely forgotten about when a clearance up the park was headed right back over our defence by Mark Butler. That sent Ashley Eastham into a foot race with Steele, and while our centre back made a good sliding challenge, the ball ran right into the path of Ben Manning, who's run into the penalty box was halted by a shove in the back from Andy Miskimmon, the ref pointing to the spot for the second time this afternoon. Duncan placed the ball out of Derry's reach and right into the same spot that Williams had earlier picked out, and we had now fallen behind. We would have it all to do in the second half.

With no changes from either side at half time, there was little difference in the early stages of the second half. Harvey picked up a booking quickly, but then nearly provided the assist for a third Staines goal, playing a one-two with Eastham, and then picking out Yeoman in the box, the striker timing his move nicely and then striking a well hit shot that Derry pushed away. Greg Haswell had the next effort, a curling shot that didn't have either the power or accuracy to beat Derry. But midway through the half there was nothing to stop Staines extending their lead. Michael Standing lifted a free kick into the box, Eastham chested it down and then spun away from James Curtis, and with Derry expecting a shot across goal, he tucked it inside the near post to put us down by a pair. It almost got a lot worse a lot quicker, both Eastham and Butler rattling our cross bar within seconds of each other. Instead, we profited from the conditions at the other end. Malcolm Carr's free kick hit the wall and spun out to the left for Williams. His cross to the near post was intended was Walsh, but the ball held up in a puddle, and sub Alex Stavrinou's attempt to clear it failed to shift the ball, instead Ian Rossiter lashed it into the top corner from almost the same spot that Yeoman had profited from in the first half. We were back in with a shout, and I switched us into a more attacking formation in the search for an equaliser at least, Steele and Jamie McMaster coming off, Ray Fitzgerald coming on for a debut to play behind what would become a front two now, as Iain McMillan was also brought on. But it was almost costly quickly, Harvey counter attacking on the left, and his cross found Corey Treacy, his header was just over the bar. In fact, Staines were just too well organised for us to break down, and they launched another counter attack with a few minutes remaining, the pace of which left us with just one player back against their four attackers, Manning fluffing his lines by firing his shot right at a relieved Derry. Not that it made any difference to the outcome today.

Staines Town (2) 3 - Ashley Yeoman (28), Jon Duncan (38 pen), Ashley Eastham (68)
Maidstone United (1) 2 - Mark Williams (8 pen), Ian Rossiter (74)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele (Iain McMillan 75), James Curtis, Mark Williams; Malcolm Carr; Ian Rossiter, Jamie McMaster (Ray Fitzgerald 75); Lewis McMahon, Chris Wilkinson; Daniel Walsh.

Unused Substitutes :- Martyn Giles, Peter Hylton (GK), Gavin Molloy.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 46% - 54%. Man of the Match :- Mark Williams (Maidstone United).

It's our first defeat since I arrived, a day that was inevitably going to comee of course, and we were beaten by a better team today, despite the conditions doing their best to intervene at both ends. The damage was pretty limited, which is of course a good thing, Eastleigh losing at home to league leaders Weymouth. There was a defeat also for Chelmsford City, 2-0 losers at Maidenhead United. The only ones to gain any ground would be Bishop's Stortford, who drew 1-1 at home to Weston-super-Mare, allowing them to close the gap slightly.

Finally for today, I continue to be linked with jobs elsewhere, particularly back home in Wales. This time it's Port Talbot Town, who have had a superb season, sat in third place, which may cost them the services of their manager Ian Drewett. He is being linked with a move elsewhere when his contract expires, and I'm being named as one of the early favourites to take the job at the GenQuip Stadium. While it is of course flattering to be linked, and Port Talbot will now almost certainly be playing European football in the next few months, their best player is on loan from Swansea City, while their prolific strike force are two of four players who have already agreed summer moves elsewhere, the younger striker moving on to Accrington Stanley.

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2013/14 Blue Square League, South Division Table. Up To & Including Saturday 12th April 2014

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | Pl    | Weymouth           |       | 38    | 23    | 8     | 7     | 66    | 29    | +37   | 77    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Forest Green       |       | 38    | 18    | 15    | 5     | 67    | 40    | +27   | 69    |
| 3rd   |       | Staines            |       | 38    | 20    | 8     | 10    | 57    | 38    | +19   | 68    |
| 4th   |       | Billericay         |       | 38    | 18    | 12    | 8     | 57    | 36    | +21   | 66    |
| 5th   |       | Dartford           |       | 38    | 18    | 10    | 10    | 57    | 44    | +13   | 64    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 6th   |       | Basingstoke        |       | 38    | 18    | 7     | 13    | 50    | 44    | +6    | 61    |
| 7th   |       | Welling            |       | 38    | 16    | 10    | 12    | 61    | 42    | +19   | 58    |
| 8th   |       | Hampton & Richmond |       | 37    | 16    | 10    | 11    | 56    | 48    | +8    | 58    |
| 9th   |       | Maidenhead         |       | 38    | 15    | 11    | 12    | 52    | 46    | +6    | 56    |
| 10th  |       | Dover              |       | 37    | 16    | 7     | 14    | 53    | 48    | +5    | 55    |
| 11th  |       | AFC Wimbledon      |       | 38    | 14    | 12    | 12    | 51    | 42    | +9    | 54    |
| 12th  |       | Team Bath          |       | 37    | 15    | 9     | 13    | 52    | 48    | +4    | 54    |
| 13th  |       | Eastbourne Boro    |       | 38    | 13    | 12    | 13    | 46    | 53    | -7    | 51    |
| 14th  |       | Bognor Regis       |       | 38    | 15    | 5     | 18    | 52    | 51    | +1    | 50    |
| 15th  |       | Weston-super-Mare  |       | 38    | 14    | 8     | 16    | 50    | 49    | +1    | 50    |
| 16th  |       | AFC Hornchurch     |       | 37    | 13    | 8     | 16    | 41    | 55    | -14   | 47    |
| 17th  |       | Lewes              |       | 38    | 13    | 7     | 18    | 35    | 43    | -8    | 46    |
| 18th  |       | Eastleigh          |       | 38    | 10    | 8     | 20    | 41    | 50    | -9    | 38    |
| 19th  |       | Maidstone          |       | 38    | 9     | 11    | 18    | 38    | 69    | -31   | 38    |
| 20th  |       | Chelmsford         |       | 38    | 8     | 10    | 20    | 36    | 55    | -19   | 34    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 21st  |       | Bishop's Stortford |       | 38    | 8     | 9     | 21    | 37    | 62    | -25   | 33    |
| 22nd  | R     | Oxford City        |       | 38    | 4     | 7     | 27    | 25    | 88    | -63   | 19    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Monday 14th April 2014
Despite that defeat on Saturday away to Staines, an upturn in form had increased our hopes of surviving at this level with four matches left to play, particularly as we had three of them at home. With that in mind, I started to push on with the contract renewals of some players who had come into the club on short term deals through to the end of this season.

Chris Wilkinson has looked more impressive than both his productivity and average rating suggests, and 29 year old left sided Ulsterman has signed a deal to stay for another season on a basic wage of £50 per week. Also staying for another season is his compatriot from Northern Ireland, and the man who has been wearing the armband over recent weeks. 27 year old Andy Miskimmon has been impressive on the whole since his arrival, maybe with the exception of giving away that penalty on the weekend. The fans like him though, and will be pleased he's agreed to stay for another year on a £45 per week deal.

Tuesday 15th April
Even more impressive has been 6'7 centre back, James Curtis. The 32 year old Sunderland born player has a goal to his name, and an average rating over the 7.00 mark, and he has signed a new deal for the next two seasons at Bourne Park, at a bargain wage of just £30 per week as well. One of his fellow new arrivals is right winger Matthew Hatch, and the Galway lad has resumed training today after recovering from his knee injury that has impacted his early days at the club.

Wednesday 16th April
My Assistant Manager at the club is former Burnley amongst others striker, Robbie Blake. He called me late this evening after taking charge of the Reserves at Bourne Park against their visitors from Blyth. He told me that while he appreciates that I am trying to improve our options in the First Team, I shouldn't forget about 16 year old home grown talent Chris Pike. The first year player with 15 League and Cup appearances to his name for the Senior side this season ran the show this evening, notching two goals and a assist in the second string side's 3-0 victory.

Thursday 17th April
With Tom Brooks still a member of our squad, we still can't get the deal for Marc Canham over the line just yet, and Oxford City have granted us another week to get the money together.

Friday 18th April
We are Even money favourites for tomorrow afternoon's home clash with an eighth placed Welling United side. They lost a place when Hampton & Richmond won in midweek, and six points out of the Playoffs with only four games left to play gives the impression that they are probably just a little too far back at this point of the season to make it into the post season party. On the flip side of the coin, a win for us, and a defeat for Bishop's Stortford would leave us right on the edge of being mathematically safe of securing our place in the sixth tier for next season, and would mean the beginning of a big summer for the club.

Canadian centre back Aaron Steele participated in a six hour long entire squad game of killer on the training grounds pool table, and lost. So he was put in charge of issuing the rallying call that the local press picked up on. 'Three wins from the next four will guarantee our safety, and we have three home games remaining too, so that has to be our aim.' Canada, full of mathematical geniuses it seems.

Saturday 19th April

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Welling United
Attendance :-
444. Weather :- Strong Winds, 7c.

After the defeat to Staines last weekend, I settle for a single change to the starting lineup for today's Bank Holiday weekend match, which will be quickly followed by another on Monday afternoon. Jack Collins is back in the side on the right wing, replacing Lewis McMahon, who in turn takes the place of Ray Fitzgerald on the bench.

We started with our defensive line very high, helping to push Welling right back into their own half. Doing that is dangerous of course, and Lee Blackburn turned our defence and sent Ed Taylor into acres of space down the left. He cut into the box as well, but Andy Miskimmon came across and executed his tackle perfectly to prevent him getting a cross in. They tried their luck from range instead, Loui Fazakerley hitting a free kick from 30 yards that dipped and swerved before hitting the post. With the mid point of the first half approaching, we tried an attack of our own. Dean Collin's goal kick to halfway was knocked down by Iain Rossiter, and Jamie McMaster played it forward to Daniel Walsh. The striker held the ball up, and then sent it right into the path of Jack Collins. The winger outpaced Joe Anderson, and then whipped in his cross, and while everyone moved to the near post to cover Walsh, it was beyond the reach of Collin and picked out Rossiter, who arrived at the same time as Fazakerley, but just got the first touch to turn it home and hand us the lead! From the restart, we took the ball right off Welling, and Collins was put into space on the right by Miskimmon, and his low drilled cross found it's way to Rossiter again, this time Collin pushed it away. Our last chance of the half was also created by our busy winger, as he went across to the left to send in an inswinging free kick to the far post which Mark Williams headed downwards and goalwards, but Collin was right behind it and dealt with it comfortably.

There was a more determined look about our visitors when they emerged for the second half, Blackburn's corner to the near post was met by Dylan Cobb with a powerful header, but it was a few inches past the near post. The pressure intensified, and Dave O'Connor's cross from the left needed to be punched clear by Josh Derry with James Forrest trying to get his head to it. But when we did eventually crack, it was a heartbreaking way to see it happen. Cobb switched the play out to the right, and Fazakerley did a great job to keep the ball in, and then sent a cross to the near post. James Curtis attempted to clear, then able to only watch on as the ball hit Malcolm Carr and bounced back past the centre back and the stranded Derry, finding the bottom corner to level the match. That was a bitter blow, and gave Welling the incentive to continue pushing us. But they were always wary of us counter attacking, and on the hour mark we launched a superb raid up the park that involved eight of our outfield players, but didn't get the finish it deserved, Chris Wilkinson scuffing his shot wide after Mark Williams picked him out in the left channel. But he would play a part in making amends with around ten minutes remaining. He spun nicely from a short throw by Williams, and sent the ball into the box with a diagonal pass aimed towards Collins. The winger wouldn't get there, due mainly to Anderson grabbing a handful of the wingers jersey and preventing his progress. Penalty! Williams is becoming a bit of a regular at this, and the teenage Northern Irish left back showed no sign of nerves here, despite being fully aware of how big a win would be. He pulled up his socks, and went for power, right down the middle and beyond Collin's dive to reinstate our lead! Now I pulled us back into a more defensive formation, but I didn't like the look of it with our current personnel, and a few minutes later I made a treble substitution, McMaster, Wilkinson and the superb Collins off, Martyn Giles, Gavin Molloy and Lewis McMahon on. We now had two holding midfielders in front of a back five, with Molloy and McMahon supporting Walsh should we get a chance to counter attack. But we need not have worried, Welling wouldn't cause us any trouble until Fazakerley's injury time effort from range that didn't dip enough, the only incident of note in the last ten minutes apart from some pushing between Carr and Blackburn that earned both a booking. Three more huge points!

Maidstone United (1) 2 - Ian Rossiter (21), Mark Williams (80 pen)
Welling United (0) 1 - Malcolm Carr (57 og)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Malcolm Carr; Ian Rossiter, Jamie McMaster (Gavin Molloy 84); Jack Collins (Lewis McMahon 84), Chris Wilkinson (Martyn Giles 84); Daniel Walsh.

Unused Substitutes :- Peter Hylton (GK), Iain McMillan.
Bookings :- Malcolm Carr 90+3
Possession :- 53% - 47%. Man of the Match :- Ian Rossiter (Maidstone United).

That was a very good performance and win, and I was hoping that if results elsewhere went our way, it would leave us eight points above the dotted line with only three matches left, and all but safe now. Those hopes were quickly dashed, when I was informed that Bishop's Stortford had pulled out a stunning 4-0 home win over AFC Hornchurch, keeping them five points behind us and not done yet, plus also with a shot at some momentum going into the Bank Holiday fixtures. Chelmsford also gained a point, drawing 0-0 away to Essex rivals Billericay Town, though wins for ourselves and Bishop's meant that they were worse off overall. There was a win for Eastleigh as well at home to Weston-super-Mare. There was still some work to do before we would be safe, and our next match was a very tricky one in Basingstoke, our final away match of the campaign.

2013/14 Blue Square League South Division Table (Bottom). Up To & Including Saturday 19th April 2014

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |
 
| 18th  |       | Eastleigh          |       | 39    | 11    | 8     | 20    | 43    | 51    | -8    | 41    |
| 19th  |       | Maidstone          |       | 39    | 10    | 11    | 18    | 40    | 70    | -30   | 41    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 20th  |       | Bishop's Stortford |       | 39    | 9     | 9     | 21    | 41    | 62    | -21   | 36    |
| 21st  |       | Chelmsford         |       | 39    | 8     | 11    | 20    | 36    | 55    | -19   | 35    |
| 22nd  | R     | Oxford City        |       | 39    | 5     | 7     | 27    | 27    | 89    | -62   | 22    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Sunday 20th April 2014
Late last night, Tom Brooks completed his Free Transfer to Oxford City. The 21 year old goalkeeper played 30 times for Maidstone United, more football than he played in his combined five years at Plymouth Argyle and Woking. With Josh Derry now very much our number one, Brooks moves on, halving his wages in the process. With Brooks gone, and Grant Hanley dropped into the Reserves, we name Andy Miskimmon as the interim Captain, with James Curtis as his second in command.

With £475 per week off the wage bill, we're only one more move away from clearing enough Wage Budget room to be able to complete the Marc Canham deal later this week. That move is made at lunchtime today, as Ray Fitzgerald is given £1,000 to terminate the remaining two and a bit months of his deal, and leaves the club with immediate effect. The 23 year old Montserratian International attacking midfielder made just one substitute appearance in his brief spell with the club.

Tomorrow we have to go again, just 48 hours after our win over Welling, we travel to face another team who have recently seen their hopes of earning a Playoff spot take a huge knock. Basingstoke Town lost away to Staines Town on the weekend, and now sit six points outside of the 5th place spot that they need with only three matches left to play. The bookies have made them 5/4 favourites to return to winning ways tomorrow afternoon at our expense.

Monday 21st April

Blue Square League, South Division
Camrose Ground, Basingstoke
Basingstoke Town v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
323. Weather :- Drizzle, 21c.

We make the trip to Hampshire, and the Camrose Ground. Our opponents are Basingstoke Town, who have just realistically fallen out of contention to move up into the National Divison. They operate with a midfield diamond, which made me really think about my own tactics and the option of overloading on the wings to try and stretch them out wide. In the end, I decided to leave the formation alone, instead encouraging my full backs to overlap the wingers when the opportunity presented itself. As a result, there were no changes to our matchday squad at all, despite the quick turnaround.

The home side almost made an early breakthrough, Peter Martin's diagonal through pass into our box should've been collected by Josh Derry, but the keeper failed to come off his line, allowing Richard Baker to latch onto the ball, his low shot turned aside by Derry who quickly made amends. Jake Foley would have the next effort after the ball was moved out to him on the edge of the box following a Jamie Mullan corner, but he struck across the ball and it flew wide of the target. After Martin failed to make another chance count when he failed to hit the target, we punished Basingstoke with our first effort at goal. Midway through the first half we won a corner, and Jack Collins curled it towards the far post, Daniel Walsh finding the net with a header that went in off the underside of the bar. But Basingstoke went right back on the attack, and we were lucky to keep our noses in front when Mullan drifted in a cross from the left, and Baker brought the ball down, fortunately for us on his weaker left foot, sending it just over the top as he aimed for the top corner. We launched what was becoming a rare foray forward ten minutes before the break, and the overlapping was utilised. Collins sent the ball infield to Walsh, and then made a nuisance of himself trying to find some space, allowing Andy Miskimmon to move unmarked down the right, and he sent in a nice cross that Johnny Watt had to head behind with Walsh waiting for it to reach him at the far post. Half time was almost upon us, but our team talk was ruined in injury time. Aaron Pratt's long free kick from deep in his own half was allowed to bounce just outside our box by Aaron Steele, and that proved to be a mistake, as he couldn't get himself back level with Baker, and he steered a controlled left footed shot past Derry and into the roof of the net as the ball came down for a second time. All square at the break.

That was frustrating, but we had allowed Basingstoke to come forward too much, and not created enough to cause them any reason for a rethink. That said, the pattern didn't really change in the second half, Baker's cross was caught by Derry with two Town players trying to get on the end of it, before the goalscorer was played into a superb position by Mullan, but Derry stuck out a leg and got enough of the ball to divert it wide of the post. Midway through the half, Baker should have been clean through on goal after a long ball over our defence, but James Curtis got back and took the ball off his toe and sent it back to Derry. Back down the other end, and a great pass from Jamie McMaster sent Collins into plenty of space down the right, and his deep cross picked out Chris Wilkinson, but the winger just wanted too much time, bringing the ball down instead of hitting it first time, allowing Watt and Adam Head to close him down and prevent him shooting. Baker would appeal for a penalty shortly after, turning inside Curtis to get into the penalty box, but feeling that the centre back obstructed him, the ref didn't agree. Malcolm Carr was injured with around 20 minutes to play, Ian Rossiter was moved back into the holding role in his place with Gavin Molley coming on to play in the midfield, while Lewis McMahon replaced McMaster at the same time. Basingstoke followed us with a pair of changes, and one of the subs was Matt Rickard, and he setup Lee Lowe, who sent a shot high and wide of the target, before Baker had another try, this time missing the far post by a whisker with a shot across goal. We hadn't really worked Pratt a huge amount today, but that changed in the final ten minutes when Collins free kick was caught on the volley by Molloy, but Pratt produced a superb save to tip that one over the bar. With just three minutes to play Mullan sent a long pass right between our centre backs, and young sub Thomas McNeil outpaced both, and then thought about going round Derry before sending a shot across goal and just wide of the far post. I'd seen enough, and decided that a point was enough today, so I summoned Martyn Giles from the bench to replace Rossiter, as we went to a defensive formation to try and see out the final few moments. Those final moments saw Foley swing a free kick just wide, and Rikard go clean through on goal only to shoot right at Derry. We would gladly head home with a point.

Basingstoke Town (1) 1 - Richard Baker (45+2)
Maidstone United (1) 1 - Daniel Walsh (22)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Malcolm Carr (inj - Gavin Molloy 71); Ian Rossiter (Martyn Giles 88), Jamie McMaster (Lewis McMahon 71); Jack Collins, Chris Wilkinson; Daniel Walsh.
Unused Substitutes :- Peter Hylton (GK), Iain McMillan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Aaron Pratt (Basingstoke Town).

I have to assume that was a sponsors choice for the Man of the Match Award today, as we only managed two shots on target, and one of them went it. Maybe they are crediting Pratt's save from the Gavin Molloy volley as gaining Basingstoke a point, though it was a really good stop.

Nonetheless, it's a point we are pretty satisfied with. Not only because we were second best for the large part of the match, but also because Chelmsford and Eastleigh played out a goalless draw, while Bishop's Stortford were beaten away to Dover Athletic. That leaves us in a very strong position now, as a point from either of our last two home matches will guarantee our safety this season.

Blue Sqaure League South Division Table (Bottom), Up To & Including Monday 21st April 2014

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 18th  |       | Eastleigh          |       | 40    | 11    | 9     | 20    | 43    | 51    | -8    | 42    |
| 19th  |       | Maidstone          |       | 40    | 10    | 12    | 18    | 41    | 71    | -30   | 42    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 20th  |       | Chelmsford         |       | 40    | 8     | 12    | 20    | 36    | 55    | -19   | 36    |
| 21st  |       | Bishop's Stortford |       | 40    | 9     | 9     | 22    | 42    | 64    | -22   | 36    |
| 22nd  | R     | Oxford City        |       | 40    | 5     | 7     | 28    | 28    | 91    | -63   | 22    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Tuesday 22nd April 2014
Malcolm Carr suffered a gashed leg in the second half of yesterdays match, and that will keep him out for anything up to two weeks, which may mean the end of his season. It was at this point that I realised out Physiotherapist at the club is none other than than former Wales International turned 'football pundit', Robbie Savage. Let's hope he doesn't start giving out fashion advice.

Thursday 24th April
The deal is done at last, and Marc Canham becomes a Maidstone United player finally. We have paid £4,000 for the 31 year old German born midfielder, which is a new Club Record Fee. He has signed through to the end of next season with a deal that will pay him £275 per week. He started his career with spells at Colchester United and AFC Bournemouth, before spending eight successful seasons with University side, Team Bath, who he is now in line to make his debut against on the weekend. He followed that with a season at Eastleigh last campaign, and as you know has been the Captain of Oxford City this season, a campaign that saw them relegated. Even so, he hit double figures for them in goals this season, and has now played almost 270 games in his career, with 49 goals and 52 assists.

Team Bath were expected to be on the fringes of a Playoff spot this season, but they have been disappointing on the whole, and are now facing a battle to cement a place in the top half of the table. They are currently on an eight match winless run that has seen them without a three point haul since a win at home to Weston-super-Mare in early March. The bookies have us as odds-on favourites to win this weekend, and if we get a point, we will be safe.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the League, as a Manager in the Blue Square South, I am required to vote for the Player of the Season from the ten man shortlist. Among the front runners are sought after (including by us) AFC Wimbledon left footer Michael Haswell, soon to be moving back to Ireland right winger Brian Gannon of Billericay Town, and Welling United's 22 year old Scottish forward James Forrest. But my vote goes to Stuart Beavon, who with his third successive twenty goal season for the club, has fired Weymouth to a comfortable Title Winning season, and automatic promotion straight back up to the National Division for next season.

Saturday 26th April

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Team Bath
Attendance :-
434. Weather :- Showers, 22c.

It's potentially a big day for us, which puts one hundred on the attendance at least. With Malcolm Carr injured, I move Ian Rossiter back into the defensive midfielder role, which allows Marc Canham to step right into the starting lineup for a debut against a club that is very close to his heart. There is one other change to our matchday squad amongst the substitutes, with Alan Dallas brought on to the bench in place of Lewis McMahon, the 18 year old Northern Irishman will also be hoping to make his United debut today.

The pitch at Bourne Park looks in an horrendous state, and we'll certainly have to look into having it relaid in the summer. In a much better state was our team, who started at a high pace, Daniel Walsh tricking his way past a couple of defenders and then playing a one-two with Marc Canham before sidefooting the ball into the bottom corner, unfortunately he didn't quite hold his run long enough, and he was flagged offside. Five minutes later he netted the ball again, Chris Wilkinson's corner was met by the head of James Curtis, and Walsh got a touch to divert it past Patrick Appleton, this one did count! We were starting to cause our visitors from the West Country some real problems, and midway through the half Jamie McMaster sent the ball wide into the path of Jack Collins. He beat Gregory Lake for pace, and then sent in a cross that was headed away from Walsh right at the last second. Next time we went forward Collins went into the box himself, but his shot swerved just wide of the near post. A second goal looked inevitable though, and it came right on half time, another Wilkinson corner, and Curtis didn't need any help this time, powering his header home to double our lead at the break. Things were looking pretty rosy right now.

I did have to make a change at the break, Wilkinson taking a knock late in the half and replaced by Martyn Giles. He would play at left back, with Mark Williams moved up the park onto the left wing. With things going quite well, I also brought off the jaded looking Ian Rossiter to allow Alan Dallas a debut. Not that it seemed to make much difference to us, Collins got past Adam Byrne easily, and then sent over a cross that McMaster threw himself at, connecting with a glancing diving header into the far bottom corner to click our lead up to 3-0, his first goal in our colours. Young Dallas was really enjoying himself in the midfield, and was grasping his chance to show what he could do as well. He brought down the ball with a beautiful first touch on the hour, twisting his way past a defender, and then letting a shot go that only just missed the target. Walsh took a knock and was replaced by Iain McMillan with a little under twenty minutes left. Moments later Collins set off on a mazy run from the right side of the park across the field. He was probing for a gap through the defence, and found one to play in an unlikely target, sub Martyn Giles. The centre back, who would usually be described as 'lumbering' when it came to goalscoring, showed that may not be the case, as he curled a left footed shot into the top corner to move our advantage out to four goals, and added himself to the list of players getting their first United goal today. Dallas sent in another shot that thumped the top of the cross bar on it's way over, before Collins sent a low free kick into the side netting. We didn't need to check the scores elsewhere though, it was job done for us.

Maidstone United (2) 4 - Daniel Walsh (8), James Curtis (45), Jamie McMaster (49), Martyn Giles (75)
Team Bath (0) 0
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Ian Rossiter (Alan Dallas 45); Marc Canham, Jamie McMaster; Jack Collins, Chris Wilkinson (inj - Martyn Giles 45); Daniel Walsh (inj - Iain McMillan 72).
Unused Substitutes :- Peter Hyton (GK), Gavin Molloy.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 60% - 40%. Man of the Match :- Jack Collins (Maidstone United).

If we can perform to anything like that level on a regular basis next season, then there will be no relegation fears to worry about whatsoever. And those fears are done for this season as well now, as with one match to go, we are officially safe, despite Chelmsford's win over Bishop's Stortford, as Eastleigh's draw with Eastbourne combined with our win condemns them both to the drop. We even move up a place as a bonus. There is still something to play for on the last day next Saturday as well, as we could yet move past two more teams to secure ourselves a higher League finish and some extra prize money.

That would literally just be a bonus though, as the job I was brought in to do is now done. I have got three more seasons on my contract here at United, and while things have not gone as I would have liked on the whole in this career so far, tonight is one where I can sit back with a beer and reflect on a job well done. Just two defeats and five wins from eight matches since I arrived, which is a win percentage up over and above the 60% mark. If we can pick up some good pieces to add to the squad this summer, next season should see some improvement in the clubs fortunes.

Chris Wilkinson wasn't too badly hurt in the match, but he did suffer a dead leg, and he is now doubtful for next weekends final match of the campaign.

2013/14 Blue Square League South Division Table (Bottom), Up To & Including Saturday 26th April 2014

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 15th  |       | Bognor Regis       |       | 41    | 15    | 5     | 21    | 52    | 57    | -5    | 50    |
| 16th  |       | AFC Hornchurch     |       | 41    | 13    | 8     | 20    | 41    | 65    | -24   | 47    |
| 17th  |       | Lewes              |       | 41    | 13    | 7     | 21    | 38    | 51    | -13   | 46    |
| 18th  |       | Maidstone          |       | 41    | 11    | 12    | 18    | 45    | 71    | -26   | 45    |
| 19th  |       | Eastleigh          |       | 41    | 11    | 10    | 20    | 43    | 51    | -8    | 43    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 20th  | R     | Chelmsford         |       | 41    | 9     | 12    | 20    | 38    | 56    | -18   | 39    |
| 21st  | R     | Bishop's Stortford |       | 41    | 9     | 9     | 23    | 43    | 66    | -23   | 36    |
| 22nd  | R     | Oxford City        |       | 41    | 6     | 7     | 28    | 29    | 91    | -62   | 25    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Thursday 1st May 2014
The last week of the season for most, Playoffs and Cup Finals notwithstanding, the World Cup is more of a spectator sport for almost everyone at this level. For us, after the jubilation and celebration of last weekend's big win that secured our Blue Square South status, it has been a quiet week. The only thing of note to record was a win for the Reserve side last night against Staines, the only goal scored by 21 year old Scottish left winger Willie Strachan, who is widely expected to leave the club at the end of the season.

We will play our final match of the season on Saturday, a home game with Bognor Regis Town, and a chance to move ourselves up the table by another spot or two possibly. The Board are satisfied with my short time in charge, particularly the win over rivals Dartford. The finances for the club don't look promising in terms of what I will likely get for next season's budgets. Right now, we have literally a couple of quid in the bank account.

Nonetheless, I start the process of identifying targets to try and improve our squad for the 2014/15 season, which will be on top of us before you know it. My predecessor Michael McIndoe signed off on two new players who are scheduled to arrive at the club on July 1st. If I have my way, they'll be back out the door before the calendar flips across to the next day. There is no way that either is going to help us improve in any way, shape or form. A couple of good prospects in the Youth Intake would be a huge help, but I'm not going to hold my breath for that.

Friday 2nd May
We are nailed on favourites to beat Bognor Regis Town tomorrow afternoon and end our season well, that is at least according to the bookies, who have made us an outrageous and unbackable 1/6 for the season ender tomorrow. Town have lost each of their last five matches, and come into the match sat in 15th place, with 50 points. That is much better than expected last summer though, as many predicted they would finish bottom of the table.

I have two former professional footballers in my backroom team right now, striker Robbie Blake who is my Assistant Manager, and midfielder Robbie Savage, who, as unlikely as it sounds, is the Physiotherapist at the club. Their contracts are out of kilter with the norm for a European football season, with both having October renewals, meaning they have less than six months remaining. Both are offered contract extensions, one is much more likely to stay than the other.

The rumours linking me with a move home to Wales with Port Talbot Town will just not go away. Ian Drewitt has still failed to agree a contract extension with the GenQuip Stadium club, and with a place in the UEFA Europa League Qualifiers achieved following their third place finish in the Principality Welsh Premier League, they are looking to enhance their reputation with a Manager who can take them on to the next level. They appear to be pinning their hopes on a kind draw allowing them to bank what would be a significant windfall in prize money for a club of their stature.

Saturday 3rd May

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Bognor Regis Town
Attendance :-
590. Weather :- Breezy, Wet, 18c.

If you are new to the UK, this is what Bank Holiday Weekend weather is generally like. Get used to it. I decided against making wholesale changes to the side for this dead rubber match, firstly because I still wanted us to have the chance to move up a spot or two in the table, and secondly because I didn't really have the players to bring in who would likely still be here next season to make it a worthwhile exercise. Martyn Giles does start at left back, with Mark Williams pushed further forward into the unfamiliar wingers role as a result of Chris Wilkinson being unavailable today due to injury. In the only other change, Alan Dallas would start in the defensive midfielder role, replacing Ian Rossiter who was named amongst the substitutes. There is one another change on the bench, with on loan centre back Daryl Potter named in the matchday squad.

From the outset it was pretty clear that Bognor Regis had no real interest in this match at all. Martyn Giles sent the ball down the left touchline just ninety seconds in, and Mark Williams had his first chance to show what he could do on the left wing. He skipped past a lame attempt at a tackle, and fizzed in a low cross towards the penalty spot, Marc Canham stepped over it to let the ball run, and Jamie McMaster connected with a side footed shot that was just a little too high. Williams would have another chance to cross around the quarter of an hour mark, this time picking out Daniel Walsh, the striker having the ball taken off his toe just as he prepared to send in his shot. Midway through the half, we counter attacked from a Town corner, Andy Miskimmon sending the ball up the park, and Walsh chased it down, forcing a mistake. McMaster got the ball back to Walsh, and the striker squared it for Marc Canham, his shot beating Gareth Hammond, but coming back off the cross bar. We continued to press for the opener, with little push back from our visitors, McMaster sending a curler just wide on the half hour, before an attempted clearance by Phil Pearce was fired right at Canham, and the ball ricocheted into the run of Walsh, denied this time by the legs of Hammond. Finally, with time running out in the first half, Miskimmon sent Jack Collins into space down the right flank. His cross picked out Canham, who's header was blocked by a defender. But the ball went right back to the midfielder, and this time he picked out the bottom corner to put us in front with his first goal in United's colours.

Miskimmon injured himself while starting the passage of play that led to the goal. With no reason at all to risk the Northern Irishman, he was replaced by Ian Rossiter at the break. Town were showing no signs of changing their attitude or approach to this match, and we resorted to giving Josh Derry some work to do ourselves, with some back passes from range. Aussie midfielder McMaster was thoroughly enjoying himself, and he set off on a mazy run that started just inside the centre circle, and got him as far as the dead ball line on the right before he stood up a cross to the middle, unfortunately it fell between Walsh and Canham. Also enjoying himself was Alan Dallas, who won a free kick just outside the box that Collins whipped just wide of the target. Town managed the briefest of threats just after the hour mark, a corner sent into our penalty box was headed well wide by Stephen Harris. With twenty five minutes of the season to play, I made my final two changes, Aaron Steele replaced by on loan Daryl Potter for his United debut, and McMaster stepping aside for fellow Aussie midfielder Gavin Molloy. Their fellow sub Rossiter picked up a booking when Town tried a long range counter attack, the utility player taking one for the team on that occasion. A chance to increase the lead was wasted when Canham's volley was too close to Hammond, disappointing as he had well over half the unguarded goalmouth to try and hit, while Molloy's first touch let him down and cost him a good chance when Dallas picked him out with a precise pass. Walsh missed a chance late on when Potter's hoofed clearance left him one on one with Harris. He out muscled the defender, then tricked his way past him, only to send his shot inches past the intended target of the far top corner. Then deep into the injury time we would at last make the scoreboard a closer resemblance to this one sided match, Rossiter working hard on the right corner of the box to keep the ball, and then squared it into the path of Dallas. The teenage Northern Irish holding man hit it first time with a low curling shot that crept inside the upright for his first Senior goal, and a very nice way to finish the campaign!

Maidstone United (1) 2 - Marc Canham (43), Alan Dallas (90+3)
Bognor Regis Town (0) 0
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon (inj - Ian Rossiter 45) ©, Aaron Steele (Daryl Potter 65), James Curtis, Martyn Giles; Alan Dallas; Marc Canham, Jamie McMaster (Gavin Molloy 65); Jack Collins, Mark Williams; Daniel Walsh.
Unused Substitutes :- Peter Hylton (GK), Iain McMillan.
Bookings :- Ian Rossiter 72
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Alan Dallas (Maidstone United).

Well that was very one sided, much more so than the score suggests. A great way to finish the season, and with just one defeat in the nine matches I took charge of at the end of the season, we picked up six wins, two draws and only one defeat to comfortably avoid relegation in the end.

Alan Dallas was superb today, the 18 year old running the game from the holding role, spraying the ball around the park, making tackles to break up play, and then finding the net late on to score his first ever Senior goal and ensure that he will be talked about by The Stones faithful over the summer as one of the players to keep an eye on next season at Bourne Park. In fact, with Malcolm Carr also in the squad, we look very well set in that position.

That final day win moved us up one spot in the final League Table for a 17th place finish. It was AFC Hornchurch that we leapfrogged, significant in that they were the other side promoted into this Division who managed to survive at this level, the third being Oxford City who have been relegated. That means we were the best of the three promoted teams, a small feather in our cap in a season where any crumb of comfort is gratefully taken.

I'm glad I took off Andy Miskimmon when I did. The right back suffered a groin strain that will take around three weeks to fully recover from, but with the season now finished, that is not an issue for anyone.

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Posted (edited)

2013/14 Blue Square League South Division, Final Table

| Pos   | Inf   | Team               |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | C     | Weymouth           |       | 42    | 26    | 9     | 7     | 72    | 31    | +41   | 87    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   | Pl    | Staines            |       | 42    | 23    | 8     | 11    | 64    | 41    | +23   | 77    |
| 3rd   | Pl    | Billericay         |       | 42    | 21    | 13    | 8     | 62    | 37    | +25   | 76    |
| 4th   | Pl    | Forest Green       |       | 42    | 19    | 17    | 6     | 71    | 44    | +27   | 74    |
| 5th   | Pl    | Dartford           |       | 42    | 20    | 11    | 11    | 62    | 46    | +16   | 71    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 6th   |       | Maidenhead         |       | 42    | 19    | 11    | 12    | 59    | 47    | +12   | 68    |
| 7th   |       | Basingstoke        |       | 42    | 20    | 8     | 14    | 57    | 50    | +7    | 68    |
| 8th   |       | Hampton & Richmond |       | 42    | 18    | 11    | 13    | 63    | 54    | +9    | 65    |
| 9th   |       | Welling            |       | 42    | 18    | 10    | 14    | 67    | 47    | +20   | 64    |
| 10th  |       | Dover              |       | 42    | 17    | 9     | 16    | 58    | 56    | +2    | 60    |
| 11th  |       | AFC Wimbledon      |       | 42    | 15    | 12    | 15    | 55    | 49    | +6    | 57    |
| 12th  |       | Eastbourne Boro    |       | 42    | 14    | 14    | 14    | 50    | 56    | -6    | 56    |
| 13th  |       | Team Bath          |       | 42    | 15    | 10    | 17    | 54    | 58    | -4    | 55    |
| 14th  |       | Weston-super-Mare  |       | 42    | 14    | 9     | 19    | 53    | 55    | -2    | 51    |
| 15th  |       | Bognor Regis       |       | 42    | 15    | 5     | 22    | 52    | 59    | -7    | 50    |
| 16th  |       | Lewes              |       | 42    | 14    | 7     | 21    | 39    | 51    | -12   | 49    |
| 17th  |       | Maidstone          |       | 42    | 12    | 12    | 18    | 47    | 71    | -24   | 48    |
| 18th  |       | AFC Hornchurch     |       | 42    | 13    | 8     | 21    | 41    | 66    | -25   | 47    |
| 19th  |       | Eastleigh          |       | 42    | 12    | 10    | 20    | 44    | 51    | -7    | 46    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 20th  | R     | Chelmsford         |       | 42    | 9     | 13    | 20    | 39    | 57    | -18   | 40    |
| 21st  | R     | Bishop's Stortford |       | 42    | 10    | 9     | 23    | 45    | 66    | -21   | 39    |
| 22nd  | R     | Oxford City        |       | 42    | 6     | 8     | 28    | 30    | 92    | -62   | 26    |
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Posted (edited)

2013/14 Maidstone United Squad Stats (All Competitions)

| Name              | Apps   | Conc | Cln  | MoM  | Pas  | Tck  | Drb  | Sh T | Yel  | Red  | Av Rat |

| Tom Brooks        | 30     | 57   | 4    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.80   |*
| Peter Hylton      | 6 (1)  | 1    | 1    | -    | 33%  | 0.31 | -    | -    | 1    | -    | 6.33   |
| Josh Derry        | 9      | -    | -    | -    | 51%  | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.83   |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                    | Apps   | Gls  | Ast  | MoM  | Pas  | Tck  | Drb  | Sh T | Yel  | Red  | Av Rat |

| Mark Williams     | 16     | 3    | 3    | 1    | 64%  | 2.80 | 1.24 | -    | 3    | -    | 6.76   |
| Martyn Giles      | 1 (3)  | 1    | -    | -    | 68%  | 3.15 | 1.89 | -    | -    | -    | 7.55   |
| Aaron Steele      | 8      | -    | -    | -    | 67%  | 4.63 | -    | -    | -    | -    | 7.00   |
| Daryl Potter      | 0 (1)  | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.80   |
| Grant Hanley      | 16     | -    | -    | 1    | 72%  | 2.01 | 0.19 | -    | 2    | -    | 6.13   |
| James Curtis      | 8      | 2    | -    | 1    | 53%  | 4.25 | 0.13 | -    | -    | -    | 7.15   |
| Matthew Mkhwanazi | 26     | -    | 1    | -    | 71%  | 1.88 | 0.08 | -    | 5    | -    | 5.67   |
| Andy Miskimmon    | 9      | -    | 1    | 1    | 67%  | 5.88 | 2.00 | -    | -    | -    | 6.91   |
| Steve Reid        | 10 (4) | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 5.41   |*
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Malcolm Carr      | 5      | -    | -    | -    | 66%  | 6.06 | -    | -    | 1    | -    | 6.88   |
| Ian Rossiter      | 40 (3) | 8    | 4    | 2    | 70%  | 1.83 | 0.74 | 49%  | 5    | -    | 6.48   |
| Chris Wilkinson   | 7      | -    | 2    | -    | 67%  | 1.77 | 3.38 | -    | -    | -    | 6.70   |
| Alan Dallas       | 1 (1)  | 1    | -    | 1    | 68%  | 2.00 | 0.67 | -    | -    | -    | 7.30   |
| Chris Pike        | 12 (3) | -    | 1    | -    | 58%  | 1.28 | 0.24 | 27%  | -    | 1    | 6.03   |
| Alan Winter       | 15 (1) | 1    | 5    | -    | 70%  | 0.14 | 0.07 | 58%  | 5    | -    | 6.10   |
| Brian McAuley     | 35     | 1    | 3    | 1    | 62%  | -    | 0.18 | 36%  | 5    | -    | 5.89   |
| Nick Dunn         | 15 (4) | 1    | 3    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.01   |*
| Gavin Molloy      | 0 (3)  | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.80   |
| Marc Canham       | 2      | 1    | -    | -    | 74%  | 3.00 | -    | -    | -    | -    | 7.40   |
| Jamie McMaster    | 8      | 1    | 2    | -    | 75%  | 3.30 | 0.82 | -    | -    | -    | 6.92   |
| Lewis McMahon     | 1 (2)  | -    | -    | -    | 53%  | -    | 2.35 | -    | -    | -    | 6.75   |
| Glen Logan        | 5 (5)  | 1    | 2    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 5.81   |*
| Jack Collins      | 7      | -    | 8    | 1    | 66%  | 2.48 | 7.28 | -    | -    | -    | 7.33   |
| Matthew Hatch     | 2      | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.99 | -    | -    | -    | 6.90   |
| Stuart Milne      | 8 (7)  | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 5.46   |*
| Willie Strachan   | 15 (1) | 1    | -    | -    | 48%  | 0.28 | 0.71 | -    | 2    | -    | 5.81   |
| Ray Fitzgerald    | 0 (1)  | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.40   |*
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Daniel Boateng    | 0 (3)  | -    | -    | -    | 52%  | -    | 0.99 | -    | -    | -    | 6.40   |
| Daniel Walsh      | 6 (1)  | 5    | 1    | 1    | 74%  | 1.00 | 1.83 | 63%  | -    | -    | 7.17   |
| Iain McMillan     | 25 (2) | 9    | 1    | 4    | 50%  | 0.12 | 0.61 | 43%  | 3    | -    | 6.62   |
| Gavin Doherty     | 6 (5)  | 1    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.16   |*
| Simon Smith       | 11 (2) | -    | -    | -    | 50%  | -    | 0.29 | 35%  | -    | -    | 5.42   |
| Jamie Waggett     | 12 (4) | 2    | 0    | 1    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 6.26   |*
| Neil O'Leary      | 4 (7)  | 1    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | -    | 5.52   |*
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Denotes player no longer at the club and stats are incomplete

 

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Sunday 4th May 2014
The rest of May is going to be four weeks of managing our squad, identifying targets to improve us for next season, and also keeping an eye on management movements as well in case any opportunities to move up the Divisions comes my way as a result of my work with Maidstone United over the final weeks of the 2013/14 campaign. I will also be spending some time in touch with my staff in India, with an International Squad selection to be made in early June ready for a Friendly with the Philippines.

Malcolm Carr is back in training after missing the last couple of games of the season. The former Luton Town youngster has been impressive in his opening few games with the club, and now his focus will be on making sure he is prepared for next season.

In the backroom, 40 year old Scout for the club Andy Crook has signed a new two year deal to stay at Bourne Park. He has been with the club since October, and is very under rated, not to mention underpaid in my opinion. I'm going to be relying on him a lot this summer if we are to get plenty of bang for our pretty limited bucks.

Robbie Blake looks like he is going to be on his way from the club though. The Assistant Manager, and former striker with 163 Senior goals to his name in the Premier League and Football League, has rejected a contract extension that included a pay rise. While his contract for his first ever backroom staff role isn't up until the end of October, I would rather get the situation dealt with and clarified this summer than make the change a couple of months into the new season.

Monday 5th May
There are no such issues for our other former top flight player amongst the backroom staff. 39 times capped Welsh International midfielder turned Physiotherapist for us, Robbie Savage, has signed a new two year deal to remain at the club in his current role. 

Wednesday 7th May
The curtain comes down on football at all levels for Maidstone United in 2013/14 as the Reserve side complete their fixture list this evening. They win 1-0 at Bourne Park against their counterparts from Team Bath, thanks to a goal from Simon Smith ten minutes before the break. While I can take none of the credit, other than strengthening the Reserve squad by demoting players from the First Team who were no longer needed, the Reserves have lost just one of their last six matches, a game against AFC Wimbledon less than a week after I arrived. Two draws, then three wins followed, and they moved into a more respectable 14th placed finish in the eighteen club Reserve League Group 10.

Friday 9th May
The Playoff Semi-Finals start this evening, with the First Leg matches often producing tight and cagey affairs. That was certainly the case in Nailsworth, where Forest Green Rovers first half opener was cancelled out in the second half by Billericay Town, leaving all to play for in the Second Leg. But it was less so the case in Dartford, as a bumper crowd were treated to seeing the home side go in front early against Staines Town and saw their lead hold until the break. But the second half was all one way traffic, Staines scoring three in twelve early second half minutes and taking a two goal lead into the Second Leg.

Tuesday 13th May
In a much quieter match than the First Leg, it would be Staines Town who booked their place in the Blue Square South Promotion Playoff Final with a 0-0 draw at home to a Dartford side that never got going. So one of our nearest rivals had missed out on promotion, and we would be seeing them again next season. In Essex, the other tie was much more finely poised, and having come from behind to earn a draw in the First Leg, it would be Billericay Town who would move on to the Final against Staines, courtesy of a goal from Alan Lynch just before the half hour mark. Personally, I'd have rather seen the Gloucestershire side go up, as Forest Green Rovers absolutely destroyed us in the match I watched before taking the job here.

Wednesday 21st May
Andy Miskimmon was an ever present for the remainder of the season after I brought the Northern Irish full back to Kent shortly after taking the job. He was injured in our final match of the season, and is now back in training less than a week before the squad disperse for their summer break. I've little doubt that Andy will be an important player for us going forward.

Monday 19th May
It's Derby County who are in the news once again today. The Rams finished fourth in their first ever season outside the Football League, and squeezed through their Playoff Semi-Final against Kidderminster Harriers with a 3-2 aggregate win, though they did win the FA Trophy in between those two legs, beating Crawley Town 3-1 at Wembley. So yesterday they returned to English football's National Stadium for the second time in eight days to face Ebbsfleet United for a place in the Football League next season. United finished fifth, level on points with County, but they blew away their more famous opponents with three goals in opening 50 minutes. A late consolation was no more than that for Derby, who now face a second season of non-League football.

That, as you can imagine, has heaped the pressure on Lurgan born Ulsterman manager, Jim Harvey. The 56 year old is contracted for two more seasons having been poached from Forest Green Rovers less than a month ago. I've said it before, and I will repeat it now, should the opportunity to take a job like that come along, I would be foolish to turn it down. This time I'm prepared to go a step further though, as I make public comments suggesting that Harvey is not equipped to handle a big job such as Derby County, and that should they decide to make a change, they should look no further than myself. The worst that can happen is they tell me to get lost.

Sunday 25th May
The squad have been paid out a bonus of £600 between them today after the curtain came down on the Blue Square South season with the Promotion Playoff Final being settled at the Kingsfield Stadium, home of Blue Sqaure Premier side Woking. In front of a crowd of just over 4,000, a goal apiece from Michael Standing and Ashley Yeoman around a quarter of an hour apart in the first half meant it would be Staines who would move up into the top flight of English non-League football, and Billericay would stay in the sixth tier in the battle between the two Town sides.

Monday 26th May
It is officially the end of the season, and the players have gone on their holiday. They are due to return to the club on Monday 30th June for pre-season training. Some won't be coming back at all, as their contracts will be up on that day and they won't be extended.

Wednesday 28th May
I make my first attempt in earnest of the off-season to strengthen the squad, with an attempt to bring in 24 year old Team Bath defender Matthew Lowton. Equally adept at either centre back or right back, the 6'2 former Sheffield United youngster is out of contract next month, and I made an offer to bring him in on a Free Transfer. I was surprised when that offer was rejected, yet the one from Irish side Waterford United was accepted. Lowton has made over 100 Senior appearances in his career so far, loan spells with Sheffield FC and Fernecváros of Hungary, before he moved to Ireland for a year with University College Dublin, then moving on to Kiladre County for a year before returning to UCD for a second spell. That set the tone, as he has moved in each of the last three seasons in England, playing for York City, then Stalybridge Celtic, and now Team Bath. They want us to pay £5,000 for his transfer. We'll wait to see if he is still available when his contract runs down.

Saturday 31st May
In a month's time, nine of my players will be out of contract. Four of them, Ian Rossiter, Aaron Steele, Gavin Molloy and Matthew Hatch, have now been offered new deals. The other five are free to leave. Clubs in England have started to release players from today, as players enter the last month of their contracts and can be easily paid up and moved out to improve the state of the club books with new budgets etc soon to be agreed. I start to go through the lists to see if we can find any talents who could do a good job for us at Bourne Park in level six of English football.

Today we have received £6,000 from Northern Irish Premier Division side Glentoran, part of our agreement with them as our parent club that allows them first option on any of our players should we decide to sell. With Lurgan Celtic clinching promotion back to the Premier Division for next season, the impact of this certainly isn't lost on me. Six years into my career, and my current club are a feeder team for a club in the same Division as the side I started my career with. That stings.

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Sunday 1st June 2014
Don't be mistaken, while the India game on the weekend was taking up a lot of my attention right now, there was still plenty of work being done back at Bourne Park to make sure Maidstone United are ready for the 2014/15 campaign in a couple of months time.

Chris Pike played 15 times in all competitions for the First Team last season, and now 17 years old, the utility midfielder has signed a new one year deal. The backroom staff really like him, and think he isn't too far away from being considered a part of the squad. It might be a good idea to have him involved with the Reserve and Youth teams when we get our new influx of young players over the next few weeks.

The Board are satisfied with how things are currently playing out at the club. The signing of James Curtis has been hailed at Boardroom level as 'extremely pleasing'. The club lost £15,000 or thereabouts last month. That leaves the finances looking fairly miserable right now, in the red to the tune of around £14,500. There doesn't seem too much concern right now, there will be season ticket, sponsorship and merchandise money going into the pot over the coming weeks and months. A couple of high profile home Friendly games wouldn't go amiss at all though.

Monday 2nd June
James Curtis may be the player who the Board are most delighted with right now, but I bet Aaron Steele isn't too far behind him. The Canadian centre back was very reliable in his time with us at the end of the season, and he has now signed a one year extension to keep him at the club for next season on a wage of £250 per week.

Also signing a one year extension late in the day was a fan favourite of the United faithful, Ian Rossiter. The 33 year old right sided Irishman chipped in with eight League goals last season, which proved vital to the club after his arrival last summer from across the Irish Sea. His wage has dropped to £50 a week as well.

We have missed out on our first summer target however. The attempt to improve our defence with the signature of Matthew Lowton from Team Bath has failed, as the 24 year old has elected to have a second spell back in Ireland, signing instead on a Free Transfer for Waterford United, who currently top the Irish First Divison, the second tier of football there.

Wednesday 4th June
After a solid amount of work was done over the last two days, and keen to get things moving before I fly off to India later tonight, a group of players have all received contract offers to play for Maidstone United next season. I am more hopeful for some than I am for others, but almost all would improve our First Team options right now. I'm quickly informed that our offer to a striker amongst that group has already led to increased interest in his services. Two of the other players are currently with clubs, and we have had offers accepted for them, with personal term negotiations now underway.

Another contract extension has been signed today, and it's an Irishman once again. Right winger Matthew Hatch has dismissed talk of him returning to play in Wales again with Prestatyn Town, and has signed a new one year deal with us to keep him at the club for next season. Hatch will be paid £50 a week.

With new signings, hopefully, imminent, today is as good a time as any to release the players who I don't intend to keep when their deals expire at the end of this month. They get paid early and can start searching for a new club, and we get them off the wage bill to free up some space for potential incoming players. Six leave right away, Matthew Mkhwanazi, Alan Winter, Brian McAuley, Willie Strachan, Daniel Boateng and Simon Smith.

Thursday 5th June
The first signing is done, and it is one that is probably more for the future, though our limited depth will likely see chances for Richard Anderson to play at times next season as well. A 19 year old centre back who stands 6'3 tall, he ranks well for bravery, determination, work rate and positioning. With good pace and jumping ability too, he still has plenty of time to improve the technical aspects of his game such as marking and tackling. He is from Brighton, and has spent the last three seasons with them, playing twice in Coca-Cola League One last season for his hometown club. It's a three year deal at £100 per week.

Friday 6th June
I'm in India by now of course, but news reaches me that a second summer signing is completed, and I look forward on my return to Kent to saying hello once again to a player I'm signing for a second time. 25 year old left sided utility player Adam Campbell signed for me at Ayr United on Deadline Day in January 2011. He stayed at the club for eighteen months, playing only seven times under myself in his first half season in Scotland. In summer 2012 he left to join Fleetwood Town of the Northern Premier League, where he has spent the last two seasons, playing 66 times, scoring seven goals and assisting a further ten. It is still up for debate whether he is best at full back or on the wing, but the ability to cover either is a good option for us.

It was turning into a big day for the club too, as a second signing of the day arrived later on to further strengthen our options in defence. This time the signing is 19 year old Alex Sawyer, a right back who is brought in to provide some competition to Andy Miskimmon. 5'10 tall, and also able to cover at centre back if needed, Sawyer hails from the Lincolnshire village of Marston, and has spent the last two seasons as a youngster on the books of Premier League club Middlesbrough. He is very quick, and far more attacking than Miskimmon, while not necessarily at the expense of the defensive side of the game. He looks like he has been well taught under the tutelage of Gary Bennett, Curtis Fleming and Terry Mulgrew, the trio of Youth Coaches at the Riverside Stadium, all of which are held in high regard by Sawyer. It's a two year deal at £100 per week. The fans are delighted with this signing.

We are not quite done for the day either, still having time to fit in a contract renewal, with Australian midfielder Gavin Molloy putting his signature on a one year extension to keep him at Bourne Park next season, agreeing to reduce his wage to £50 a week as well to secure his future for 2014/15.

Saturday 7th June
Yesterday was a big day at the club, and it would have been even bigger had we not missed out on Welsh striker Josh Knight late yesterday evening. The 23 year old former Under-21 International is leaving Wrexham on a Free Transfer, but he has rejected a move to us, instead signing to play for The New Saints, this season's Welsh Premier League Runner's Up. They are forced into rebuild mode with no less than six of their First Team players leaving this summer.

Not to worry, we made up for it this morning with another new arrival, 19 year old Gary Murray. The Rochdale lad is a right back by trade, but obviously we haven't brought him in for that role. He can play anywhere on the right or through the middle in defence, wing back, holding role, winger or centre midfielder. That's some pretty handy versatility from the player who has just been released by Bradford City after making his Senior debut for them this season in Coca-Cola League One, his third campaign at Valley Parade. He's the determined and reliable kind of player who hustles the ball carrier and doesn't give them a moments peace that most good sides have. Once more, we have some very happy fans for getting this deal done.

By the time the day is done, the fate of two strikers we were chasing has been decided as well. The one we really wanted, 6'4 tall 19 year old former Manchester City youngster, Graham Murray, has knocked us back, which is a bit of a blow, as I had him down as a player that would potentially bag 20-25 goals next season for us. We were beaten to his signature by AFC Hornchurch though, they offered him a bigger contract than we could afford to get his name on a two year deal.

We do get a striker signed today however, though he is a bit of a punt on being one for the future. The name of our new 17 year old hitman is Stefan Anderson, who hails from Scone, a village in the central Scotland region of Perth & Kinross. He came to the attention of one of my Scouting team after scoring 13 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions in his debut Senior season for East of Scotland Division One side, Gretna FC 2008. Just like our other target Murray, he's 6'4 tall, and while he is far from the finished article as a striker, he has a lot of good qualities for his age. One to keep an eye on I'd say. He is only prepared to commit to a one year deal right now, so we will see how he gets on, his wage coming out at £60 per week.

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Sunday 8th June 2014
My name still continues to be linked with other jobs, and this one is outside of the UK, with a potential return to Eastern Europe. The linked club this time is Hungarian fallen giants and twelve times former National Champions and six times National Cup Winners of Budapest Honvéd. Relegated at the end of the 2012/13 season, they have now only managed to finish Runner's-Up in Division II-East, failing to earn the sole promotion spot on offer. Now they have an unhappy dressing room, full of players who were expecting to be back in the top tier this season. Three have already agreed moves, and several more are expected to follow them out of the door. That doesn't stop me being intrigued. If they want to talk, I'll listen.

While I'm thinking about what might be 1,000 miles away elsewhere, there are five new arrivals on their way to sign for Maidstone United, and some very happy fans after the business we have got done today. The first is a winger who can operate on either side of the park, though 19 year old Mark Smith is predominantly right footed. Born in Winterton near Scunthorpe, he isn't blessed with elite pace, but he does send over a pretty good cross. Two seasons with Birmingham City didn't manage to produce a Senior debut for him, but he will be more useful in our squad.

Two more arrive in short order around lunch time, both recruits for our defensive options. We have gone all cosmopolitan for the first signing, well, sort of. 18 year old left back Fernando Maia is Portuguese, born in Leiria, with a football education in, errmmmm, Middlesbrough. Yep, he arrived in England's North East two years ago, and was a Youth Team colleague at the Riverside Stadium of fellow new signing, Alex Sawyer. He's a bit of a rough diamond, but might be an interesting lad to keep an eye on. Also arriving is 19 year old centre back Shaun Culverhouse, a six footer who was released a year ago by the club that have just created a huge shock by claiming a place in the Premier League, that being Plymouth Argyle. The Stamford born teenager has plenty to learn, but he is keen and has enthusiasm by the bucket load.

Number four is on his way, and he has had the furthest to travel, having already travelled quite some way in his career. 31 year old Gordon Chin was always told that at 5'4, football, or soccer, was not going to be his game. He didn't listen, and won sixteen caps for Canada Youth while learning his trade at then Coca-Cola Championship club Portsmouth. His domestic career was nowhere near as successful as his International one, and he headed back to his homelands Pacific Coast, the boy from Burnaby, British Columbia signing for Vancouver Whitecaps and debuting for them in 2003. A season with Edmonton FC earned him a move back to England with Halifax in the Blue Square Premier. That didn't go to plan either though, and it was back to North America for more successful spells with Toronto Lynx first, and then south of the border with Charleston Battery. The money isn't up to much in North America if you're not in the MLS, so he gave Asia a try, signing first for Yantai Yiteng in China's First Division in 2008, moving onto Nanchang Bayi a year later in the same Division and playing over 80 times for them over three years. It would be back to Canada for the centre midfielder who can also play on the right if needed, playing fifteen games in a season and a bit for Montreal Impact, playing the best football of his career. Now he has a third shot at making it in the UK, this time as a 31 year old. He has a strange, and as yet unexplained fascination with Barcelona SC of Ecuador.

Finally in through the door today is a striker. 19 year old Jack Deeney isn't too different from the other front men we have, he's 6'4, over 14 stone, can hold the ball up well, and is pretty hard to knock off it once it's in his possession too. Born in Hinckley, he comes highly recommended by both Gary Brazil and Mark Pembridge, who believe he was unlucky to be let go by Premier Division club, Fulham.

Monday 9th June
My efforts to bring in Karan Mollah from my National Pool of players in India across to the UK from his French club AS Poissy has hit stoney ground. Mainly that the club that are about to fall from the fourth tier into non-League oblivion want to see the colour of our money before they allow us to speak to what they suddenly consider to be a very talented young midfielder. At £7,250, we can't swing that deal, and our interest is on the back burner for now.

Tuesday 10th June
Our attempt to bring in an alternative midfielder to Mollah fails, and a guy who would have likely become the best player in our squad by quite some way. Australian/Estonian midfielder Erik Paartalu has rejected a new contract offer from Greenock Morton of the Scottish First Division, and seems quite prepared to allow his contract to run down, which will happen in less than three weeks. He has rejected an offer from us, stating that it would be too much of a step down, but I fully intend keeping a close eye on his situation.

Tuesday 17th June
After a fairly quiet week for us, the busy period picks back up today. It starts pretty sedately, with the news that 19 year old centre back Daryl Potter has completed his loan spell with us, and returns back to Brentford, where it is starting to look like the Coca-Cola League Two side will not offer him a contract renewal with less than two weeks remaining on his deal.

Then comes the good news, as I secure another new signing. We have just got the contract back from one of my main summer targets, as we beat Bognor Regis Town to the signing of AFC Wimbledon left back, Michael Haswell. The 30 year old left footer who will join us in two weeks when his contract expires, is coming off the best season of his career, scoring four goals and eight assists in 28 League games at this level for the hometown club he joined as a 16 year old, and arrived back at after the relocation of that club to Milton Keynes, as he came back to play for their reincarnation following spells at Southend United, Grays Athletic and Chelmsford City amongst others. He played 276 League matches for AFC Wimbledon, scoring ten goals, assisting on 55 others, maintaining a very good average rating and captaining the club for the last three seasons. I'm delighted he'll be wearing a Maidstone United shirt next season.

Wednesday 18th June
The clubs attempts to get a 'glamour pre-season fixture' have failed miserably, with the only Football League club we spoke to, Coca-Cola League Two side Notts County, rejecting our offer. Instead our pre-season schedule starts away to Beaconsfield SYCOB on Saturday 12th July, and is followed on Tuesday 15th July by our only home Friendly match, against Nuneaton Town. A week later we are back on our travels, with games at AFC Sudbury, followed by Gloucester City two days later. Eight days after that we complete pre-season on Friday 1st August with a trip to Kingstonian. No, no glamour whatsoever, just like I said.

Thursday 19th June
Scottish First Division club Queen of the South have made an offer to Erik Paartalu. The chances are we are going to struggle to compete with whatever they are offering him, and that deal looks unlikely to go our way. More likely to go in our favour is an attempt to bring in a Free Agent winger who has just been released by his club of three years after his Youth Contract expired, and the level of teams attempting to bring him in is probably a lot lower than he expected.

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2014 FIFA World Cup
Qualifying Round Up

Africa
First Round
The lowest ten ranked African nations were split into five two legged ties for for first of three rounds of Qualifying in Africa. With some of the weaker nations facing off, it would make for some exciting games, but nothing particularly by the way of shocks.

Progressing :- Mauritius, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Swaziland & Guinea-Bissau

Eliminated :- Sao Tomé & Principe, Comoros, Seychelles, Somalia & Djibouti

Second Round
Into the first of two Group Phases in an unnecessarily long and complicated format, which does at least give some of the lower ranked and less talented nations the chance to mix it with the big boys, with some success at times as well. Twelve groups of four, with the winners and eight best runner's-up to progress into the final Third Round stage.

Ghana had Group 1 very much their way, with only a surprise draw at home to Mauritania stopping them finishing with a perfect record. Uganda and Botswana were not pushovers either though, and that prevented anyone else from this Group progressing. Togo started Group 2 as favourites, and started well, winning their first three before being held in Burkina Faso, getting back to winning ways at home to Malawi, and having the job done before they lost in Sudan. Once more, none of the other nations were good enough to claim one of the eight lucky loser spots. Mali opened Group 3 with a loss in Gambia, but then conceded only one more goal in their next five matches, scoring twenty three at the other end with big wins over Gabon and Sierra Leone. Retribution was also earned, as Gambia were hammered 6-0 in Mali, but four wins were enough for them to progress as well.

Group 4 saw the first Group with two heavyweights facing each other, Algeria and Egypt both drawn into this section, joining Liberia and Guinea-Bissau in a real tough looking Group. Both of the favourites dropped points with draws against Liberia in the first two rounds, before Algeria seized the initiative with a win against Egypt. Both earned big wins in round four, but when Egypt were again held by Liberia, their hopes were really in the balance. They hosted Algeria, who were now confirmed as Qualified in the last round of matches, and a draw meant that Egypt would crash out early. Group 5 was probably a lot closer than many expected, with South Africa expected to be the class side of the Group. They beat Libya in the opener, and the two drew the return match in the only points they would then drop going forward, Namibia and Swaziland providing no competition, and South Africa win the Group, with Libya also going through. Group 6 was not much different, Niger and Ethiopia well out of their depth against two much better and more fancied nations in Cameroon and DR Congo. They drew the two matches against each other, and both won their other four, Cameroon winning the section on goal difference, thanks to putting nine past Niger, while DR Congo also progressed.

Group 7 pitted not just two, but three very capable nations against each other in one of the more intriguing Groups. Feel sorry for Lesotho, who would have to deal with Ivory Coast, Guinea and Congo in their Group. Guinea took the early momentum, but then Congo beat Ivory Coast and Guinea, but were then held in Lesotho. That result let the other two back in, and Guinea won the Group, which ended with them level on points and goal difference with Ivory Coast. The fact they had scored one goal more was enough, and the Ivorians has to make do with squeezing through, while Congo were eliminated. Group 8 was expected to be a breeze for Morocco, but Equatorial Guinea had other ideas. The pair swept through their opening two games against Tanzania and Mauritius. Then Morocco lost in Equatorial Guinea, and all bets were off. The pair met again in September 2012, and this time Morocco won, turning over the goal difference at the same time, which won them the Group, with their new rival progressing along with them. Group 9 gave us the first perfect record, and it came from Morocco's rivals in North Africa, as Tunisia went six for six against Benin, Rwanda and Madagascar. That run meant Benin failed to secure enough points to gain a lucky loser place.

Group 10 provided no shocks, and another perfect record. Senegal stormed to a perfect record, and Zambia took second place as expected. The difference between Benin and Zambia was that the Group 10 side, amongst the rising nations of African football, managed to win each of their remaining four matches, and they progress on to the Third Round. Kenya and Eritrea were eliminated as a result. Group 11 threw up a shock, as Mozambique won their opening five matches, including a surprise 2-1 win over Nigeria, who had already lost to Burundi in their Group opener. A goalless draw in the penultimate match in the Central African Republic left Nigeria in real danger of joining Egypt on the casualty list, but they saved it right at the death, thrashing already Qualified nation Mozambique 5-0 to just about make it into the Third Round on goal difference. Group 12 also had what many would consider to be a shock. Cape Verde won the Group with five wins out of six, losing only to surprise package Zimbabwe. They took the spot that Angola were thought to be the main contenders for, but it was a poor showing from them. Chad finished bottom with no points.

Progressing :- Ghana, Togo, Mali, Gambia, Algeria, South Africa, Libya, Cameroon, DR Congo, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, Tunisia, Senegal, Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cape Verde & Zimbabwe.

Eliminated :- Mauritania, Uganda, Botswana, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, Swaziland, Niger, Ethiopia, Congo, Lesotho, Tanzania, Mauritius, Benin, Rwanda, Madagascar, Kenya, Eritrea, Burundi, Central African Republic, Angola & Chad.

Third Round
So this is it. The final round of Qualifiers. Five groups of four, with only the Winners of each Group taking their place in the World Cup Finals to represent Africa. There would be shocks.

The first might be Nigeria, at least based on their Second Round form anyway. They were drawn into Group One with Togo and Guinea, with Cape Verde the fourth side allocated into that Group. The Super Eagles got off to a flying start, beating Togo at home, but they were then brought right back down to earth, thumped 5-0 in Guinea. They pulled it right back, beating Cape Verde and Guinea comprehensively at home, before securing their place in the World Cup Finals with a win in Cape Verde.

Group 2 showed the quality of the nations at this level of the Qualification process in Africa. In this Group we had Algeria, Cameroon and Mali as legitimate contenders, with Gambia likely to struggle. Two early goals from Cameroon in Algiers had the North African side on the backfoot, a problem that became worse for them when they could only draw in Mali, leaving them well off the pace already. A win in Gambia, followed by two home wins meant a game five defeat in Mali made no difference when Algeria could only draw in Gambia. It would be the Indomitable Lions who would be making their way to Brazil.

Group 3 would host another intriguing looking showdown, with the Ivory Coast and Tunisia drawn against each other, Zimbabwe and Mozambique also drawn into this Group. It was advantage Elephants early on, as while they were winning handsomely in Mozambique, Tunisia were laboring to a draw at home to Zimbabwe. The second round of games went as expected, but Tunisia's hopes took a huge hit when they lost at home to Ivory Coast. They recovered some ground with a slim home win over Mozambique while their rivals were held to a draw in Zimbabwe, but it was all over when the two nations drew in Abidjan in the penultimate round of fixtures. It would be Zimbabwe who would eventually finish second with a last day win against Tunisia, not that it mattered too much.

So three of the places were taken, and some more fancied nations would miss out from Group 4, which included Ghana, Senegal and Zambia, as well as Equatorial Guinea. Picking a winner from that trio wouldn't be easy, and Zambia took advantage of the easier opening game by taking an early lead while Senegal and Ghana played out a draw. That lead wouldn't last as they lost to Ghana next time out, and with Senegal blowing a two goal lead and only getting a point from their supposedly easier game, there was some catching up to do. Equatorial Guinea wouldn't earn another point in the Group, losing to Ghana next time out, who extended their advantage as neither Zambia or Senegal could find a vital winning goal. A win at home to Senegal, followed by a draw in Zambia, was enough to confirm an easier than expected passage to the Finals for Ghana.

Group 5 would provide the closest finish of all the Groups. Feel sorry for Libya, who had done a great job to make it to this late stage of the process, but would now have to deal with DR Congo, Morocco and South Africa. In a familiar story with Groups that featured one underdog, DR Congo got off to a winning start in Libya, and took an early lead at the top with Morocco and South Africa drawing in Rabat. The second round of matches brought the same outcome, South Africa the winners this time. The status quo was broken in round three of matches, as while Morocco won well at home to Libya, a late goal from DR Congo earned them a win in South Africa. The Bofana Bofana would try to climb back into contention in matchday four, winning at home to Morocco, but gaining no ground on leaders DR Congo, who won again, this time at home to Libya. The penultimate round of matches was crucial, South Africa winning in Libya to stay in contention, while Morocco beat DR Congo to keep the Group open. That left Morocco going to Libya on the last day knowing that a win would be enough as long as DR Congo and South Africa could only draw with each other. The Morocco players did their bit, winning 1-0, but DR Congo didn't read the script, completing a double over South Africa to win the Group and claim the final place in Brazil for African nations.

Qualified :- Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, DR Congo.

Eliminated :- Togo, Cape Verde, Guinea, Mali, Algeria, Gambia, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Mozambique, Zambia, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, South Africa, Libya.

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2014 FIFA World Cup
Qualifying Round Up (Continued)

Asia
Seeing how other Continental Football Associations deal with their World Cup Qualifying kind of makes UEFA look a lot like smart people. Africa was pretty complex, but Asia took it to another level again with their process. Thirty eight nations compete in Round One, with the nineteen highest ranked of those nations seeded to be drawn against the lowest ranked. Of those nineteen winners, the eleven highest ranked are fast-tracked right through to Round Three, while the eight lowest ranked winners are paired into four two-legged ties. Those four winners will join the eleven higher ranked First Round winners, plus the five highest ranked nations in AFC, who have been exempt from the process so far. There, the top two in each of the five Groups of four will move into a Fourth and Final Round.....sort of. In that Round, the top two in each of the two Groups of five will progress to the Finals. The Third place sides will meet each other in a Continental Playoff, where the winner will progress to a final Inter-Continental Playoff. Wow.

First Round
Nineteen ties, seeded teams. We saw some blow outs, but we also saw some closer match-ups too. Palestine did very well to hold Uzbekistan to a single goal victory when they travelled for the First Leg. But back in Ramallah, they were over-run, and lost 5-0 on aggregate. There was nearly a shock early casualty in the next tie, as Taiwan won the First Leg 2-0 in Jordan, only to see the tie turned on it's head in the return in Taipei, a 3-0 win for Jordan seeing them progress.

It wasn't exactly a blow out, but Singapore won both legs against East Timor, and they join the list of nations progressing into Round Two, or Three. Next up was a more convincing win, and it came from Kyrgyzstan, who beat Pakistan 5-0 over two legs. Then came the closest tie of the Round, and the first shock. After a 1-1 draw in the Maldives, there was expectation on Turkmenistan to get the job done in the return. Those expectations were not met though, as Maldives claimed a 2-2 draw to go through on away goals.

I said there would be some one sided ties, and one of the more lopsided match-up's pitted Kuwait against Bhutan. A 6-0 win away from home left the Gulf State able to make multiple changes for the return leg, where the score was kept down to a more respectable 2-0. It was much closer between Nepal and Yemen, with each side claiming an away win, the difference coming down to Nepal being unable to claim a home goal, and going out as a result. Things were comfortable for Iran against Afghanistan, but they didn't quite dominate as much as many expected when racking up five goals over the two legs. Lebanon against Malaysia was always likely to be one of the closer ties, and so it proved. A 3-1 win in the opening game gave Lebanon the advantage, but Malaysia gave them plenty to think about in the return, scoring twice early to level the tie, only to get caught on the counter when they went looking for a winner they didn't need, as they'd have progressed on the away goal rule, instead going out to the odd goal in seven.

China were drawn against one of their own territories, as they would play Macau. They won the away leg 4-0, and would go on to become the only nation to hit double figures over the two legs by hitting six in the return, Macau did at least grab a consolation. Another of their outposts, Hong Kong, won away in Cambodia 2-1, before confirming their progress with a 2-0 win at home. The nation that I'm now in charge of, India, still had Bobby Houghton at the helm when they took on Qatar. A 5-1 thumping at home in Kolkata left them fearful of being drubbed in the return leg, though they actually put in a much improved outing, losing 3-2, but still being fairly compehensively beaten overall. There was a brief threat of a shock from Bangladesh when they beat Indonesia 2-1 at home in the opening leg. That threat was quickly eradicated in the Second Leg, four quick goals and one for luck in the second half saw Indonesia claim their spot in the next round.

Myanmar put up a much braver performance than expected against Syria, earning a 1-1 draw in the Second Leg after losing 2-0 in the opener. Tajikistan were fortunate to win their home tie 3-1 against Vietnam, and even more lucky to get out of the return with only a 1-0 defeat and progression. It was much more straightforward for the United Arab Emirates, 3-0 winners at home against Mongolia, and then completing the job with a 2-1 win away. North Korean media reported that their nation had in fact won the World Cup, but in reality, they lost both legs to Bahrain 2-0, and were out. Oman couldn't have wished for a better draw, as they easily got past Guam, winning 5-0 at home, and then adding two more to the aggregate score in the Second Leg. Finally, it was Sri Lanka who fell by the wayside, losing 3-1 at home to Thailand, and then shipping four more in the return.

Progressing :- Uzbekistan, Jordan, Singapore, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Kuwait, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, China, Hong Kong, Qatar, Indonesia, Syria, Tajikstan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Thailand.

Eliminated :- Palestine, Taiwan, East Timor, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Macau, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, Mongolia, North Korea, Guam, Sri Lanka.

Second Round
The eight lowest ranked nations who won their First Round ties are now forced to play an extra Round, while the remaining eleven winners go right into Round Three. This time it was open draw, and there were no blow outs here!

Jordan once again made things difficult for themselves, held to a draw at home to Lebanon, but they won again on their travels, and they will make an appearance in Round Three. In South East Asia, there would be disappointment for Hong Kong in front of their own fans, as they were beaten 2-1 by Indonesia in the First Leg. The same scoreline in the Second Leg meant it was the end of the road for another of China's territories, and Indonesia would move on. The draw paired Yemen and the Maldives together, giving two nations who wouldn't normally get a chance to progress this far, a chance to progress on to the Third Round Group Stages. Both legs resulted in 2-1 wins for the home nation, and on the popular island destination, Yemen won a penalty shoot out to move on. That left the final tie between neighbouring rivals Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. They produced the outstanding action of the Round as well. Kyrgyzstan raced into a two goal lead away from home, only to see Tajikistan roar right back and win the opener 3-2. An early away goal in the return left them as the firm favourites as well, but two goals in the final quarter of an hour meant it would be Kyrgyzstan who would move on due to their extra away goal.

Progressing :- Jordan, Indonesia, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan.
Eliminated :- Lebanon, Hong Kong, Maldives, Tajikistan.

Third Round
Things should start to get competitive in this Third Round. Five groups of four nations, with the top two in each section moving on to the Fourth Round. We also see the introduction of the five remaining nations that have yet to be involved, Australia, Japan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. However, rather than the more traditional 'pot' system for the draw, the AFC uses a simple seeded and unseeded system, with two of each per Group. That means the five highest ranked nations are not necessarily kept apart, which could make things very interesting.

So the draw was more favourable to those assigned to Group 1, with none of the five top seeds drawn into this pool. It wasn't lacking for quality though, Iran joined by a pair of Gulf States in the form of United Arab Emirates and Qatar, with Yemen the weakest side in this Group. It was a great start for Qatar, who won their opening two, including a victory over the UAE, who got right back on track with a win against Iran. When Iran then beat Qatar, it was clear the form guide wasn't going to be much use to anyone here. The smart money would have been on Iran, but they were held to a draw in Yemen, in what would prove to be the minnows only point. Instead, it was UAE who strode on, recovering from that opening defeat to win five in a row and claim the Group. That left Iran and Qatar to fight it out for the second Qualifying spot, which would go right down to the final day. In Tehran, it would be Iran who would come out on top with a 4-1 win.

Group 2 saw the first of the five 'heavyweight' nations come into play, and Japan were handed a fairly kind draw, sent into a Group with Kuwait, Oman and Indonesia. They started well, winning a tricky trip to Indonesia, but were then soundly beaten 3-0 in Kuwait, who had already been beaten Oman. That would have got interest going, but home wins over Kuwait and Oman got them back on track. They would stumble again though, held to a draw in the return match with Oman, before thrashing Indonesia. That once more meant a two nation race for the second spot, and Kuwait went into the final day trailing Oman by a point, and knowing a win at home would be needed. They got it too, with a late pair of goals after trailing for over an hour.

Group 3, and two of the heavyweight top five nations were thrown in together, as Australia and Iraq were both assigned to this Group. That made the section hard enough, but then factor in that China were added into the mix, and that Thailand were not exactly minnows either, and this quickly became the toughest Group of the Round. Both of the favourites claimed opening day wins, with Australia humiliating China 4-0 in Bejing. But things quickly went wrong for Iraq, as they then lost their next three, away to Australia, home to China, and the one that inflicted the most damage and criticism, away to Thailand. They were not yet out of it, as Australia had beaten China to secure their progress, but while China were beating Thailand, the beleaguered Iraq side were only able to draw in Baghdad with Australia, and they were out. They couldn't even scrape together the comfort of a last day win, as China held them to a draw.

South Korea were handed a fairly safe passage in Group 4, at least compared to Iraq anyway. They absolutely strode into the Final Qualifying section with a 100% record in a Group that contained Uzbekistan, Jordan and Syria. They conceded only two goals on their march through the fixture list, one each away to Uzbekistan and Syria, while scoring seventeen times at the other end. Uzbekistan beat Jordan on the opening day, and when they won the return away from home on the fourth matchday, they had secured the second place berth for themselves. In fact, Jordan would end up bottom, claiming their only point away to a Syria side who acquitted themselves very well in much more illustrious company.

The record of South Korea was matched, and even slightly bettered by the final of the five seeds, Saudi Arabia. Also blessed with a pretty comfortable draw that included Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan and Singapore, they breezed through their schedule. They won all six matches, matching South Korea's one hundred percent record, and their defensive record of conceding only two goals, Bahrain scoring both of them in the same game, and notching five clean sheets around that. They bettered the goals scored too, with twenty goals in six matches. The real beneficiaries of Iraq being grouped with Australia and China were in all likelihood, Bahrain. They are not a nation who would usually be in contention to reach the Final Round, but in dropping points only in a home draw to Kyrgyzstan outside of the games against Saudi, they secured second place, and will have a chance to try and claim a spot in the World Cup Finals.

Progressing :- United Arab Emirates, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Australia, China, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.
Eliminated :- Qatar, Yemen, Oman, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Syria, Jordan, Singapore, Kyrgyzstan.

Final Round
Ten nations will now compete over the final hurdle to represent Asia in the World Cup Finals. Two groups of five nations, with the top two in each Group earning a pass to the Finals, while the two countries that finish third will play each in a Continental Playoff, with the winners progressing to an Intercontinental Playoff at a later date.

There was a pretty even split between the two Groups, and each had a fairly distinctive split as well. Group A featured Australia, China and Saudi Arabia who would likely be pushing for the top three spots between them, with Kuwait and United Arab Emirates very much the long shots to progress. So it proved too, with the round robin games between the three favoured nations quickly looking likely to settle the outcome. Australia drew their first such games, with China at home, and then Saudi away. That gave Saudi the edge when they beat China at home, but they then lost in Australia, after they had in turn lost in China. These matches all mattered though, as the one consistent in the Group was Kuwait and UAE getting beaten against the three more fancied nations, finishing on three points each after they beat each other away from home. With at least a Playoff place guaranteed for the three, Australia took a big step with a big win over Saudi at home. China had won as well, but heavy wins for Saudi and Australia on the penultimate day left China in the Playoff spot, level on points with Saudi, and the pair a point behind Australia. A win for either would send them through, a draw would send China through though on the head to head. But Saudi won well in Bejing, and topped the Group, Australia going through with them, and China now faced an Continental Playoff.

Group B would have to go some to match the drama of it's rival section, and frankly, it failed pretty miserably. That was largely due to South Korea showing everyone why they were currently considered the number one International team in Asia, dropping only two points in their eight matches due to a draw in Uzbekistan, and leaving Japan and Iran to fight it our for the second spot, with Uzbekistan putting in a reasonably good showing, and Bahrain finding life pretty tough at this level. Iran dropped crucial points in their opening two matches, only drawing with the two minnows of the Group, while Japan had lost to South Korea, but then beat Uzbekistan and more importantly, Iran to move into second spot. With the Far East nation seeing their chances enhanced further with Iran losing at home to South Korea, convincing wins over Bahrain and Uzbekistan put them in a strong position. But Iran then beat Japan in Tehran, and it would go down to the last day after Japan were then beaten by South Korea in Seoul. So on the last day, Iran would need to win in Seoul, while needing Japan to slip up against Bahrain. Neither event happened, and Japan got their place in the Finals, while Iran would now face a two legged Continental Playoff tie with China.

Qualified :- Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea, Japan.
Progressing :- China, Iran.
Eliminated :- Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Bahrain.

Continental Playoff
The two third placed nations in each Group would now meet in a two legged tie, with the loser eliminated, and the winner moving on to play in another Playoff against a nation from another Continent. It would be fair to say that China had not had much luck when they've played in Bejing. I can't of course say if that was a factor in the decision to move the First Leg tie elsewhere, but if it was, my word did it do the trick. They moved the match to Guangzhou, and the Guangdong Olympic Stadium, the largest capacity stadium in China, with twelve more seats than Bejing's venue. A pair of goals in each half saw them smash Iran 4-0, making them red hot favourites to move through to the final chance of a place in the Finals. To be fair to Iran, they chucked the kitchen sink at China four days later in Tehran, and scored twice in the first half. But China replied early in the second half to effectively end the contest, and make their way forward for a chance to play in the Worlds biggest football event.

Progressing :- China.
Eliminated :- Iran.

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2014 FIFA World Cup
Qualifying Round Up (Continued)

North & Central America
Hello again, this time we're in North America, as a vast array of minnow islands start their battle to try and join the traditional dominant nations on this Continent such as the United States of America and Mexico. So, twenty nations will begin the process in the First Phase of the First Round, playing each other in two legged ties. The ten winners will progress into the Second Phase of Round One, where they will be joined by the fourteen highest ranked nations in the Continent, with the ties once more played over a two legged knockout format. The twelve winners will move into Round Two, where there will be seeding and split into three groups of four, playing each other home and away, with the top two in each section moving on to the Third and Final Round. Those final six nations will also face each other home and away, and the top three will Qualify for the Finals, with the fourth placed nation moving forward into an Intercontinental Playoff Tie. Simples.

First Phase, First Round
Some of the nations taking part in this phase will be very much expecting to make it into the next Phase, and in fact, probably the next Round after that as well. Then there are others who relish this Phase and an opportunity to move forward and land themselves a plum draw against a larger reputation country. There are also others who have no chance of progressing at all of course.

The US Virgin Islands certainly fit into the latter category, but they put in a good showing when they held the Dominican Republic to just a single goal in the First Leg. The Second Leg was just as tight in Santo Domingo, but Dominican won 2-1 to secure their passage through. They are not to be confused with Dominica, who were drawn to play an Antigua & Barbuda side that are led by QPR midfielder Mikele Leigertwood. He helped his side to a 1-1 draw away in the First Leg, but they would fall by the wayside on the away goal rule after a 2-2 draw in the Second Leg, perhaps a mini shock. In an enthralling tie between a pair of minnows, Saint Lucia, led by the Ifil brothers, Paul at Grimsby Town and Jerel who has just been released by Yeovil Town, were up against Belize. Both legs saw the home nation score twice, and the difference between the two would be the crucial goal away from home that Saint Lucia managed in the Second Leg.

We have already seen the US Virgin Islands eliminated, and the British Virgin Islands quickly joined them after getting one of the more difficult draws of the round against Surinam, going out 5-1 on aggregate to the Dutch outpost. It was also a comfortable progression for Guyana, as they knocked out the Cayman Islands with a 4-0 aggregate win. To the list of nations who had a fairly easy time of it, add St Kitts & Nevis, who destroyed the hopes of Montserrat with a 6-1 win over the two legs, experienced midfielder Atiba Harris of MLS club Real Salt Lake the most recognisable name in the St Kitts & Nevis squad. Meanwhile the Bahamas and Bermuda took part in an exciting First Leg that finished 4-2 to Bermuda away from home. That excitement was replaced with absolute boredom in the return, a goalless draw though sees progression for Neil Brown, the player I signed at Lurgan Celtic, who now has 8 goals in 14 Internationals, and has just signed for Gillingham on a Bosman Free Transfer.

They may be one of the poorer nations in the World, but Haiti have always punched above their weight on the football pitch. They have a talented squad led by a trio of French based players, experienced 50 plus cap winner Jean-Jacques Pierre of FC Nantes, attacking left wing back Belony Dumas of Montpellier, and their new hotshot striker, Jean-Eudes Maurice of FC Gueugnon. They made predictably short work of Aruba, scoring three times in each leg for 6-1 win overall. It was surprisingly much closer for a Nicaragua side who are led by their only overseas based player, 21 year old striker Silvio Rocha who plays in Iceland for Keflavík. Keep an eye on his talented team mates Marvin Alvarado and Erick Morales, who are both being courted by Mexican sides. They'll need to do better than they were against Turks & Caicos Islands, their 3-1 aggregate win setup by a 2-0 home victory. The final tie saw the biggest overall win, as Free Agent veteran striker Jason Roberts could do nothing to help Grenada as they were battered 6-0 over the two legs by Netherlands Antilles.

Progressing :- Dominican Republic, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Surinam, Guyana, St Kitts & Nevis, Bermuda, Haiti, Nicaragua, Netherlands Antilles.
Eliminated :- US Virgin Islands, Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Bahamas, Aruba, Turks & Caicos Islands, Grenada.

First Phase, Second Round
Fourteen top seeded nations from the region are now added to the ten who progressed from the last phase, and will play two legged ties in a seeded draw. Strap yourself in for a Round of football that would produce some shocks that may change the future landscape of football, or soccer if you prefer, in North and Central America. Not that it impacted the United States of course. No sir, they drew the Dominican Republic, and smashed them 11-0 over the two legs to secure their place in the Second Round Group Stage. There was a slightly kinder draw for Dominica, but not much better, as they managed to hold Cuba to just 2-1 in their home leg, but were put away 4-0 in the return in Havana.

I said there would be shocks though? Well say hello, and goodbye, to Jamaica. Drawn against their island neighbours of Saint Lucia, there was no real expectation of a shock, even after the underdogs won the First Leg at home. But then they scored an away goal in Kingston, and Jamaica would need three to overhaul them. They would manage just one, and would fall by the wayside, leading to John Barnes being sacked, and a fairly major shift taking place in the Jamaica squad over the coming years, as younger players would get their chance. Meanwhile Saint Lucia would move into the Group Stage. They would be joined by another island nation as well, as Barbados got past Surinam, just. Barbados, who's squad is propped up by around half a dozen players who make a living in the UK, in particular Wigan Athletic full back Emmerson Boyce, won the First Leg 3-2 away from home. They were beaten in the return, but with a score of just 1-0, they would progress on away goals. There was a much more comfortable win for the regions top seeded nation, but even then they were made to work hard initially. Mexico trailed for almost an hour in Guyana, but pulled the match around to win 2-1. They then won 4-1 in the return, and will take their place in the next round.

There were no such concerns for a talented Panama squad that is drawn from all over the world, and they scored four in each leg against St Kitts & Nevis, who were thoroughly outclassed throughout. It was a much, much closer tie between Bermuda and Honduras, and another shock exit. The Bermuda side were not expected to trouble Honduras, who are regular Qualifiers for the Third Round of this process, but they won 2-1 in their home First Leg. They then managed to get through the return with a 2-2 draw, and another nation who were very much expected to be a contender to Qualify were out of the running. Guatemala would improve the fortunes of the Central American nations, as they swept Anguilla aside 7-0 on aggregate, seeming to benefit from a squad that was increasingly starting to see it's players make a move to stronger footballing nations to earn their living. It's a similar situation for Costa Rica, though they needed a strong Second Leg showing after losing the opener 2-0 in Haiti. They got what they needed though, winning 4-0 in the return to earn their place in the next round.

Three ties left, and still a shock to report. But not in the all-Central American match up, where a young Nicaragua side were soundly beaten 5-0 over two legs by El Salvador, who are led these days by Morocco based 22 year old forwards, Christian Quintanilla and Renzo Molina. But with Jamaica and Honduras already gone, there would still be time for another one of the bigger footballing nations of the region to join them. Granted, Canada were handed a tougher draw against Netherlands Antilles, but with players in some of Europe's larger Leagues, plus a good stream of talent from Toronto FC, their 4-2 defeat away in the First Leg was a shock. They recovered some pride in the Second Leg back in Toronto, as they won 2-1 at BMO Field, but the Gold Cup Winners from 2011 are out! There was still one tie remaining, and it saw one of the biggest thrashings of the round, as two island nations met. St Vincent & The Grenadines were very unfortunate, as they were one of the fourteen higher ranked nations who progressed into the Second Phase, but were not seeded. That led to them being drawn against Trinidad & Tobago, a nation who have gradually integrated their younger players into the setup, and were hoping to reap the benefits soon. They certainly had no worries in this round, winning 9-1 on aggregate, scoring six of the goals in their home Second Leg.

Progressing :- United States of America, Cuba, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Mexico, Panama, Bermuda, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad & Tobago.
Eliminated :- Dominican Republic, Dominica, Jamaica, Surinam, Guyana, St Kitts & Nevis, Honduras, Anguilla, Haiti, Nicaragua, Canada, St Vincent & Grenadines.

Second Phase
Historically, this section of Qualifying has always been pretty straightforward to predict. With three nations who would usually be expected to be heavily involved in this round already out however, the waters are slightly more muddy this time. The twelve nations are split into three groups of four, and the top two will Qualify for the Final Phase, which is a six team pool.

Group 1 wasn't really impacted too much. The United States were far too good for the other trio of nations, and progressed not only with a perfect 100% record, but also without conceding a goal. Cuba would take second spot and also Qualify for the Final Phase, winning their four remaining games against Barbados and a Saint Lucia side who had done very well to make it this far. They managed their only point of this phase with a home draw against their island rivals, Barbados has already won their home match against them.

Group 2 also had a dominant side, as Mexico would also progress with a 100% record and six clean sheets. If anything, their record was more impressive, as while they scored four goals less than the Americans, they had a tougher section, with Bermuda, Guatemala and Panama drawn with them. Bermuda were the minnows of this Group, failing to get a win, but they did get two draws, away to Panama and home to Guatemala. That meant the results between Guatemala and Panama would be crucial, but that was stalemate, as both won away against the other. So it would come down to goal difference instead, and Guatemala got the edge by being better defensively against Mexico, and more prolific against Bermuda.

There was no doubt that Group 3 would be the most competitive of the Groups, that much was evident from the draw, which pitted Costa Rica, El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago together, and then also pitched Netherlands Antilles, the conquerors of Canada, into the mix as well. And the underdogs of the section created a shock on the opening day, beating El Salvador. It would become significant in that it would be their only win of their half dozen matches, but also for the Central Americans, as it would prove to be the result that ultimately cost them a place in the next round. They didn't win any of their opening three, getting off the mark in the return against Netherlands Antilles. By that point, Costa Rica had three wins on the board, and Trinidad & Tobago had two. When El Salvador could only manage a draw in Trinidad in their penultimate match, their fate was no longer in their own hands. They would need to beat a Costa Rica side who had already won the Group at home, which they did. But they also needed Trinidad & Tobago to lose to the Netherlands Antilles, and while that looked possible for a short while, it ended in a draw, and El Salvador were out too.

Progressing :- United States of America, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago.
Eliminated :- Barbados, Saint Lucia, Guatemala, Bermuda, El Salvador, Netherlands Antilles.

Third Phase
Six nations remain, with three of them now going to progress in to the World Cup Finals, while one more will face a very tough Intercontinental Playoff to try and claim their place in the Worlds biggest football tournament. The ten games are played over an eight month period, which is quite a lot in International football.

There were some inevitable occurrences, and we'll start at the bottom. Thanks for coming Cuba, but it was clear that this was a step too far for them. As one of the nations that wouldn't normally get into this level, who benefited from the early exits of the Jamaica, Canada and Honduras' of the world, they have given their nations football fans plenty of hope for the future, and some great memories of their run in this Qualifying series. They took just one point from this phase though, a home draw with Panama.

At the other end, the usual suspects had made their way through to this stage serenely. There was very little doubt that both Mexico and the United States would qualify for the Finals. The US beat Mexico on the opening day of this final phase, and it would be the only loss that Mexico would suffer. The only other points they would drop would be in an away draw with Costa Rica, just four days after they had beaten the US in their return match. That was the Unites States' second defeat, as they had lost in Costa Rica, and they also drew in Panama, meaning they would finish second to the Mexicans.

There was still one place left in the Finals, and Costa Rica showed themselves to be just a notch or two above Panama, and a Trinidad & Tobago side that had impressed many people here. Costa Rica could only draw away to them, while Mexico needed a late winner to beat them too. But they lost six of their games, and that left them on the outside looking in. So it's down to just two, Panama had beaten Costa Rica at home early on, but on the last day it was a shootout between the pair. With home advantage, Costa Rica took the win, and they snagged the last ticket to the Finals from this region, sending Panama into a Playoff that they would absolutely be second favourites for.

Qualified :- Mexico, United States of America, Costa Rica.
Progressing :- Panama.
Eliminated :- Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba.

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2014 FIFA World Cup
Qualifying Round Up (Continued)

Europe
The Continent that has produced the most World Cup Winners so far is next, Europe moved ahead of the only other Continent to produce winners, South America, by ten wins to nine when Spain beat Holland in the last tournament which was held in South Africa. It does have to settle for second best when it comes to the category of most straightforward Qualifying process. Eight Groups of six, plus one of five, all seeded and thirteen places in the Finals up for grabs. Only the nine winners of their Groups are guaranteed to go to Brazil. The eight best runner's up will be drawn into four Playoff fixtures, with the winners also progressing into the Finals. Pretty straightforward.

Group 1
Up first would be one of World football's super powers in Italy. They would be the nailed on favourites to win this Group, though second spot would be harder to call, with Bulgaria, Finland and Turkey all rightly fancying their chances. Armenia and Cyprus would be the minnows. Italy set out their stall early, winning their first four, including victories in Bulgaria and Finland, and a comfortable win at home to Turkey. They did slip up at the halfway point with a draw in Cyprus, followed by a home loss to Bulgaria. They quickly got by that blip, and won the last four to finish top with 25 points. Cyprus would only add a win to that draw, as they and Armenia won at home against each other, Armenia also got a draw with Bulgaria, and avoided bottom spot on goal difference. Finland were surprisingly off the pace, managing only a point from their four crucial matches against Bulgaria and Turkey, and only claiming wins against the bottom two. That left Bulgaria and Turkey battling for the second spot and a place in the Playoffs. The Turks had won their opening three, while Bulgaria only got their first win in the third match. But a draw when the pair met in Kayseri, followed by the Bulgarians win in Bergamo against Italy saw the tide start to turn, and a late Dimitar Berbatov penalty in Sofia saw Bulgaria claim second on the final day.

Group 2
France would be the main attraction is this Group, though they would have a pair of Scandinavian rivals attempting to keep them honest in the form of Norway and Sweden. From the lower pots, Bosnia & Herzegovina were joined by FYR Macedonia, both nations likely to have their eye on a couple of upsets and a chance to try and improve their ranking for future draws. Andorra were also in this Group, and likely to be the whipping boys as usual. The French made an impressive start, winning their opening four without conceding a goal, continuing the winning run right through to matchday eight, where they lost in Sweden. That opened the door for the Swedes to try and pinch the Group win, but they fluffed their lines, held to a goalless draw at home to Bosnia & Herzegovina in the penultimate match, while the French won at home to Norway. That meant Sweden needed a favour on the final day, while winning themselves in Oslo. They got their side done, but unsurprisingly, Andorra were not up to the task in Lyon, despite France being down to nine for half an hour. France win the Group, with Sweden second and into the Playoffs after dropping just five points. Norway were a distant third, and it could have been worse too, as FYR Macedonia were only two points behind them, Bosnia & Herzegovina another two points behind again. Andorra managed three goals, including one each in France and Bosnia. But that was three more than the number of points they earned, as they shipped forty goals in ten matches to once again finish plum last.

Group 3
The third Group promised a shoot out between Denmark and Holland for the top spot, with Albania, an improving Moldova, and Slovakia in what would likely be a chasing pack. Luxembourg provided the sixth pot minnows here. A shock opening day loss for Denmark in Tirana against Albania caused some ripples across the continent, and when Denmark held Holland to a draw in Copenhagen next time out, Albania were top after they beat Slovakia. It was short lived, Holland overtook them with a win in Rotterdam against them days later, wins for Denmark and Slovakia closing things up. The Danes suffered another blip with a draw in Slovakia, and then showed they were consistently inconsistent with a win in Holland to close the gap back up. The two nations matched each other stride for stride in the run in, but then Denmark slipped on the Slovakian banana skin once more, a goalless draw in Copenhagen in the penultimate match, while Holland thrashed Luxembourg and secured top spot for the Dutch. There were only three draws in the schedule, the Danes involved in each of them, and that cost them top spot. Albania headed the midfield, winning half of their matches, Slovakia a point behind, with Moldova picking up a decent four wins. Luxembourg matched Andorra's zero point haul, conceding less at thirty two, but failing to find the net themselves. Not a good campaign for the minnows.

Group 4
The first of the home nations are involved in Group 4. It would be fair to say that England have been blessed with many a kind Qualification Group over the years, but not so much this time. Belgium and Greece join them, and long trips to Georgia and Kazakhstan won't make life much easier either. Malta are the sixth pot nation who are drawn into this Group. There has been talk of a 'Golden Generation' of Belgian footballers for several years, but a defeat in Greece followed by a draw at home to England was not a good start to their campaign. They got themselves back on track with three wins, two of them very comfortable as well, and the third coming on the day that England also lost away to Greece. But those would be the last points that the Three Lions would drop, as they swept through the rest of their fixtures to win the Group with 25 points. A win at home to Greece made Belgium favourites to take the runner's-up spot and a chance to play in the Playoffs, but they were soundly beaten at Wembley, and while Grecce suffered the same fate in the final match, their defeat was only by a single goal, and they snatched the second spot by virtue of a better goal difference, with the two teams level on the head to head. So the first major shock of the European Qualifiers, with Belgium out. Georgia managed four wins, with Kazakhstan also getting two wins against Malta, who continued the trend of zero point finishers, setting a new bar with 49 goals past them too.

Group 5
There was also UK interest in this Group, with Northern Ireland the fourth seeds in this one. Fourth was likely to be their goal as well, as they were joined by the current World Champions of Spain, and also Russia and Serbia from the higher pots, with Latvia and Faroe Islands allocated into the Group from the lower pots. The Ulstermen started with a defeat in Russia, while Spain were held surprisingly to a draw in Latvia. The Northern Irish returned to Belfast to defeat Latvia, while the Serbians beat the Russians. The Russia side bounced right back with a win at home to Spain, while Northern Ireland lost in Serbia. That began a run of eight successive wins for the Russians, which included a win in Belfast during the Northern Irishmen's run of four crucial home matches in a row, which saw them earn a draw with Spain, a huge win over the Faroes in Moscow, and a shock win in Zaragoza against the Spanish. That meant that Spain's goal was now a place in the Playoffs, which they would be battling Serbia for. It was the penultimate round of games that would ultimately settle that tussle, Serbia lost in Russia, while Spain laboured to a 1-0 win away to the Faroes. Both nations won on the last day, Spain looking more like themselves with a 3-0 win over the Northern Irish in Mallorca to cement second place. That meant Serbia were out, along with the Northern Irish, who recorded two wins and four draws during their campaign. Latvia could only record one win, but avoided bottom spot with the Faroe Islands managing only two draws in total, at home to Latvia and Northern Ireland.

Group 6
I'm very much a betting man, but I would have absolutely been avoiding this particular Group, and I would not have attempted to pick a winner. Five nations of pretty similar levels were pitted against each other, Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, Israel and Switzerland, with San Marino thrown into the mix as the minnows. San Marino opened the scoring at home to Israel in their opener, but would eventually lose 2-1, while Belarus and the Czechs picked up home wins against Austria and Switzerland respectively. An Israel win in the Czech Republic, and Belarus thrashing San Marino away saw them take the early initiative, while Switzerland were also off the mark at home to Austria. It would be the third game that saw Austria get off the mark, a 5-0 home win over San Marino was of course very much expected. But Belarus and Israel won again, and they were now starting to open up a lead. Belarus took the spoils when the pair met in Ramat-Gan, while Austria and the Czech's did each other no favours with a draw as Switzerland handed San Marino their latest thrashing. The midway point saw the first chink in Belarus' armour with a home defeat against Switzerland, though they got right back to winning ways with a home win over San Marino in the double header. Israel's win in Austria was followed by a disappointing home loss to the Czech's, while Austria could only hold Switzerland to a point at home. With the run in underway, things were starting to get jittery for Belarus, as they lost in Austria, but then beat Israel in Minsk, after the Israelis had thumped San Marino 7-0 in Tel-Aviv. The Swiss and Czechs played out a goalless draw, but then both won their second half of the double header, a home win over Austria for the Czechs, and a win in San Marino for the Swiss. Into the penultimate round, and Belarus knew a win over either the Czechs or Swiss away would guarantee them at least a second place finish. They lost 1-0 to the Czechs while the Swiss won at home to Israel, and then Belarus lost to the Swiss as well to break the hearts of their citizens. With the Czechs putting seven past San Marino, their head to head advantage over the Swiss made them Group Winners, with the Swiss now facing a Playoff. After their great starts, Belarus and Israel will be rightly despondent at failing to reach at least the Playoffs, while Austria have a lot of work to do. San Marino are the latest nation to record a doughnut in the points tally, and matched Malta in conceding 49 goals in ten matches.

Group 7
Another of football's heavyweight nations, and another of the UK contingent were drawn together in Group 7. Germany and Wales have crossed path on numerous occasions, but seldom will the Welsh have fancied their chances as much as they would this time around, with one of the weaker Groups seeing Montenegro, Poland and Slovenia also joining them, though they did get one of the stronger sixth seed nations as well in Azerbaijan. It was a bad start for the Dragons though, with a defeat in Slovenia, a thumping in Germany, and then a poor draw at home to Azerbaijan. There wasn't a huge amount between the nations on the whole, though Poland put nine past Azerbaijan, before also beating Wales at home. They would then lose to Slovenia however, who were quietly going about their business nicely. Wales rebounded with a home draw against Germany, who didn't quite look their usual self, and the home nation then went on a decent little run, thrashing Azerbaijan away, beating Slovenia at home, and then also drawing with Poland in Cardiff. They were out of contention by this point though, and nations beating each other was about to cause another problem too. It wouldn't concern Germany, as they had three convincing wins followed by a final day draw in Slovenia made them the Group Winners. It was enough to make Slovenia the runner's-up too, ahead of Montenegro and Poland, but they were to be the second placed nation with the worst record, and would fail to net a place in the Playoffs. For Wales, the focus would switch to Euro 2016.

Group 8
The Republic of Ireland would like their chances of getting at least a Playoff place after being drawn with Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania, with Liechtenstein as the sixth pot nation. A slow start is not uncommon for the Irish, but a home goalless draw with Lithuania would be just one of several frustrating performances from the Irish. Less so for Hungary, who rolled back the years with a great win over Croatia to start their campaign. The Irish met Hungary in Dublin next time out, and beat them 2-0, only to then lose in Croatia themselves after the Group favourites had recovered with a good 3-1 win in Bucharest against Romania. Those three appeared to be the class of this section, but neither Lithuania or Romania were happy to leave it at that, with the ex-Russian State beating Hungary at home, while Romania held Ireland to a 2-2 draw in Bucharest. So it was Croatia who managed to click into gear, a routine win over Liechtenstein, quickly followed by wins at home against both Lithuania and Romania, and then a win over Hungary who had in turn beaten both Romania and Ireland after losing in Lithuania. They managed to win at home to Lithuania to keep the pressure on, but Croatia rolled on, and a win in Dublin cemented the Group win in the penultimate round of matches. Now it was all down to the fight for second, and Hungary needed only a draw in Bucharest on the last day. They got their draw, 2-2 the final score, while the Irish players were booed off the park in Vaduz after being held to a 0-0 draw by Liechtenstein, who earned their only point.

Group 9
Just like the Irish, the Scotland side would be drawn out of pot three in the seeds. Unlike the Irish, or any others, they would be pitted in a Group containing just five nations in the last of the Groups. Unfortunately for the Tartan Army, they would be joined by two nations who would expect to finish above them, Portugal and Ukraine. Also, with there only being five in the Group, there was no sixth pot minnow either, with Estonia and Iceland the weaker nations in the pool. But, there would be only eight matches each. Scotland sat out the opening round of matches, as Portugal and Ukraine swept aside Estonia and Iceland respectively. They started their campaign in Portugal, notching a very encouraging 1-1 draw. That encouragement turned quickly, as they were beaten at home by Ukraine, and then were held to another away draw, this time by Iceland. But the optimism came flooding back for the Scots when they defeated Estonia at home on the same day Ukraine beat Portugal, before then recording one of their finest performances probably in Scottish football history, thumping Portugal 4-0 in Glasgow thanks to three goals in twenty minutes after the break, Cristiano Ronaldo and friends unable to do anything about it. After a rest that saw Portugal and Ukraine win away to the two weaker nations, Scotland resumed with another home win against Iceland, and with just two rounds of matches left, they were right in the hunt. Even more so after winning 2-1 in Kiev in the penultimate round of games. They went into the last game away to Estonia a point ahead of Portugal, and two points behind Ukraine, the two meeting in Lisbon. A win for Scotland would guarantee a Playoff place, and if Ukraine lost in Lisbon, they would win the Group. But they were held to a 1-1 draw in Tallinn despite bossing the game, and with Portugal winning the other match, Ukraine won the Group on goal difference, with Portugal second, both nations a point ahead of the Scots. It would be heartbreak for their fans again.

Qualified :- Italy, France, Holland, England, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, Ukraine.
Progressing :- Bulgaria, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Portugal.
Eliminated :- Turkey, Finland, Armenia, Cyprus, Norway, FYR Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Andorra, Albania, Slovakia, Moldova, Luxembourg, Belgium, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Malta, Serbia, Northern Ireland, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Belarus, Israel, Austria, San Marino, Slovenia, Montenegro, Poland, Wales, Azerbaijan, Republic of Ireland, Lithuania, Romania, Liechtenstein, Scotland, Estonia, Iceland.

Playoffs
Eight nations, four ties, and a seeded draw as Europe looks to decide it's final four nations that will Qualify for the biggest football tournament in the World. Typically, these Playoffs throw up a tie between a pair of nations that would expect to be at the World Cup, and one will of course be disappointed. This time, those two would be Denmark and Portugal as the draw threw the two together. In the opening leg in Copenhagen, despite having Søren Larsen sent off just moments into the second half, Denmark came out with a 2-1 win. That set up a breathless first half in Lisbon, where Igor Pita levelled the tie early, only for Simon Poulsen and Daniel Jensen score within ten minutes of each other to put the Danes firmly in control. Danny scored right away down the other end, but Portugal couldn't find the net again, and they are out! There would be no Cristiano Ronaldo at the 2014 World Cup.

Spain are the current World Champions, and have won each of their last three major Finals, with a European Championship crown either side of the last World Cup. They got a kinder draw than both Denmark and Portugal, as they were paired with Hungary, who had shown during Qualification brief glimpses of their potential. Unfortunately for them, they showed very little of that potential here in the Playoffs, particularly in the First Leg in Gijón, where three goals in fifteen minutes just after the hour mark from Bojan, Fàbregas and Mata put the current holders well in control. The Second Leg in Budapest was far more even, and there was even hope for the home fans for a spell after Bologna striker Róbert Geczesin gave them the lead on the night. But an equaliser shortly after the break by Sevilla midfielder Rubén De la Red made it all square on the night, and Spain would be in Brazil to attempt to become the first team since the Brazil side of the 1960's to defend their World Cup crown successfully.

Sweden would have been annoyed at themselves for missing their chance to win the Group and push France into the Playoffs in their place. They would have reason to be even more annoyed after the First Leg in Stcokholm against Greece. They led 2-0 with ten minutes to go following strikes within a few minutes of each other from Aston Villa forward Linus Hallenius and PSV Eindhoven centre back Andreas Granqvist. But then they fell apart, first conceding a penalty that was converted by veteran Köln forward Ioannis Amanatidis, and he then added a second with just minutes remaining. They were roundly criticised for that collapse and now faced a tough Second Leg in front of a rabid crowd in Piraeus. But the 33,000 in attendance were quietened down in the 6th minute by a goal from Parma striker Ola Toivonen. Further goals after the break from Valencia striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and West Bromwich Albion defender Jonas Olsson quickly departing the scene of a Greek Tragedy. 5-2 on aggregate, Sweden would provide some yellow shirted competition in Brazil this summer.

The final tie of the Playoffs was considered by many to be something of a formality. Switzerland missed out on Qualifying for the European Championships last time out in 2012, the first time they have missed a World Cup or European Championship Finals since 2002. They are huge favourites against Bulgaria, who haven't been to the World Cup since 1998, though they did play in the 2004 European Championship Finals, losing all three matches. They left Bern on the cusp of a new era in their history though, after winning 2-0 in the First Leg, thanks to second half goals from VfB Stuttgart wing back Martin Kavdanski's first International goal, and a strike from one of their new bright hopes, striker Dancho Kostadinov, who also plays in Germany for MSV Duisburg. In Sofia, there was an attempted comeback from the Swiss, left wing back Reto Ziegler of Sampdoria netting after 12 minutes. But they couldn't break through again, and as they threw more players forward, they were caught on the counter attack, Chavdar Yankov of Hamburger SV scoring five minutes before he was sent off, and for the first time in sixteen years, Bulgaria will play at the World Cup Finals.

Qualified :- Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Bulgaria.
Eliminated :- Portugal, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland.

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2014 FIFA World Cup
Qualifying Round-Up (Continued)

Oceania
From the continent that has given us the most World Cup Winners, we move on to the only mass populated continent to never host a World Cup, and also the only one that doesn't get at least one Qualifying spot without the need for an InterContinental Playoff. Since Australia left to become part of the Asian Zone to play more competitive football, this Oceania Zone has now become the domain of New Zealand. There are only eleven nations who have an International team in Oceania now, but there are only four who are taking part in World Cup Qualifying for a place in a Playoff to get to the Finals in South Africa. This four nations will play a round-robin Group, with the winner headed to a Playoff.

New Caledonia are well out of their depth in this Round-Robin pool of four, but they travel to Fiji and earn a superb goalless draw. On the same day, New Zealand get a shock too, as they are held to a 1-1 draw by the Solomon Islands. The All Whites took out their frustration on New Caledonia next time out, thrashing the minnows 5-0 away from home, while the Solomon Islands beat Fiji 3-1. But all was not well in the New Zealand camp, and they returned to the 'Land of the Long White Cloud' to be beaten by Fiji, allowing the Solomon's to go top with their win. It was almost winner takes all when the two main teams took to the park in Round Four. A no contest, New Zealand gained revenge with a 4-0 win, going on to then beat New Caledonia 3-0, and Fiji away from home 2-0. Fiji beat the Solomon's 1-0 at home, which meant the teams would be separated only by goal difference, the Solomon Islands taking second place.

As the Group Winners, there is now an Intercontinental Playoff on their schedule, as they will face China over two legs.

Progressing :- New Zealand.
Eliminated :- Solomon Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia.

South America
From the football outpost continent, to the one that is perhaps the most passionate about the game anywhere in the World. South America is hosting this World Cup, or more specifically, Brazil are. That earns them an automatic pass to the Finals, and with the continent getting four Qualifying spots, plus potentially another through an Intercontinental Playoff, this World Cup could see as many as six nations Qualifying. The impact of a host nation means the ten nation League that South America usually utilises is down a nine nation tournament, with each now playing sixteen games instead of the usual eighteen.

October 2011 saw the start of the matches, and it began with a big fixture in Santiago, as Chile hosted Argentina in a match that ended 1-1. The match was tight, and lively, setting the tone for what was to come in this Qualification series. On the same day, Uruguay and Colombia both recorded convincing wins against Peru and Venezuela respectively. The next matchday saw a pair of huge matches, starting in Buenos Aires, where a pair of Carlos Tevez goals were not enough for Argentina, as they lost 3-2 against Uruguay, who had a pair from Diego Forlán. Elsewhere, Colombia and Chile played out a goalless draw, while Paraguay started off their campaign with a defeat in Ecuador, and Bolivia won away to Peru.

A November 2011 double header of matches saw the League start to take shape. Winning in La Paz, Bolivia is notably difficult, but Argentina went there and won 3-0 thanks to a Lionel Messi hatrick. Chile were no less convincing at home to Venezuela, 4-1 winners, while Paraguay's poor start continued with a home defeat to Peru, and Uruguay won again, 1-0 at home to Colombia. Days later, in the final matches of 2011 for the nations, Argentina were the only winners from the quartet of matches, Tevez and Sergio Agüero the scorers in a 2-0 home win over the still pointless Paraguay. With Chile not in action, Colombia and Uruguay failed to capitalise on the situation, each earning only a point against sides they'd expect to have beaten.

It would be six months later, June 2012, when the League would resume, and with no immediate signs of any change in the balance of power. Uruguay beat Chile in Montevideo to continue their impressive progress so far, while Paraguay finally got off the mark with a draw at home to Colombia, and Argentina were also held for a point away to Ecuador. Finally, Bolivia continued to take advantage of their high altitude home ground, beating Venezuela in La Paz. A month later and Argentina returned to winning ways at home to Peru, there was a win for Chile in Santiago against Bolivia, and Colombia kept up their challenge with a home win against Ecuador. There was also a first win for Paraguay at last, as they won in Venezuela.

Into September, and Uruguay scored an impressive 1-0 win in Bolivia, while neither Chile or Colombia were able to take advantage of Argentina's rest day. Chile were held away to a recovering Paraguay, while Colombia fared even worse, losing in Lima to Peru. A few days later Argentina were held to a draw in Colombia, while Uruguay were also held, this time by Paraguay. That gave Chile a chance to make up some ground, and they won 3-1 at home to Ecuador. In a battle between two nations unlikely to be in the mix, Venezuela lost at home to Peru by the only goal of the match.

Mid October saw Argentina reclaim their lost ground with a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Venezuela, on a day when Uruguay lost in Ecuador and Chile drew in Peru. There was also the continued improvement from Paraguay, who beat Bolivia 2-0 at home as they started to show signs of getting themselves into the mix for a Finals spot. Chile and Colombia being beaten next time out gave them a boost as well, Chile losing in Argentina, while Colombia were on the end of a shock defeat at home to Venezuela. A Uruguay win away to Peru meant that their place in the showpiece Finals was looking more assured with each passing matchday.

We were now getting towards the final stretch, with eight matchdays remaining as we moved into 2013. The most likely looking automatic Qualifiers met in Montevideo, where Uruguay defeated Argentina 2-0, while Chile earned an important 3-1 win over Colombia at home. The resurgence of Paraguay continued too, as they won at home to Ecuador, as home advantage served Bolivia well once more against Peru. A few days later, Argentina were back to winning ways as they beat Bolivia at home. Chile won again away to Venezuela, while Uruguay were held in Colombia, and Peru and Paraguay played out a cracking 3-3 draw in Lima.

June 2013, Argentina's win in Paraguay and Uruguay's home win over Venezuela pushed them further out from the pack, though Colombia won in Bolivia to keep their challenge going. Uruguay would lose the second part of their March double header though, as they lost against rivals Chile. With Argentina winning again, and Paraguay looking very impressive with a win in Medellin against Colombia, things were starting to hot up.

Four matchdays left to play as we head into September, and the 'Q' was now about to start appearing next to nations names in the League Table. Uruguay had the matchday off, but still Qualified anyway along with Argentina who won in Peru, and Chile, who came out on top in a seven goal thriller in La Paz against Bolivia. Wins for Colombia and Paraguay meant they were also still in the mix for the final automatic spot and the Playoff place, with Ecuador and Peru the only ones now able to stop them. The second matchday of the month saw Peru out of contention with a defeat in Chile, while Paraguay's hopes of an automatic berth were dealt a blow with defeat in Chile.

Just two matchdays remaining, but only one for Colombia, and they lost away to Argentina. That would prove to be crucial as well, as Paraguay won at home to Uruguay to pass them. They would take the final automatic place in the Finals, and they celebrated by winning in La Paz on the final day. That left Colombia in the Playoff spot, and they will now face Panama over two legs for a place in the World Cup.

Qualified :- Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay.
Progressing :- Colombia.
Eliminated :- Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela.

InterContinental Playoffs
North/Central America-South America
Mid November, and there are now just four matches remaining in the long road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil. The first two of those matches will be between Panama and Colombia, as it is North/Central America versus South America for one of the two remaining places in the Finals. Nobody gave Panama a shot here, but in front of a capacity crowd in Panama City, the underdogs were two up inside an hour. They couldn't hold on though, and Colombia scored twice in the final twenty minutes to gain parity before the return leg in Bogota. Once there, the South American side did exactly what was expected of them, dismantling their plucky opponents to record a 4-0 win, and become the sixth South American nation to confirm their place in the Finals.

Qualified :- Colombia. Eliminated :- Panama.

Asia-Oceania
Three days after that Playoff, the second of the InterContinental Playoff ties kicked off, with China the favourites against New Zealand, who were battling to become Oceania's only representatives in the Finals. The First Leg in Shanghai's landmark Birds Nest Stadium attracted a capacity crowd, that saw China go in front early on, before New Zealand levelled the game midway through the first half. China went in front for a second time just before the break, and this time they didn't run the risk of their opponents pulling level again, and they played it very tight in the second half to hold on to that one goal lead ahead of the Second Leg, which would take place four days later in Wellington. Those few days saw the pressure heaped on both sides by their respective media and pundits, but it was China who dealt with it better. They scored in each half, and completed a 4-1 aggregate win, booking themselves the final spot in Brazil.

Qualified :- China. Eliminated :- New Zealand.

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2014 FIFA World Cup Review
The Finals

One of the biggest sports events on the planet, and the biggest football tournament in existence takes place for the 20th time this summer, and for the first time in 36 years, it has a South American host nation too. Brazil are about to join Mexico, Italy, Germany and France as the only multiple time host nation of the month long football extravaganza. They will also be hoping to complete a double hatrick of World Cup triumphs as well, as the most successful football nation in the World look to show their dominance on home turf.

The Group Stage
Group A (DR Congo, Paraguay, Spain, Ukraine)
The reigning and defending World & European Champions are looking for a fourth consecutive major Finals success. Many believe their Golden Generation is about to come to an end, with nine players aged 30 or older, and only three aged under 25 in their squad. They were tested right away, Paraguay went in front early, and equalised late. But not quite late enough, as Juan Manuel Mata of Real Madrid found a late winner. Ukraine beat DR Congo 1-0, and then drew with Paraguay, while Spain recorded a comfortable win over the Africans to secure their passage through. So the final round was all about who would take second. Ukraine were beaten 1-0 by Spain, but they would go through as DR Congo produced a superb display to close out their tournament with a 2-0 win that would also send home Paraguay.

1st (Q) Spain 9 pts, 2nd (Q) Ukraine 4 pts, 3rd DR Congo 3pts, 4th Paraguay 1pt

Group B (Bulgaria, Chile, England, Ghana)
The only home nation to Qualify are pitched into Group B, and they were not expected to get an easy ride here. That didn't look the case when they opened their campaign though, as they thumped Ghana 4-0 in Recife, a first half goal from James Vaughan of Everton was added to in the second half by a brace from Aston Villa forward Ashley Young, and late on a Steven Gerrard free kick. Chile had been given a run for their money by Bulgaria on the same day, eventually running out 3-1 winners. But they were much better when they faced England in the next round of matches, Juventus winger Alexis Sanchez scoring the only goal early in the second half to put down an impressive marker for the South Americans. With Bulgaria beating DR Congo thanks to a goal from soon to be out of contract Aston Villa veteran midfielder, Stiliyan Petrov. That meant that while Chile were beating Ghana 1-0 to post a 100% record from their Group fixtures, there was a winner takes all encounter taking place at the famous Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, where England would also hold the advantage of knowing a draw would be enough thanks to their better goal difference. Not that it would be needed, as almost 92,000 watched in 35C heat as England won 3-0 thanks to a pair from James Vaughan, and a second half goal from Theo Walcott of Arsenal. Only an injury to Chelsea centre back John Terry and a very late red card to Spurs winger David Bentley would be of any concern.

1st (Q) Chile 9pts, 2nd (Q) England 6pts, 3rd Bulgaria 3 pts, 4th Ghana 0 pts

Group C (Brazil, Croatia, Japan, United States of America)
The hosts are involved in Group C, in a pool which could give them a few tricky fixtures to negotiate. They opened in Belo Horizonte against the USA, first half goals from a pair of Spanish based defenders, Dani Alves of Barcelona and Alex of Real Madrid seeing them through. With Croatia beating Japan 1-0 the following day with a goal from Brazilian born striker Eduardo of Arsenal and his incredible International scoring record, the natural order of things were quickly established. The two big nations met next time out, and Brazil recorded another 2-0 win, the strikers getting the job done this time, twice FIFA World Player of the Year winner, Vagner Love of Real Madrid in the first half, and Pato of AC Milan late on to secure the win. Nobody ever believed that Japan's 1-0 over the US later in the day thanks to a first half injury time goal from Chelsea misfit Takayuki Morimoto goal, was anything other than a battle of the bottom two. So it proved, this time the defenders were on the mark for Croatia, with Darijo Srna of Juventus and a maiden International goal for Vedran Corluka of Manchester City seeing them past the US 2-0, while Brazil stepped it up a notch or three. After going behind, they equalised before the break against Japan through Liverpool midfielder Lucas. They then struck four unanswered goals in the second half through AC Milan pair Ramires and Kaká, and a pair from Real Madrid defender Alex.

1st (Q) Brazil 9pts, 2nd (Q) Croatia 6 pts), 3rd Japan 3pts, 4th United States of America 0pts

Group D (China, Denmark, Nigeria, Russia)
This was an interesting looking Group, with the two European nations facing one of Africa's best, and a nation who had aspirations to make the breakthrough as one of Asia's best, before then taking on the World. Sadly, this stage and level of competition showed that China were still some way away from their goals. They were two down inside five minutes of their opener with the Russians thanks to out of favour Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko's brace, and Racing Santander winger Ivan Temnikov completed their misery in the second half. It wasn't anything like as straightforward for the Danes, who were held to a goalless draw by Nigeria, and then in the big match of the section, they were denied a win against Russia by a last minute Dmitry Sychev equaliser, the Getafe striker leveling after West Bromwich Albion striker Ronnie Schwartz had netted from the spot midway through the second half. The result caused Denmark a problem though, as Nigeria had beaten China 3-0 to move past them, and now they would need to beat China, while also getting a favour from the Russians against Nigeria. They kept up their end, first half goals from Schwartz again, and Real Mallorca midfielder Christian Poulsen meant China crashed out without so much as a goal to their name, unless you counted Wang Peng's own goal against Nigeria. But Nigeria wouldn't be progressing any further to try their luck either, as they lost 2-1 to Russia. It was Zenit St Petersburg striker who netted from the penalty spot in first half injury time, and Feyenoord midfielder Dinijar Bilyaletdinov added a second, Nigeria only managing a late consolation, but unable to find the equaliser that would have sent them through by virtue of a single goal better goal difference.

1st (Q) Russia 7pts, 2nd (Q) Denmark 5pts, 3rd Nigeria 4 pts, 4th China 0pts

Group E (Costa Rica, South Korea, Sweden, Uruguay)
We're halfway through the Groups of this First Round, and Costa Rica have found themselves in with three nations who will all have ambitions of going through the Group Stage and beyond if possible. At least one of them will fall though, and that looked very much like it would be Sweden when they lost their opener to South Korea. They were two down inside twenty minutes to goals from a pair of Dutch based players, and a goal from long serving West Bromwich Albion defender Jonas Olsson wasn't enough to get them anything. Uruguay started their campaign with a 3-1 win against Costa Rica, and they had the chance to potentially send the Swedes home early when the two met in their second match. Sevilla defender Martín Cáceres put the South Americans on the way, but his PSV Eindhoven counterpart levelled before the break, only for Edison Cavani of Palermo to put Uruguay back in front in first half injury time. But Hamburger SV striker Marcus Rosenborg netted with seven minutes remaining to keep Sweden in the hunt. And their chances improved later in the day, when South Korea failed to put Costa Rica away, though not for a lack of trying. Three times the Asian nation took the lead, even when they were reduced to ten. But each time, the North American side levelled right back up, with Bryan Ruiz amongst their goalscorers. Sweden still didn't have it in their own hands, but they wouldn't trip up over the Costa Ricans as the South Koreans had, a pair of first half strikes from Sevilla striker Henok Goitom got them their win, and they got a huge assist from Uruguay, who beat South Korea 2-1 in São Paulo, a debut goal from Jonathan Urretaviscaya of Shakhter Donetsk and another from Edison Cavani. That meant that Sweden edged through to the Knockout Stages at the expense of a devastated South Korea side on goal difference.

1st (Q) Uruguay 7pts, 2nd (Q) Sweden 4pts, 3rd South Korea 4pts, 4th Costa Rica 1pt

Group F (Holland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia)
A pair of European heavyweights, an African wildcard, and an Asian team who wished you could buy players in International football, as their wealth hadn't got them too far as yet. That was the write up pre the Group starting, and there was nothing in the openers to contest it. Holland kicked off against Saudi Arabia, and went behind. But Arjen Robben of Real Madrid levelled the match before the break, and his club mate Wesley Sneijder and John Heitinga of Roma netted in the second half to secure the win. In almost identical circumstances, Italy beat Ivory Coast the next day, Gervinho, now playing his football with Atletico Madrid, opened the scoring, before Italy hit back with two quick goals through Alberto Paloschi of Chelsea and the legend that is Giorgio Chiellini of Juventus. A late penalty from Inter Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo settled the match. In the second round of matches, the two European nations faced off, and drew 1-1, Dirk Kuyt, still earning his living at Liverpool, and Chiellini got the goals in the first half. In the other game, Ivory Coast came from behind against Saudi, scoring twice in the last quarter of an hour, Salomon Kalou of Valencia got the first, the second was an injury time own goal. That left them just a point behind the European sides, and people were starting to speculate that Holland would have to be a little careful. And they were right, a Gervinho goal in the first half gave the African side a huge win, and a place in the Knockout Stages. On any other day, it would have been the story of the day, but not today. Not on a day when Italy had 76% possession, 31 shots, 14 of them on target, yet still lost 1-0 to Saudi. That wasn't even the end of the drama either. Ivory Coast win the Group, and now Holland and Italy have identical records. Which means they have to draw lots to see which nation progress. Holland win, Italy go home, and there are huge protests from all connected with the Azzurri.

1st (Q) Ivory Coast 6pts, 2nd (Q) Holland 4pts, 3rd Italy 3pts, 4th Saudi Arabia 3pts

Group G (Colombia, France, Germany, Mexico)
Every Major Finals produces a 'Group of Death', but look at this one for Gods sake! It was certainly a Group that fans were looking forward to watching unfold, and it got off to a great start, with a pair of first half goals from Radamel Falcao of Wolfsburg and Aquivaldo Mosquera of Villarreal getting Colombia off to a winning start after Mexico could only find a late reply from young striker Roberto Hernández in response, his first International goal coming on his debut. Later the same day, France were the talk of world football when they opened up the German defence four times in the first half, Karim Benzema of Roma helping himself to two goals, his club team mate Philippe Mexès and Sofiane Feghouli of Manchester City also finding the net. It was a different Germany side in the second half, and they scored twice in as many minutes around the hour mark through Toni Kroos of Bayern Munich and Lukas Podolski of Borussia Dortmund. That was all they could manage though. It was Mexico who would feel the backlash from the Germans, as they were swept aside 4-0 with goals from Philipp Lahm of Bayern, striker Mario Gomez of Manchester United and Per Mertesacker of Werder Bremen, before the misery was completed with an own goal by César Mendoza. It appeared that France had used up all their goal threat in their opening game, as they couldn't find a way through against Colombia, who took a huge step towards the Knockout Stage with a goal just five minutes from time by Hugo Rodallega of Olympiakos. It would be a nervous wait to see if they were through when they lost their last game against Germany to a last minute goal from VfB Stuttgart defender Ömer Toprak's first ever International goal in only his second cap. But Colombia would be okay, Jimmy Briand of Villarreal had given France the lead against Mexico, before Arsenal's striker Carlos Vela scored twice for the Mexicans. But with moments left to play, AC Milan forward Yoann Gourcuff scored for France. That would do neither side much of a favour and as a result, both nations went out early.

1st (Q) Germany 6pts, 2nd (Q) Colombia 6pts, 3rd France 4pts, 4th Mexico 1pt

Group H (Argentina, Australia, Cameroon, Czech Republic)
Finally, a Group that was overlooked by many, but would prove pretty entertaining. Not so much the opener, as Cameroon recovered from losing Samuel Eto'o to a very early injury, and beat the Aussies 1-0 thanks to a second half goal from François Obele, a 25 year old striker playing for Partizan Belgrade. It was far more entertaining later in the day when Argentina went three up in the first half against the Czechs, a goal from Lisandro López of Manchester City was then added to by a pair from cross city rival Carlos Tevez of City. They nearly blew the lead after the break, the Czechs scoring twice to make a game of it, but lost 3-2. The Czech's would manage two in their next game as well, but once more it wouldn't be enough, Cameroon also scored twice to get a big draw, and later Argentina secured their progression with second half goals from Jonás Gutierrez of Newcastle United and Sergio Agüero of Atletico Madrid. That left the Argentines free to make multiple changes against Cameroon, much to the annoyance of the Czechs. The African side earned a 0-0 draw that sent them through, despite the Czechs beating Australia 3-0 after the Socceroos spent most of the match with only ten men after Oliver Bozanic was red carded. That point had put Cameroon into the Second Round, which might not have been the case had Argentina played their full strength side.

1st (Q) Argentina 7pts, 2nd (Q) Cameroon 5pts, 3rd Czech Republic 4pts, 4th Australia 0pts

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2014 FIFA World Cup Review (continued)

Round Two - The Round of 16
The last sixteen would throw up some mouth watering ties over four fantastic days of football from Brazil, as the World Cup took itself to another level with the start of the knockout rounds. It gets underway with a huge match too, as England's second place in their Group lands them a date with the defending Champions from Spain. In front of 75,000, England lost both Wayne Rooney and David Wheater to injury in the first half, which was a shame, as they may yet need them after Spurs striker Darren Bent found the net with twenty minutes to play to dump the holders out, and put England into the last eight. They'll be joined in the Quarter-Finals by their rivals from the Group Stage, as Chile made fairly short work of Ukraine with a goal in each half, Alexis Sánchez finding the net again, a 2-0 win moving them into the next round as well.

Day two of the Second Round saw Denmark attempt to overhaul the hosts and new tournament favourites of Brazil. In front of a sell out crowd in Belo Horizonte, the Danes gave it their all, but just fell short. Substitute forward Reynaldo of Villarreal scored his first International goal just over ten minutes after coming on, and with just eight minutes left before another half hour was added to the clock. The Brazilians march on, and look difficult to stop. Later that day, the Maracanã hosted an all-Eastern European clash between Croatia and Russia in the late kick off. Just as it had the day before, the later match produced a one sided affair, as Russia shut down Eduardo and the Croatian attack. A goal in each half, first from Marat Izmailov of Sporting Lisbon, and then Alan Dzagoev of CSKA Moscow, sent Russia forward into the Quarter-Finals.

Day three, and the penultimate day of action in the Round of Sixteen, and we had two very different kind of matches ahead of us. First up was a South American v European encounter, as Uruguay squared up to Holland. Both nations had serious ambitions of taking the World Cup home with them, but one had to fall, and it would be Uruguay, in the most dramatic of finishes too. After taking the unusual, maybe even crazy step of taking off Edison Cavani shortly after the hour mark, his replacement Diego Forlán appealed for a penalty with seconds remaining of injury time. The appeals were rejected, and the Dutch counter attacked at pace, with their own sub, Ryan Babel of West Ham United finding the net to break the hearts of the Uruguayan players and supporters. The late game featured two of the lesser fancied underdog nations remaining in the tournament, Ivory Coast and Sweden, who also produced a very entertaining game. Two goals in eight first half minutes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Valencia and Ola Toivonen of Torino had Sweden firmly in control. With twelve minutes left, 36 year old Chelsea legend Didier Drogba pulled a goal back. But just minutes later, he rolled his ankle trying to turn sharply, leaving the Recife park on a stretcher, and taking the Africans hopes with him.

The final day of the Second Round was upon us, and brought two more fascinating looking ties. Firstly, the last roll of the dice for Africa, as Cameroon faced the class and efficiency of the Germans in Fortaleza. The Indomitable Lions gave everything they had, and nearly snatched the game several times during the ninety minutes, only to be denied by Bayer Leverkusen keeper René Adler. And they would rue those misses, as in the final seconds of extra time, Mario Gomez of Manchester United popped up with the winner to extend the Germans superb World Cup record into a Quarter-Final appearance at least in Brazil. That would be followed by an all-South American end to the Round, as Colombia faced Argentina in what would turn out to be a World Cup classic. Right back Nelson Rivas of Sampdoria scored just after the half hour mark to put Colombia in front with his first International goal, only to be at fault two minutes later when Sergio Agüero equalised for Argentina. As the hour mark approached, their talisman, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, finally got off the mark in the Finals, and put Argentina in front and on course to progress into the last eight. That was until Dinamo Kiev striker Freddy Montero smashed home an unstoppable shot with almost the last kick of normal time, and forced an extra half hour. Neither side was brave enough to be overly adventurous, and this match would produce this Finals first penalty shoot-out. A nervous full house, and millions and millions of people around the world watched an exhibition of penalty taking, as sixteen successive spot kicks found the net. That run was broken by Udinese defender Cristián Zapata, who saw his kick go over the bar, and then could only watch on in tears as Gonzalo Rodríguez buried his kick, and sent Argentina through to the last eight.

Progressing :- England, Chile, Brazil, Russia, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Argentina
Eliminated :- Spain, Ukraine, Denmark, Croatia, Uruguay, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Colombia

The Quarter-Finals
We are down to the last eight as the World Cup reaches it's penultimate weekend. Five European nations and three South American sides remain, including the hosts. England were liking their chances as World Cup fever had ramped up back home following their progress. A last eight tie against Russia was seen as favourable. Not so though, as England had a nightmare day in the Maracanã, which started just five minutes in when Wayne Rooney was shown a straight red card for a ridiculous two footed lunge at Manchester City full back Yury Zhirkov in an area of the park where it was unnecessary. It would be a very costly mistake. Zhirkov exacted his own revenge in the 72nd minute with a low shot through a crowd of players that went in off the post. For England, it was do or die time. Fifteen minutes later, it was die, as Spartak Moscow attacking midfielder Vladislav Ryzhkov fired in a second. The game was up for the Three Lions, and their years of hurt would now be past the fifty mark by the time the next World Cup rolls around. 

England going out was merely the appetiser for a main event that the entire World was waiting to watch, a game that transcended the continent of South America, as Chile and Brazil met for a place in the last four. There was a swell of feeling that Chile might be the real deal, and people were nervous for Brazil, including the bookies, and the Brazilians themselves. They would be more nervous still when Chile were two ahead midway through the first half. Their new young hotshot striker, Renzo Sepúlveda, who had recently moved to Rubin Kazan in Russia, scored his first International goal to put them ahead, before Alexis Sánchez increased the lead. Brazil attempted their fightback, and Kaká scored in first half injury time to put them back in the game. But Sánchez scored again, midway through the second half this time, and the nation of Brazil sank, briefly. Kaká fired in his second just two minutes later to set the stadium alive once again, and in the 81st minute he completed his hatrick. Extra time brought no resolution to the stalemate, and the match progressed to penalties. The first four kicks were successful, before Chile midfielder Carlos Carmona of Torino saw his kick saved by Júlio César, and Kaká rammed home the advantage by converting his spot kick. Spanish based defenders Breno and Alex didn't disappoint, and the host nation breathed a huge sigh of relief, then celebrated their last four berth long into Saturday night.

Sunday, not quite a day of relaxation, but it was certainly not going to manage to live up to yesterday's action. Over the years, Holland and Argentina have played out some epic World Cup battles, but this was not one of them. The mindset and confidence of the South American nation was dented significantly in the 18th minute, when they lost Lionel Messi to injury. Had he been carrying the knock the whole while, or was it just another Major Finals where the player widely regarded as one of the best ever had suffered from stage fright, or the pressure of carrying one of the most passionate footballing nations on his back. It was not a stress he would have to consider any longer this summer at least. After a turgid 0-0 draw, Sergio Agüero missed Argentina's second spot kick of the shoot out, and Argentina fell by the wayside.

In the late game, the all-European match between Sweden and Germany was much more entertaining. Nobody gave the Swedish side much of a chance here, less so when Toni Kroos put his nation in front just before the quarter of an hour mark. Just one down at the break, half time did them good, and Bulgaria based midfielder Alexander Farnerud soon had them level, but keeper Andreas Isaksson handed the advantage back to Germany when he couldn't hold on to an inswinging corner, or stop it from then creeping behind him and crossing the line. But he did make quick amends, with two great stops to keep out Mario Gómez, and then a double stop to keep out Mats Hummels header and Kroos' follow up shot. He was rewarded for his efforts with just two minutes to play, as Arsenal midfielder Kim Källström connected with a volley that found the top corner of the net. Extra time would be needed. Penalties would not. Aston Villa midfielder Linus Hallenius had not had a very good first season in England. But he came off the bench and scored for Sweden. That goal put Germany out, and the Scandinavians into the last four.

Progressing :- Russia, Brazil, Holland, Sweden
Eliminated :- England, Chile, Argentina, Germany

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2014 FIFA World Cup Finals Review (continued)

The Semi-Finals
European nations dominate the final four of the World Cup Finals, with only hosts Brazil left standing to try and prevent a third straight European success in the biggest football tournament of them all. There was guaranteed to be at least one European nation in the Final of course, and it would be one of the two lesser fancied nations, who both had a golden chance to lift the World Cup for the first time.

Russia were the slight favourites when they faced Sweden in the opening Semi-Final on the Tuesday night, but several others has been favourites against the Scandinavians during this tournament, and they had gone home. The Russians didn't get to go home, they'd have to stick around for the dreaded Third-Fourth Place Playoff, while for the Swedes, they would look forward to just their second ever World Cup Final, the only other time they had made it was at home in 1958. A goal in the first half from Ola Toivonen, followed by a penalty on the hour mark from Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the job done.

The following night, it would be down to the Brazilian hosts to try and make it an 'all yellow' final. They would face Holland in the Maracanã, with the hopes of the entire football mad nation pinned on their national team. 92,000 were inside the stadium, and saw Robin van Persie score in the 12th minute to put Holland in front and silence large sections of the stadium. Twenty minutes later, the stadium was once more a cacophony of noise, as Kaká drilled home an equaliser from the edge of the box. That goal came moments after Holland had lost Arjen Robben to injury, and they would lose Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to injury on the hour. When Nigel de Jong also went off injured with minutes to go, they had already used their final substitution, and would have to go into Extra Time with ten. With a little over five minutes left of the extra half hour, they were down to nine, Ryan Donk red carded for a professional foul. But the Dutch managed to hold out through the remainder of Extra Time, and the place in the Final would be decided on penalty kicks. Robinho of Manchester City missed Brazil's fifth kick, but Ryan Babel missed the chance to put Holland in the Final. In the second round of sudden death, Léo missed, and Holland would get another chance. Barcelona's attacking midfielder Georgino Wijnaldum made sure that Brazil were not let off the hook again, and he found the net, putting Holland into the Final, and breaking over 200 million Brazilian hearts.

Progressing :- Sweden, Holland
Eliminated :- Russia, Brazil

Third/Fourth Place Playoff
The match that no one wants to play in, and it certainly looked and felt that way as well. Brazil made a host of changes, while Russia played the same side that had played throughout the tournament. But it was Brazil that secured a Third Place finish in their home World Cup, courtesy of a Lucas goal just three minutes in. It was one of only three shots on target in the whole match. Their World Cup was over a day before the nation expected.

3rd place :- Brazil
4th place :- Russia

The Final
As already documented, Sweden will today play in their second World Cup Final, while the Dutch are playing in their second in a row after losing to Spain in the Final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Want an omen? They also lost consecutive World Cup Finals in 1974 against West Germany, and again in 1978 against Argentina. On both occasions, their conquerors were the hosts. How about a statistic instead of an omen? Holland are today looking to become the only nation to win the World Cup that have never hosted the tournament themselves. Whatever happens, Europe will today crown it's third successive World Cup Winner, and one of these two nations will win the World Cup for the first time ever, becoming the ninth different nation to become World Champions. The favourites are the Dutch, not that it will be of bother to the Swedish, who have been underdogs all the way through the tournament, and have thrived under the tag. Lets check out the two sides, which includes an illustration of how depleted Holland are with injuries and suspensions, two of their five substitutes available are goalkeepers.......

SWEDEN :-
Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven)
Mikael Lustig (Fulham), Andreas Granqvist (PSV Eindhoven), Jonas Olsson (West Bromwich Albion), Martin Olsson (Everton)
Rasmus Elm (FC Zürich), Kim Källström (Arsenal) - Capt
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Valencia), Ola Toivonen (Torino), Alexander Farnerud (Levski Sofia)
Linus Hellenius (Aston Villa)

Substitutes :- Johan Wiland (Aarhus GF), Fredrik Stoor (Fulham), Mattias Bjärsmyr (Dynamo Dresden), Samuel Holmén (Bolton Wanderers), Henok Goitom (Sevilla), Peter Larsson (Fenerbaçhe), Behrand Safari (Birmingham City), Alexander Kacaniklic (Bolton Wanderers), Markus Rosenberg (Hamburger SV), Viktor Elm (PSV Eindhoven), John Alvbåge (IFK Göthenburg).

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Substitutes :- Piet Velthuizen (Borussia Dortmund), Georginio Wijnaldum (Barcelona), Jelle ten Rouwelaar (NAC Breda), Joël Tshibamba (Zenit St Petersburg), Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea).

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Real Madrid), Ryan Babel (West Ham United)
Ismail Aissati (Lazio)
Wesley Sneijder (Real Madrid) - Capt, Ibrahim Afellay (Manchester City)
Stijn Schaars (Getafe)
Urby Emanuelson (Ajax), Arie van Campenhout (Ajax), Khalid Boulahrouz (Atletico Madrid), Gianni Zuiverloon (VfL Wolfsburg)
Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax)

HOLLAND :-

The final was hosted in Rio de Janeiro, and it's iconic Maracanã stadium, which has already seen some superb matches during these World Cup Finals. Not this one though, which was only marginally more entertaining than yesterday's Playoff match. Sweden were hampered by injuries to Alexander Farnerud in the first half, and then sub Samuel Holmén who had replaced him. Holland were already down to the absolute bare bones at centre back, 20 year old Ajax centre back Arie van Campenhout, winning only his third cap and making his first appearance of the Finals in the Final itself, was also injured midway through the second half. That caused the Dutch to make a tactical adjustment, and ten minutes later Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was fouled in the box by Mikael Lustig, and the English ref, James Hindley, pointed to the spot. The Real Madrid striker picked himself up, dusted himself off, and smashed home the spot kick, his 45th International goal, and the one that made Holland the World Cup Winners for the first time ever!

Winners :- Holland
Runner's-Up :- Sweden

Awards
Best Goalkeeper :- 1st Maarten Stekelenburg (Holland), 2nd Igor Akinfeev (Russia), 3rd Júlio César (Brazil)

Best Player :- 1st Wesley Sneijder (Holland), 2nd Matías Fernández (Chile), 3rd Toni Kroos (Germany)

Golden Boot :- 1st Alexis Sánchez (Chile - 5 goals), 2nd (Kaká (Brazil - 5 goals), 3rd James Vaughan (England - 3 goals)

Goal of the Tournament :- Gervinho (Ivory Coast) v Italy

Dream Team :- 
Maarten Stekelenburg (Holland)
Daniel Schwaab (Germany), Alex (Brazil), John Heitinga (Holland), Marcelo (Brazil)
Steven Gerrard (England), Toni Kroos (Germany), Kaká (Brazil), Wesley Sneijder (Holland)
Mario Gómez (Germany), Alexis Sánchez (Chile)

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2013/14 Season Review
(*I am of course happy to accommodate requests for players, teams and leagues to be included in reviews*)

UK
England
Barclays Premier League

Champions :- Arsenal (93 pts), Runner's-Up :- Manchester City (75 pts)
Best of the Rest :- Liverpool (73 pts), Manchester United (72 pts), Tottenham Hotspur (64 pts)
Relegated :- Bolton Wanderers (40 pts), Blackburn Rovers (30 pts), Wolverhampton Wanderers (28 pts)
Top Scorers :- Tomas Necid (Reading - 24 goals), Carlos Vela (Arsenal - 19 goals), Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd - 15 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Emanuel Adebayor (Arsenal - 7.63), Carlos Tevez (Man Utd - 7.61), Phil Jagielka (Everton - 7.57)

Chalk up another for Arsenal, as Arsène Wenger bows out of the club in style, adding a fourth successive Premier League title to the European Super Cup and World Club Championship crowns that they won earlier this season. They did it in style too, losing only five times on their way to a 18 point margin of victory. The fourth crown in a row matches the previous Premier League best by Man United between 2007 - 2010. With Wenger gone and retired, it is likely that Gunners fans will be underwhelmed with his replacement, 48 year old Mexican manager José Manuel de la Torre, who has been out of the game for 18 months after being sacked in November 2012 by Spanish La Liga side Getafe, he was in the job for only 10 months. That could give those behind them a chance to close the gap, particularly free spending Manchester City, who had a net spend of over £100m despite moving several unwanted high earners on, and they ended the season with a strike force of Robert Lewandowski and Gonzalo Higuaín. With the Title long since decided, it would be down to the relegation battle to provide any last minute drama. Playoff winners from last season Wolves were already long gone, and Blackburn Rovers had not been far behind them. So attention would turn to Fratton Park, where last season's Championship winners Portsmouth knew a point would do to relegate opponents Bolton. They would get their point too, but only via a Frazier Campbell equaliser with just five minutes left of the season.

Coca-Cola Championship
Champions :- Leicester City (95 pts), Runner's-Up :- Plymouth Argyle (77 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Stoke City (77 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Birmingham City (75 pts), Peterborough United (74 pts), Ipswich Town (72 pts)
Relegated :- Barnsley (41 pts), Crystal Palace (39 pts), Southend United (37 pts)
Top Scorers :- John Utaka (Plymouth - 24 goals), David Bunderla (Sheff Wed - 23 goals), Garry Wood (Watford - 22 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Omar Koroma (QPR - 7.37), Hogan Ephraim (Stoke - 7.34), Billy Sharp (Sheff Utd - 7.34)

For Arsenals domination in the Premier League, see Leicester City for the equivalent in the Championship, as they also gave the Division a hiding with an eighteen point lead when the season finished. Is anyone going to give us a good Title battle this season? No matter, the story came elsewhere, as Plymouth Argyle took the runner's-up spot to secure a second straight promotion, and Dave Penney's side will be Devon's first representatives in the Premier League I believe. In the three years since he replaced Alan Pardew, he has turned Argyle's fortunes around. In the Playoffs, Birmingham easily put Peterborough away, while Stoke had to go all the way to penalties to get by Ipswich. So Wembley would host a battle of two sides looking for an immediate return to the Premier League, and it would be Stoke who edged it, thanks to a last minute of extra time goal by Hogan Ephraim, just three minutes after Liam Ridgewell was sent off for a second bookable offence. At the other end, there would be no final day dramatics, as Barnsley went right back down, Southend finished bottom, but Crystal Palace were the real surprise. They appeared to be fine, but part way through the season their finances took a nosedive, and they couldn't climb out of trouble. Peter Taylor's five year reign ends as he resigns at the end of the season.

Coca-Cola League One
Champions :- Norwich City (89 pts), Runner's-Up :- Millwall (82 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Yeovil Town (78 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Leyton Orient (79 pts), Tranmere Rovers (75 pts), Doncaster Rovers (73 pts)
Relegated :- Walsall (51 pts), Aldershot Town (50 pts), Port Vale (50 pts), Scunthorpe United (46 pts)
Top Scorers :- Paul McGowan (Leyton Orient - 32 goals), Ashley Grimes (Carlisle - 25 goals), Mads Junker (Norwich - 23 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Liam Buchanan (Doncaster - 7.37), Paul McGowan (Leyton Orient - 7.34), Sammy Morrow (Millwall - 7.32)

It wasn't anything like as dominant as Arsenal or Leicester's success, but it was not too complicated for Norwich City, who build on last seasons Playoff place by taking the Coca-Cola League 1 Title this time around, joined in automatic promotion by another of last seasons unlucky Playoff sides, Millwall. Two of the relegated Championship sides from last season, Tranmere and Doncaster would go into the end of season ritual to award the final promotion spot, but they were both brushed aside by a rejuvenated Yeovil Town and Leyton Orient. The East London club had 32 goal striker Paul McGowan in their ranks, but both he, and they, drew a blank in the Final at Wembley, and Yeovil secured promotion to the Championship with second half winner. At the other end, Aldershot were the only one of the four promoted sides to go back down right away, Rochdale's final day home draw with fellow promoted club Bradford condemned Walsall to relegation when they were beaten at home by Yeovil.

Coca-Cola League Two
Champions :- Huddersfield Town (84 pts), Runner's-Up :- Wycombe Wanderers (80 pts), Also Promoted :- Crewe Alexandra (79 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Grimsby Town (73 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Rotherham United (76 pts), Chesterfield (73 pts), Stockport County (72 pts)
Relegated :- Exeter City (47 pts), Rushden & Diamonds (43 pts)
Top Scorers :- Matt Harold (Wycombe - 25 goals), Alan Murphy (Chesterfield - 25 goals), Paddy Madden (Chester - 22 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Idir Ouali (Huddersfield - 7.48), Matt Harold (Wycombe - 7.27), Shaun Harrad (Burton - 7.23)

Huddersfield were the best of the relegated sides in last seasons Coca-Cola League One, and they would go right back up as Champions, in what was the closest thing we got to a Title Race all season in England. It was won a week before the end of the season, and then looked a little tighter than it was when Huddersfield lost on the last day. Wycombe improved on their Playoff place last season to also go up, joined by Crewe Alexandra. It was a second season of sneaking into the Playoffs for Stockport County too, also going one better by beating Rotherham on penalties to go to Wembley. There they would meet Grimsby, who had crushed Chesterfield over two legs, and showed they were the form side to score in each half and win 2-0 to claim promotion into League One. Last season the story was the fall from grace of Derby County, and this year that story would involve Exeter City. In the Playoffs last season, no one expected them to be fighting for their Football League lives this season. But several poor runs of form left them needing a last day win and Cheltenham to do no better than draw. The latter part worked out that way, but Exeter couldn't get their win, and they joined last seasons Blue Square Premier Playoff Winners from Rushden & Diamonds in losing their Football League status.

Blue Square Premier League
Champions :- Torquay United (90 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Ebbsfleet United (82 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Woking (86 pts), Kidderminster Harriers (85 pts), Derby County (82 pts)
Relegated :- St Albans City (46 pts), Histon (43 pts), Droylsden (43 pts), Newport County (29 pts)
Top Scorers :- Craig Mason (Ebbsfleet - 28 goals), Scott Spencer (Kidderminster - 27 goals), Elliot Benyon (Torquay - 27 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Elliot Benyon (Torquay - 7.28), Graham Weir (Dorchester - 7.23) Tony Evans (Oxford Utd - 7.20)

The Blue Square Premier saw increased attention this season as a result of Derby County falling out of the Football League. The Midlands club saw average attendances of around 11,000, more than double the next best in the Division, but whether those fans will return in those numbers next season is anybody's guess. It was Torquay United who took the Title, ending a spell of seven seasons outside of the Football League for the South Coast side, and while they were still celebrating, Derby were ruining their second chance at moving right back into League Two. They scraped past Kidderminster over two legs, but were then demolished by Ebbsfleet United at Wembley, and instead they would take a place in League Two next season for the first time in their history. At the other end, Newport County had ridden their luck in the Premier for a couple of seasons, but it well and truly ran out this season, recording only 29 points from 46 games, just five wins all season. Droylsden and Histon joined them, albeit several weeks later, leaving newly promoted St Albans City going up against Tamworth on the last day, needing a win and Grays Athletic to lose or draw. City got their win, but received no help from already relegated Histon, as Grays won as well, and City would also go down.

Blue Square North
Champions :- Boston United (84 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Northwich Victoria (73 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Harrogate Town (78 pts), Altrincham (77 pts), FC United of Manchester (70 pts)
Relegated :- Blyth Spartans (45 pts), Ilkeston Town (44 pts), Halesowen Town (25 pts)
Top Scorers :- Matt Tubbs (Farsley - 20 goals), Paul Sludden (Northwich - 20 goals), Chris Simm (Hyde Utd - 18 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Graeme Armstrong (Gainsborough - 7.31), Matt Tubbs (Farsley - 7.07), Nathan Joynes (Altrincham - 7.02)

Blue Square South
Champions :- Weymouth (87 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Staines Town (77 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Billericay Town (76 pts), Forest Green Rovers (74 pts), Dartford (71 pts)
Relegated :- Chelmsford City (40 pts), Bishop's Stortford (39 pts), Oxford City (26 pts)
Top Scorers :- Tony Garrod (Weston-super-Mare - 22 goals), James Forrest (Welling United - 20 goals), Stuart Beavon (Weymouth - 20 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Stuart Beavon (Weymouth - 7.21), Alan Lynch (Billericay - 7.12), Loui Fazakerley (Welling - 7.10)

FA Cup
Manchester United beat Blackburn Rovers 2-2 (after extra time - 5-3 on penalties) at Wembley Stadium, London

League Cup
Manchester United beat Manchester City 1-1 (after extra time - 4-2 on penalties) at Wembley Stadium, London

Community Shield
Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 at Wembley Stadium, London

Johnstone's Paint Trophy
Doncaster Rovers beat Leyton Orient 4-3 after extra time at Wembley Stadium, London

Football Conference League Cup
Torquay United beat Histon 1-1 (after extra time - 5-4 on penalties) at Wembley Stadium, London

FA Trophy
Derby County beat Crawley Town 3-1 after at Wembley Stadium, London
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Scotland

Organised League Football continues to be outlawed in Scotland since the events that saw a semi-respected member of the Nations Parliament catch a toe punted ball with his face while parking his car. Cup football does however continue as normal, partly to satisfy the tradition that an Englishman can be killed lawfully with a bow and arrow as long as a Cup match is taking place, and partly so they can allow the BBC to show 43 seconds of highlights once a month and continue to charge them full whack via annual recurring direct debit.

Scottish FA Cup
Rangers beat Kilmarnock 2-0 at Hampden Park, Glasgow

Scottish League Cup
Heart of Midlothian beat Aberdeen 3-2 after extra time at Hampden Park, Glasgow

Scottish League Challenge Cup
Dunfermline Athletic beat Raith Rovers 1-0 at Fir Park, Motherwell
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Northern Ireland
Premier Division
Champions :- Portadown (69 pts), Runner's-Up :- Linfield (67 pts)
Relegation Playoff :- Cliftonville lose 1-4 on aggregate against Lurgan Celtic
Relegated :- Coleraine (40 pts)

Portadown waited eleven years for a Title to come along, and now they have two in a row. They would go to Glenavon three days after the season was due to finish to play a rearranged game, knowing a win would move them past Linfield and make them Champions. A double from Michael McNally did the job. I have said before that the balance of power may be shifting in Ulster, and with Belfast now without a Title for two years, the point may be being proved. Add to that Coleraine finishing bottom, and Belfast club Cliftonville being comprehensively beaten by Lurgan Celtic in the Playoff, while the likes of Glebe Rangers and Institute stayed up, the evidence is there.

First Division
Champions :- Distillery (55 pts), Runner's-Up :- Lurgan Celtic (50 pts)
Promotion Playoff :- Lurgan Celtic win 4-1 on aggregate versus Cliftonville
Relegated :- Loughgall (29 pts), Bangor (23 pts)

After two Playoff defeats in successive seasons, Distillery were leaving nothing to chance this season, winning the League by five points over closest rivals Lurgan Celtic when the Title Race became whittled down to just two. Celtic will be joining them in the top tier next season as well, as they sent shock waves through Northern Irish football by destroying Cliftonville over two legs in the Playoff, securing an immediate return to the top flight after being relegated last season from their first stint in the Premier Division. 

Second Division
Champions :- Police Service of Northern Ireland (49 pts), Runner's-Up :- Armagh City (45 pts)
Relegated :- Ballyclare Comrades (27 pts), Brantwood (24 pts)

Police Service of Northern Ireland return from non-League football, and storm straight to a double promotion by taking the Second Division Title on their first season back in the League. They will be joined in their move into the second tier by Armagh City, who return back to the First Division at the second time of asking. The final day of the season saw four sides still in danger of being pushed into the relegation zone. That danger subsided for Portstewart and Killyleagh YC when both Brantwood and Ballyclare Comrades lost, meaning they were the sides who would drop out of the League pyramid next season. 

Northern Irish FA Cup
Portadown beat Donegal Celtic 2-1 at Windsor Park, Belfast

Northern Irish League Cup
Glentoran beat Dungannon Swifts 2-0 at Windsor Park, Belfast

Northern Irish Intermediate League Cup
Annagh United beat Brantwood 3-1 at Windsor Park, Belfast

Northern Irish Intermediate Cup
Carrick Rangers beat Killymoon Rangers 2-0 at Seaview, Belfast
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Wales
Premier League
Champions :- Llanelli AFC (75 pts), Runner's-Up :- The New Saints (59 pts)
Relegated :- Welshpool Town (32 pts), Bangor City (19 pts)

Just like Arsenal across the border, it is now four Titles in a row for Llanelli in Wales. The expected resurgence of The New Saints failed to materialise, as they finished 16 points ahead of TNS, who did at least manage to finish as runner's up with a win over surprise package Port Talbot Town a week from the end of the season. There was another surprise as well, and that was the horrendous form of twice Welsh Champions and the six time Welsh Cup Winners from Bangor City. With only four wins all season, nothing really went right for City, and they were relegated in March. They were joined almost a month later by Welshpool Town. On a side note, and of no significance whatsoever, my hometown hosted the Welsh Cup Final this year.

Welsh FA Cup
Llanelli AFC beat NEWI Cefn Druids 2-1 after extra time at Cwmbran Stadium, Cwmbran

Welsh Premier League Cup
Newtown beat Aberystwyth Town 1-0 at The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

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2013/14 Season Review (continued)

Best of Europe
UEFA Champions League
Real Madrid (SPA) beat AS Roma (ITA) 2-2 (after extra time, 6-5 on penalties) at Wembley Stadium, London, England

UEFA Europa League
AC Milan (ITA) beat Tottenham Hotspur (ENG) 6-1 at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, England

UEFA European Super Cup
Arsenal (ENG) beat Liverpool (ENG) 1-1 (after extra time, 4-3 on penalties) at Stade Louis II, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Belgium
Champions :- Club Brugge (49 pts), Runner's-Up :- Anderlecht (45 pts)
Top Scorer :- Andrija Kaludjerovic (Racing Club Genk - 23 goals). Top Average Rating :- Cyril Théréau (Club Brugge - 7.50)

France
Champions :- Olimpique de Marseille (73 pts), Runner's-Up :- AJ Auxerre (71 pts)
Top Scorer :- Walter (Olymique Lyon - 23 goals). Top Average Rating :- Walter (Olympique Lyon - 7.67)

Germany
Champions :- FC Bayern Munich (73 pts), Runner's-Up :- VfB Stuttgart (64 pts)
Top Scorer :- Stefan Kießling (FC Bayern Munich - 24 goals). Top Average Rating :- Simon Rolfes (FC Bayern Munich - 7.39)

Holland
Champions :- Feyenoord Rotterdam (66 pts), Runner's-Up :- Ajax Amsterdam (66 pts)
Top Scorer :- Ivan Trickovski (Willem II - 18 goals). Top Average Rating :- Tony Koutouan (PSV Eindhoven - 7.57)

Italy
Champions :- Inter Milan (79 pts), Runner's-Up :- Udinese (69 pts)
Top Scorer :- Éder (Bologna - 16 goals). Top Average Rating :- Davide Santon (Inter Milan - 7.64)

Portugal
Champions :- FC Porto (70 pts), Runner's-Up :- Benfica (70 pts)
Top Scorer :- Rafael Sóbis (Benfica - 21 goals). Top Average Rating :- Cristian Rodríguez (Porto - 7.33)

Russia
Champions :- CSKA Moscow (67 pts), Runner's Up :- Zenit St.Petersburg (60 pts)
Top Scorer :- Rade Jeljovic (Amkar Perm - 21 goals). Top Average Rating :- Pavel Pogrebnyak (Zenit St Petersburg - 7.43)

Spain
Champions :- Real Madrid (100 pts), Runner's-Up :- Valencia (72 pts)
Top Scorer :- Vagner Love (Real Madrid - 17 goals). Top Average Rating :- Vagner Love (Real Madrid - 7.83)
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Rest of the World
FIFA Club World Championship
Arsenal (ENG) beat Club América (MEX) 3-1 at Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul, South Korea

Copa Libertadores
Santos (BRA) beat Corinthians (BRA) 5-2 on aggregate

Copa Sudamericana
Boca Juniors (ARG) beat Grêmio (BRA) 2-1 on aggregate

Asian Champions League
Bejing Guo'an (CHN) beat Al-Hilal (KSA) 4-2 on aggregate

North American Champions League
Club de Fútbol Monterrey (MEX) beat Club de Fútbol Universidad Pumas (MEX) 5-2 on aggregate

OFC Champions League
Auckland City (NZL) beat Kossa FC (SOL) 2-0 at Tafuna Veteran's Memorial Stadium, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Argentina
Champions :- River Plate, Runner's-Up :- Boca Juniors

Australia
Hyundai A-League Regular Season Champions :- Central Coast Mariners. Runner's-Up :- Perth Glory
Hyundai A-League Grand Final Series :- Central Coast Mariners beat Sydney FC 3-0 at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

Brazil
Champions :- Cruzeiro, Runner's-Up :- Santos

United States of America
Major League Soccer Regular Season Champions :- New York Red Bulls, Runner's-Up :- Los Angeles Galaxy
Major League Soccer Final :- New York Red Bulls beat FC Dallas 3-2 at McAfee Coliseum, Oakland, California
----------

International

2014 Africa Cup of Nations :- Hosts :- Libya. Holders :- Morocco.
Final :- Senegal beat Nigeria 2-0 at 11 June Stadium, Tripoli, Libya
Top Scorer :- Vincent Tchalla (Togo - 5 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Ali Mathlouthi (Tunisia - 7.80)

2013 North American Gold Cup :- Hosts :- United States of America. Holders :- Canada.
Final :- United States of America beat Canada 3-0 at Meadowlands Stadium, New Jersey, United States of America
Top Scorer :- Carlos Vela (Mexico - 8 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Carlos Vela (Mexico - 8.83)

2014 Oceania Nations Cup :- Hosts :- Tahiti. Holders :- New Zealand.
Final :- New Zealand beat Solomon Islands 4-1 on aggregate 
Top Scorer :- Benjamin Totori (Solomon Islands - 5 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand - 8.00)

2013 Confederations Cup :- Hosts :- Brazil. Holders :- Italy.
Final :- Argentina beat Brazil 1-1 (after extra time - 4-1 on penalties) at Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Top Scorer :- Kaká (Brazil - 6 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Kaká (Brazil - 7.60)

2013 Under-20's World Cup :- Hosts :- Nigeria. Holders :- Brazil
Final :- Italy beat Russia 5-2 at Abuja Stadium, Abuja, Nigeria
Top Scorer :- Dancho Kostadinov (Bulgaria - 6 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Rolando Caprai (Italy - 7.50)

2013 European Under-21's Championship :- Hosts :- Poland. Holders :- Holland
Final :- Poland beat Denmark 3-0 at Stadion Narodowy, Warsaw, Poland
Top Scorer :- Mads Albæk (Denmark - 5 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Tom Elliott (England - 8.43)

2013 European Under-19's Championship :- Hosts :- Belguim. Holders :- Italy
Final :- Germany beat Czech Republic 3-1 at Stade Edmond Machtens, Brussels, Belgium
Top Scorer :- Hüseyin Inan (Germany - 7 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Hüseyin Inan (Germany - 8.23) 
----------

Awards
FIFA World Footballer of the Year
1st :- Bojan (FC Barcelona & Spain), 2nd :- Carlos Vela (Arsenal & Mexico), 3rd :- Mirko Vucinic (AS Roma & Montenegro)

UEFA European Footballer of the Year
1st :- Carlos Vela (Arsenal & Mexico), 2nd :- Francesc Fàbregas (Arsenal & Spain), 3rd :- Marouane Fellaini (Everton & Belgium)

UEFA European Golden Boot
1st :- Steffan Kießling (FC Bayern Munich - 24 goals), 2nd :- Tomas Necid (Reading - 24 goals), 3rd :- Walter (Olympique Lyon - 23 goals)

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Tuesday 24th June 2014
I have accepted invitations for Maidstone United to take part in both Reserve and Under-18 Leagues this season. With a much stronger First Team this time around, the Reserves should be competitive, and will be used to blend Under-18 players into the First Team setup as well. Now we await the arrival of the Youth Intake to see if we have any young talent who can take the step up.

Wednesday 25th June
Striker Iain McMillan has been voted 'Player of the Year' by the members of our Supporter's Club. The 21 year old Scot from Glasgow picks up the award after scoring nine times last season despite being mostly on the bench since my arrival at the club, but did set a new record for an average rating over a season for Maidstone United, matching Ian Cox's 6.62, but doing so over 27 appearances rather than the seven games Cox appeared in. He was also named when the clubs 'Best XI for 2013/14' was announced.

Josh Derry (GK)
Ian Rossiter (RB), James Curtis (CB), Aaron Steele (CB), Mark Williams (LB),
Mark Green (RW), Jamie McMaster (CM), Malcolm Carr (CM), Chris Wilkinson (LW),
Iain McMillan (ST), Daniel Walsh (ST).

Substitutes :- Andy Miskimmon, Peter Hylton (GK), Martyn Giles, Alan Dallas, Marc Canham, Jack Collins, Lewis McMahon.

McMillan's new average rating record wasn't the only club record to fall in 2013/14, as the club also set a new record average attendance too, 530 easily beating the previous best of 410 from 2008.

It's very likely our average attendance will get off to a very healthy start in 2014/15 as well, with our season scheduled to begin with a home derby game against nearby Dartford on Saturday 9th August 2014. We will remain at home the following weekend when we host AFC Hornchurch. Our first away trip follows that, a midweek match at Hitchin Town, before we travel to Gloucestershire to face what I suspect will be a strong Forest Green Rovers side on Saturday 23rd August. Some other notable dates are a home game against Newport County on 30th September, the club just a few miles away from where I was born and grew up. We visit them on the 7th February, just a few weeks after our derby return in Dartford on 17th January. We are scheduled to close the season out against Weston-super-Mare at home on 25th April, and then Havant & Waterlooville away on 2nd May, where I could come up against Rikki Bains from my India Senior National Squad. They are one of the three clubs promoted into the Blue Square South, the other two being Canvey Island and Hitchin Town.

Next on the agenda is the expectations for the 2014/15 season. Before getting to that point, my immediate gut instinct was a safe mid table position.The Board were on exactly the same page, which would have brought me no Transfer Budget, and a Wage Budget of £4,300 per week, already £500 a week below what we are spending. Shifting the expectation level slightly into a top half position, which isn't a huge step further on in my mind, would increase the Wage Budget by a further £300 a week, giving me £4,600 per week to use. I took the jump, and made that our goal. Secretly, I'm harboring hopes that we will be a lot better this season and manage that goal fairly comfortably.

Finally, is was what is often a highlight of the season in lower league saves, the introduction of the new Youth Intake for the 2014/15 season. Sadly, but not entirely surprisingly, I would be disappointed. There were six new youngsters in the group, and every single one of them is a midfielder, which isn't great. I'll give you a quick run down of them. Sol Ward is one of two in the Intake who is arriving in Kent from further afield, which in itself is promising news. The 16 year old hails from Penrith in Cumbria, and is the pick of the bunch according to the coaching staff. He really isn't in my opinion, and he is fairly defensive, which isn't an area I need any more depth in.

Much more likely to make the grade in my opinion is 15 year old Sittingbourne lad, Michael Coleman. While obviously very raw, he is already an accomplished passer of the ball, and also scores highly in work rate, determination, team work, influence, and maybe more interestingly, for flair. The one to watch for the crop I'd suggest. Next is another more local lad, and another player who is more defensive. 16 year old Kenny Evans has good size, and is very much the hard working, team player type. But there is nothing really to suggest he'll push for a place here. Next is the second player who we have brought in from outside the area, 16 year old James Hutchings is from Radcliffe in the Greater Manchester area. He is tagged as an attacking midfielder, but while he scores very well in the physical attributes, he can't pass the ball or finish with any real level of skill.

The final pair are also both Sittingbourne lads, and both more conventional centre midfielders. 15 year old Louis Ward looks interesting, not unlike Coleman, he scores very highly for flair while also getting high marks for work rate, determination and bravery. Chris Locke is like a smaller (5'3) version of him, but probably a step or two behind his slightly older new team mate.

Thursday 26th June
I'm sure he thought he would earn a spot at a side much further up the pyramid, but as it turns out, the only similarity between his old club and his new club, is that both start with 'Ma' and end in 'United'. 19 year old Terry Hindmarch is a lightning quick 6'0 tall left winger, who counts Frank Rijkaard as one of his favourite people in football. The Dutch legend appears to have earned a stay of execution at Old Trafford by winning both the FA Cup and League Cup last season with Manchester United at Wembley, both on penalties, but one of them against rivals Manchester City. Even so, the feeling wasn't mutual with Hindmarch, and after three years of development with one of the worlds richest clubs, the teenager from Epping was probably aghast to learn the sum of his options were Linfield in Northern Ireland, or Maidstone. He opted for the latter, signing a £200 a week three year deal. I'll be surprised if he isn't a big success here. The fans are certainly happy.

Monday 30th June
The players, old and new, have returned from holidays, and are back to work today as pre-season training gets underway, with our first Friendly less than a fortnight away now. The new season is almost upon us!

Edited by neilhoskins77

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Tuesday 1st July 2014
One of the busiest days in the football calendar, as contracts expire and transfers are made en masse. For us, today, it is incoming's, with our outgoing's all done several weeks and months ago. Adam Campbell and Michael Haswell both complete their pre agreed moves from Fleetwood Town and AFC Wimbledon respectively. Once again, the fans are delighted, and our summer recruitment drive seems to have gone down very well with our supporters.

Also arriving at the club today were the two players from Northern Ireland that my predecessor Michael McIndoe had signed to contracts. I don't think there's too much doubt that Maidstone would have dropped out of the sixth tier by now had McIndoe stayed at the club, especially judging by the quality of his recruits. Stephen Winton played only five times for Chimney Corner in the Northern Irish Second Division last season, his first season in Ulster after four years with Dunfermline Athletic. The 21 year old is a defensive midfielder, and if I had played three of them in a line in front of my defence, he still wouldn't have got a game. He signed a one year deal at £35 a week, and today I gave him £2,000 to sling his hook and cancelled his contract.

More difficult to get rid of would be 24 year old Scottish winger, Callum Martin. I can't imagine what McIndoe was looking at when he made this deal, but whatever he was looking at was blurred by poor eyesight or an alcohol content bordering on the insane. Martin started his career well with Arnison Rangers, before moving to the Republic of Ireland for a less successful season with Fanad United, followed by a very poor year with them. He moved north to Ballinamallard United in the Northern Irish Second Division, where his form was even less impressive. Worse than his form was the contract from McIndoe, two years, at £240 a week. My attempt to loan him out brought nothing, as did my move to send him right back out on a Free Transfer. He was already furious by this 'Welcome To Maidstone', and snapped my hand off when I offered him a mutual termination of his brand spanking new contract. His deal, worth almost £25,000 to him over two seasons, was abruptly ended for £7,000. A good deal for us, but an expensive day nonetheless.

There are still a lot of good players available, even more than before now that another group have today left their clubs after their deals expired, or remained where they are on month to month or non-contract terms. There are still options to improve what we have, but if I do so, I will have to start moving players out as well, or the finances will be stretched to the point where the club will be hemorrhaging cash. We have already missed out an a midfielder today, 19 year old Mossley born Kevin Brown spent three seasons developing at the all conquering Arsenal side. He didn't play for the First Team, but was sought after when released. He rejects us to sign for Division rivals, Havant & Waterlooville.

As of right now, the Board are satisfied with how things are going at the club, with things staying very stable from our last monthly review. The club lost £20,000 in June, and as of today, is around £50,000 in debt. It's a matter of time before I am asked to cut back on spending. Then it will be decision time, either press on regardless to try and play our way out of financial issues, or sell assets at the risk of failing to hit our targets.

Saturday 5th July
I did tell you I was trying to bring in some better players again, and today is the proof of how high I was aiming, and in this case, missing. Midfielder, Henri Lansbury, who has just left Arsenal at the end of his contract following a season long loan in Belgium with FC Brussels, spent ten years with the London club, playing just one Premier League match. Left footed 24 year old striker Martyn Waghorn had only been at Sunderland a year less than Lansbury spent with Arsenal, playing 21 times in the Premier League for the North East club, and scoring frequently during loan spells, notably at Hartlepool United and Tranmere Rovers. Both have today rejected offers to join Maidstone United and attempt to rebuild their careers in Kent.

Sunday 6th July
Another rejection today from a player we didn't expect to get, veteran Icelandic International forward, Viktor Bjarki Arnarsson rejecting our offer. The 31 year old is one of a minority in the Iceland squad he has been capped thirteen times with, in that he hasn't yet played any of his football in the UK. There have been stops in Holland, Norway and the Czech Republic for him, the latter a loan spell during a four year stint with Bulgarian top tier side, Lokomotiv Sofia, where his contract has just expired. Former Maidstone United Youth player and latterly Fulham and Birmingham City centre back, Chris Smalling, was one of his team mates there. It's widely expected that Arnarsson will continue his career either in Bulgaria or Czech Republic.

We did get a new signing today though, and for me, it's a second chance to have this player in my team. Now 30 years old, striker Danny Carey-Bertram signed for Ayr United two years ago this week, when I was the Manager of the Scottish Second Division club. Within weeks, I was no longer in the job at Somerset Park, and Scottish League football was abolished. Now the player who scored freely in the Northern version of this League for AFC Telford United, returns to English football, keen to remind everyone exactly what he can do. He has 102 goals from 280 games so far in his career, and signs a two year deal for £100 a week. Once more, the fans are happy with our business.

We have also signed new Youth Intake teen midfielder Michael Coleman to a new deal today. The sixteen year old will sign a £5 per week, four year pro deal next month when he reaches the age of 17.

Adam Campbell twisted his knee in today's training session, and the 25 year old Northern Irish left sided player will miss two or three weeks of pre-season now, which will be frustrating for him, and us.

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On 27/09/2019 at 14:32, oche balboa said:

Keep up the very good work 

Appreciate it, thanks mate 

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Saturday 12th July 2014
After the long summer of football with the World Cup taking centre stage, football is back today for the Maidstone United fans, as pre-season gets underway today. It's not exactly the Maracanã, as we make the 75 mile journey from Maidstone, counter clockwise on the M25 and into Buckinghamshire, where we face Beaconsfield SYCOB at Holloways Park, in the first of our not very glamorous at all pre-season fixtures.

Pre-Season Friendly
Holloways Park, Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield SYCOB v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
65. Weather :- Wet, 17c.

No beautiful summer weather in Buckinghamshire to start of our pre-season campaign, as we get underway in wet weather with a two new signings starting alongside players who proved their worth while helping us avoid relegation last season. The changes come on the left side of the park, with Michael Haswell at left back, and Terry Hindmarch on the wing. There are eight more of our new signings included amongst a 12 strong substitutes bench, with a switch of the eleven planned at the interval.

It took us a little while to get going in the conditions, but once we did, it was very clear that we were much better than our minnow opponents. They gave the ball up very easily, and Daniel Walsh sent an early effort from the edge of the box over the bar. Josh Derry was called into action when Kevin Tuohy tried his luck from a similar distance, the keeper pushing the ball over the top. That would be the most they would trouble us for a while though. Marc Canham won the ball in midfield, and sent it forward to Walsh. The striker held the ball up, before sending it wide right to Jack Collins. The wingers cross found new signing Terry Hindmarch as he came in from the left, chesting the ball down and then striking it high into the net to open the scoring in the 17th minute. The common opinion was that the floodgates may now open, and they would, but it would take another 15 minutes. Then James Curtis lifted the ball over the back four and into the left channel, where Hindmarch kept it in, then squared it across goal for Walsh to knock into the bottom corner. A few minutes later, it was Collins who was back to setting up a goal, his inswinging corner finding Malcolm Carr at the far post, and the defensive midfielder directed his header into the top corner. Collins was menacing the Beaconsfield defence, and he twisted between two on the right wing and sent in a beautiful low cross that Walsh stooped to head as it bounced back up, the ball hitting the upright and cleared before Jamie McMaster could sweep home the loose ball. There was still time for one more before the break though, Collins again with the cross, and Canham arrived between a pair of defenders and planted a diving header into the bottom corner to make it 4-0 at half time.

Eleven changes were made at half time, with seven players making their first outing in a Maidstone United jersey. Mark Smith instantly attempted to show what he can do, getting around three players in a tight space on the edge of the box, but ruining his work with a finish that cleared the cross bar. The winger quickly got back into the action though, beating an opponent for pace and standing up a cross to the far post, where opposite winger Chris Wilkinson found the net with a controlled half volley. Number six wasn't far away, Gary Murray's free kick into the box was just deep enough to entice Tony Calcutt off his line. But the keeper misjudged the flight of the ball badly, leaving Danny Carey-Bertram with a very straightforward finish into an open goal. We could have quickly got another goal, Murray sending a short pass to Alan Dallas, who sent in a curling effort from 25 yards that curled wickedly, only just clearing the bar above the top corner he was aiming for. Number seven would arrive twenty minutes after the break. Wilkinson sent a diagonal pass across goal, two defenders left it to each other, and Smith swiped the ball away, finishing on the turn to complete the scoring in a match that was every bit as one sided as the score, and told us very little in the grand scheme of things.

Beaconsfield SYCOB (0) 0
Maidstone United (4) 7
-
Terry Hindmarch (17), Daniel Walsh (33), Malcolm Carr (38), Marc Canham (45), Chris Wilkinson (49), Danny Carey-Bertram (52), Mark Smith (65)
Josh Derry (Peter Hylton 45); Andy Miskimmon © (Gary Murray 45), Aaron Steele (Richard Anderson 45), James Curtis (Shaun Culverhouse 45), Michael Haswell (Fernando Maia 45); Malcolm Carr (Alan Dallas 45); Marc Canham (Gordon Chin 45), Jamie McMaster (Gavin Molloy 45); Jack Collins (Mark Smith 45), Terry Hindmarch (Chris Wilkinson 45); Daniel Walsh (Danny Carey-Bertram 45).
Unused Substitute :- Jack Deeney.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 45% - 55%. Man of the Match :- Terry Hindmarch (Maidstone United).

Monday 14th July
Our pre-season is underway with a very easy win, and there is an expectation that we'll do the same again tomorrow evening when we host our only match of the pre-season schedule as Nuneaton Town make the trip to visit us at Bourne Park. The draw for the South First Round of the Conference League Cup is made tonight, and we won't be hosting there either, as we are drawn away to face Weston-super-Mare at Woodspring Park on an early Setpember evening.

Tuesday 15th July

Pre-Season Friendly
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Nuneaton Town
Attendance :-
193, Weather :- Wet, 22c

The plan is the same as it was last Saturday, another match with eleven half time changes today. But there is some rotation to the both the starting eleven and squad from the match in Buckinghamshire. At right back, Gary Murray starts in place of Andy Miskimmon, who is left out today with Alex Sawyer on the bench. On the opposite side of the back four, Mark Williams starts in place of Michael Haswell, who takes the bench spot vacated by the dropping of Fernando Maia. There is a switch in the defensive midfield role as well, as Alan Dallas starts with Malcolm Carr on the bench, and another in centre midfield, Jamie McMaster switched onto the bench with Gordon Chin starting. Mark Smith starts on the right, Jack Collins left out and Matthew Hatch brought onto the bench, while there is a start up front for new signing Jack Deeney, with Daniel Walsh on the bench today.

It took less than three minutes to get off the mark tonight, Nuneaton missing several opportunities to clear the ball from danger, and it broke to Terry Hindmarch, who opened the scoring once more, firing the loose ball across goal and inside the far post. Hindmarch had the ball in the net again five minutes later, played in by Mark Williams, but the winger was offside this time. But in the 10th minute, Mark Smith headed Hindmarch's cross back across goal, Jack Deeney's effort was blocked, and the ball broke right to Gordon Chin, who was left with an easy finish to make it 2-0. Nuneaton were not Beaconsfield though, and they refused to go away. Three minutes later Lee Cooper's free kick from near the corner flag wasn't dealt with, and it reached Scott Silk at the far post, who volleyed home to reduce the arrears for the visitors. Roared on by a small pre-season crowd, midway through the half Alan Dallas picked out Deeney with a through pass, and the big striker picked out the corner of the net, sending his low shot beyond the dive of Dean Summerfield. Five minutes later, Aaron Steele was felled in the box by a push in the back from opposite number John Walsh following a corner, and a penalty was awarded. A summer without football hadn't diminished Willams' spot kick abilities, and the left back found the bottom corner with his low shot. But still Nuneaton refused to go away, and ten minutes before the break the roles of supplier and scorer were switched, Silk chasing down a ball into the right wing, and then cut it back behind the retreating defence, picking out Cooper, who's shot took a deflection that left Josh Derry with no hope of keeping it out. We could yet have had two more before the break, Chin sending a shot over the top from ten yards out, while Deeney went closer still, his shot smacking off the underside of the bar, Hindmarch flagged offside as he tried to get on the end of the loose ball. So we went into the break with a 4-2 lead.

The full team switch that was planned went ahead at the break, and less than ten minutes after the break Malcolm Carr sent Chris Wilkinson into acres of space down the left wing. The winger moved into the box, before picking out Jamie McMaster, the midfielder slamming the ball high into the roof of the net to increase our lead. But centre back Richard Anderson was injured in the build up to that goal, and we only had one sub left to replace him with, Danny Carey-Bertram. The striker replacing a centre back meant some changing around, Malcolm Carr moving into the back four, and we moved to a 4-2-2-2 wide formation. The result, not great news for our guests. They had made a raft of substitutions themselves, including a change in goal. Josh Williams had been on two minutes when Carr broke up play and sent the ball on to Carey-Bertram. The striker played the ball into the run of his new strike partner Daniel Walsh, who struck the ball past the new keeper and extended our lead further still. Walsh would have another go midway through the half, his shot from the edge of the box was only inches over the bar. The chances would start to dry up in the last twenty minutes, as left winger Wilkinson went off injured, and with no one left on the bench to replace him, we would play the remainder of the match with only ten men. Not that it stopped us matching our seven goal haul from the weekend, as Matthew Hatch put the icing on the cake in the 90th minute, picking up the ball from McMaster in midfield, before dribbling past four players to get into the box, and then pick out the top corner with an unstoppable shot from 15 yards out.

Maidstone United (4) 7 - Terry Hinchmarch (3), Gordon Chin (10), Jack Deeney (23), Mark Williams (28 pen), Jamie McMaster (54), Daniel Walsh (58), Matthew Hatch (90)
Nuneaton Town (2) 2 - Scott Silk (13), Lee Cooper (36)
Josh Derry (Peter Hylton 45); Gary Murray (Alex Sawyer 45), Aaron Steele (Richard Anderson 45 (inj - Danny Carey-Bertram 55)), James Curtis © (Shaun Culverhouse 45), Mark Williams (Michael Haswell 45); Alan Dallas (Malcolm Carr 45); Marc Canham (Jamie McMaster 45), Gordon Chin (Gavin Molloy 45); Mark Smith (Matthew Hatch 45), Terry Hindmarch (Chris Wilkinson 45 (inj - 70)); Jack Deeney (Daniel Walsh 45).

Unused Substitutes :- None.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 62% - 38%. Man of the Match :- Jamie McMaster (Maidstone United).

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Wednesday 16th July 2014
That match last night went very well, and hopefully will help to push along some season ticket sales ahead of the new season. Injury wise, it brought mixed news. Chris Wilkinson, who went off with twenty minutes to play and no substitutes left, was going to be just fine. He suffered a dead leg, and may yet be available for our next Friendly in just under a weeks time. It wasn't quite such good news for teenage centre back new signing Richard Anderson. He has damaged an elbow, and will miss around a fortnight, never good for a new signing in pre-season, as it will leave him playing catch up.

Thursday 17th July
An audacious, actually, ridiculous bid to bring Georgy Schennikov from my former side Lokomotiv Minsk to the county of Kent, known as the 'Garden of England', has predictably failed. Cards on the table, it was a ploy to get the clubs name in the media. In reality, even if we could afford the Russian left winger, who was superb for me during my time in Belarus, he was never going to come and play for us. He has agreed to sign for Anzhi Makhachkala, who finished third in the Russian First Division last season, and lead the way this season at the half way point.

Sunday 20th July
A Trial Day will be held this coming Wednesday for players released by English clubs over the summer who have yet to find a new club. Robbie Blake has run the rule over those players who are taking part, and has a list of eight who he thinks are worth keeping an eye on. I'm unconvinced any of them will prove to be an upgrade on what we already have, but agree to him going along to St George's Park, the now two year old FA facility in Burton-on-Trent, where the Trial's are being held.

Monday 21st July
It might be fairly quiet at St George's this week too, with most of the attention being on FA Headquarters at Wembley Stadium, where today it is announced that Stuart Pearce has been appointed as the new England Manager, replacing Alan Curbishley, who left the role after the World Cup. He has already made his first appointment too, putting Simon Grayson in charge of the Under-20 side. In other International news, it surprised no one that Italy sacked Roberto Mancini, and France did the same with Claude Puel, after both were eliminated in the Group Stage of the World Cup. They would be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc respectively. It was a very different story for Holland, and their manager Bert van Marwijk, who decided to step down after leading them to their first ever World Cup triumph. His replacement will be 50 year old Stanley Menzo, who has been managing in Italy with Torino and Palermo over the last four years.

Tuesday 22nd July

Pre-Season Friendly
King's Marsh Stadium, Sudbury
AFC Sudbury v Maidstone United 
Attendance :-
50. Weather :- Downpour, 20c.

If we see much more rain this season, I'm going to start losing players to injury due to trench foot! We continue the tactic of rotating the starting eleven and squad through the pre-season matches, with Ian Rossiter at right back and Lewis McMahon in midfield both starting today and getting their first action of the summer.

It was a relatively slow start for us here, and it took us ten minutes to get in a sight of goal, Malcolm Carr dropping the ball over the right back to send Chris Wilkinson into a foot race. The winger won, and took the ball on the bounce with a shot from the outside of his boot that spun just over the bar. We now started to create more regularly, Matthew Hatch's cross couldn't find a team mate, and then Lewis McMahon scooped an shot over the bar. Finally in the 21st minute we forced our way through. Fernando Maia squared the ball across the edge of the box to the other full back Ian Rossiter. His shot through the crowd was stopped by Paul Flood, but he couldn't hold the wet ball, and Gavin Molloy slotted home the loose ball from close range. Five minutes later and James Curtis sent a beautiful long pass from centre back out to the left wing, and Wilkinson was too quick for Tony Pattison again, his cross picking out Danny Carey-Bertram who finished with a half volley. On the half hour mark, the floodgates threatened to burst wide open, as we moved from right to left, starting with Matthew Hatch who cruised past three players as he cut infield, and found Molloy, who in turn sent it on again to Wilkinson as he arrived in the left channel of the box, controlling with his left foot, before sending a shot beyond Flood and in off the underside of the bar and inside of the far post. Wilkinson hobbled off for treatment a few minutes later, and while he got that treatment, Carr picked out Hatch at the far post, and he volleyed home, but the offside flag cut short his celebration. McMahon swung a late free kick just wide, and we went in at the break with three on the scoreboard.

Nine changes are made at the break, with only keeper Josh Derry and centre back James Curtis remaining from the starting eleven. We used the wings some more, with Jack Collins and Terry Hindmarch both sending in some crosses that only just missed the mark. A quick counter attack was launched ten minutes after the restart, started by Jack Deeney's willingness to drop very deep and hold the ball up while others sprung forward. It was Collins in this case, as he scampered off down the right and then cut the ball back to Alan Dallas, his curling shot was over the bar though. Deeney didn't need to drop deep in the 64th minute, Mark Williams springing the offside trap to send the big striker into space, and he showed a turn of pace as well as some strength, holding off a pair of defenders, before slipping the ball through the legs of barely on the park sub keeper Tommy Hughes to increase our lead. Just over ten minutes later, Jamie McMaster got the ball to the feet of Gordon Chin on the edge of the box. He hit a powerful shot that Hughes couldn't hold, and Deeney had stayed onside to smash the loose ball into the roof of the net. I made a final change late on, Gary Murray making an appearance at centre back to replace Curtis.  And with the clock about to go into it's final minute, Williams and Hindmarch provided some build up work down the left, Chin stepped past a tackle and provided the through ball, and Deeney held off a defender again, before slotting home our sixth, and his own second half hatrick.

AFC Sudbury (0) 0
Maidstone United (3) 6
-
Gavin Molloy (21), Danny Carey-Bertram (26), Chris Wilkinson (30), Jack Deeney (64,75,89)
Josh Derry; Ian Rossiter (Andy Miskimmon 45), Shaun Culverhouse (Aaron Steele 45), James Curtis © (Gary Murray 83), Fernando Maia (Mark Williams 45); Malcolm Carr (Alan Dallas 45); Lewis McMahon (Jamie McMaster 45), Gavin Molloy (Gordon Chin 45); Matthew Hatch (Jack Collins 45), Chris Wilkinson (inj - Terry Hindmarch 45); Danny Carey-Bertram (Jack Deeney 45).

Unused Substitutes :- Peter Hylton (GK), Daniel Walsh.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 32% - 68%. Man of the Match :- Jack Deeney (Maidstone United).

That's twenty goals in just three pre-season matches, which is a good thing, though the quality of opposition, or lack of in this case, may also have something to do with it. I hope the step up in opposition doesn't prove to be too steep for us when it comes. Chris Wilkinson is fine, though he is going to need wrapping in cotton wool a little bit.

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Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Robbie Blake reports back from the Trial Match today. It wasn't a long report, as the Assistant Manager advised against pursuing the signings of any of the players he was keeping an eye on, none of them would have proved to be an upgrade on the players we already have at the club.

It's a side issue today, as the club announce a loss of £55,000 over the last financial year, which is 23% of the clubs turnover figure for the same period, which was a £¼ million. The figures do include the cost of changing manager at the club, but today, Maidstone United are £68,500 in debt. I'm over spending by almost £1,000 per week on the wage budget, and am at least partly culpable for the current financial issues at the club.

But in better news, 26 year old Northern Irish left sided utility player and new signing at the club, Adam Campbell, has resumed training today after missing all three games in the pre-season schedule to date.

Thursday 24th July

Pre-Season Friendly
Corinium Stadium, Cirencester
Gloucester City v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
105. Weather :- Dry, 7c.

It's now seven years since Gloucester City were forced out of their Meadow Park home. The stadium was ruined in the floods that hit the area in 2007, and since then they have been the football club equivalent of sofa surfing, and after a spell lodging with Forest Green Rovers, they are now making their home in Cirencester. With pre-season games running out, there will be no full team substitution at half time for this penultimate match of the schedule. After his second half hatrick last time out, Jack Deeney starts up front today, with what is likely to be our first choice midfield pairing of Jamie McMaster and Marc Canham also back in place. After recovering from injury, new signing Adam Campbell is on the substitutes bench.

Jack Deeney continued to push his claims for a First Team place early, showing his strength early on to hold off a pair of centre backs and bring down Josh Derry's long clearance, and then hold the ball up to bring Marc Canham into play. He sent the ball wide to Jack Collins, who's pace won us an early corner. That was the first in a series of corners that we failed to take advantage of, but the opener wasn't far away. Alan Dallas sent Collins into space down the right, and the winger was confronted by two defenders, going inside one, and then back outside the second, before standing up a cross to the near post. Canham met that with a header, Pablo Martin got a strong hand to it, but only pushed it up into the air, and Jamie McMaster was there to nod the ball into an open goal to put us in front. Deeney missed his first chance to etch his name on the scoresheet shortly after, Mark Williams and Terry Hindmarch cutting City open down the left, but our striker scuffed his shot wide. Collins was soon back in action cutting in from his wing and ghosting past several City players as he made his way to the middle of the park, before sending the ball to Canham who picked out McMaster in a great position, but this time he missed the target with his header. With the mid point of the half approaching, Dallas was again the supply line to Collins on the right, and this time he crossed early, Deeney positioning himself between the two centre backs, and heading the ball into the top corner. Just before the half hour mark, we made it a hatrick of headed goals, and it was Deeney again to continue his impressive form, as he got on the end of Williams' corner delivery and found the net again. City launched their first attack of note in the 41st minute, and it was successful too. Gary Hemmings sent the ball from centre back into the right channel, where Perry Porter not only beat Williams in a foot race, but did an outstanding job to keep the ball in play, and then picked out Phil Hall at the far post, and he tucked the ball in from close range.

3-1 up at the break, the only disappointment being our failure to deal with the only real attack that City threw at us in that first half. No full team change at half time for us, but there were still a few substitutions for us. Gary Murray came on at right back, Michael Haswell at left back, Malcolm Carr at defensive midfielder, Lewis McMahon in centre midfield, Adam Campbell on the left wing, and Daniel Walsh up front. Coming off were Andy Miskimmon, Mark Williams, Alan Dallas, Jamie McMaster, Terry Hindmarch and Jack Deeney. Those changes didn't cause us too many issues though, and Haswell made good ground down the left, before picking out Carr in the middle of the park in acres of space. He clipped the ball forward to Collins who had come infield, and he in turn rounded the corner and played the ball into the run of Lewis McMahon, who fooled Martin by refusing the shot across goal, and instead burying the ball into the net inside the near post. Canham sent a shot on the turn just over the bar, while midway through the half, Collins took a first touch to a cross field pass that took him straight past his marker, but then rushed into his shot, and missed the target by a mile. The first raft of substitutions hadn't impacted our dominance too much, but a further change around with just under a quarter of an hour remaining, killed the game pretty much stone dead. Peter Hylton came on in goal for Josh Derry, while Shaun Culverhouse replaced Aaron Steele at centre back, Gordon Chin was sent on to replace Canham, and Matthew Hatch took over from Collins on the right wing. City only had seven replacements to call upon, and they had used them all by this point, making the last phase disjointed and fairly boring to watch, aside from a couple of tasty looking tackles that earned each team a rare pre-season booking.

Gloucester City (1) 1 - Phil Hall (41)
Maidstone United (3) 4 - Jamie McMaster (13), Jack Deeney (21,29), Lewis McMahon (55)
Josh Derry (Peter Hylton 76); Andy Miskimmon © (Gary Murray 45), Aaron Steele (Shaun Culverhouse 76), James Curtis; Mark Williams (Michael Haswell 45); Alan Dallas (Malcolm Carr 45); Jamie McMaster (Lewis McMahon 45), Marc Canham (Gordon Chin 76); Jack Collins (Matthew Hatch 76), Terry Hindmarch (Adam Campbell 45); Jack Deeney (Daniel Walsh 45).

Unused Substitutes :- Ian Rossiter, Danny Carey-Bertram.
Bookings :- James Curtis 89
Possession :- 40% - 60%. Man of the Match :- Jack Deeney (Maidstone United).

Another good outing, and once more Jack Deeney takes his chance to impress up front, with two more good finishes to add to the hatrick he bagged last time out in Sudbury. Brought in as a squad player and an 'option' up front, the former Fulham prospect is now pushing for a First Team spot. The other Jack was also impressive, as Collins tore Gloucester City apart on the right wing this evening. There is only one pre-season match remaining for players to push their claims.

Friday 25th July
The odds have been published for this years Blue Square South, with Billericay Town made short odds favourites at 2/1. The other contenders are reckoned to be Forest Green Rovers and Dartford at 5/1, Maidenhead United and Basingstoke Town at 5/1, and Newport County priced at 6/1. You'll notice that Maidstone United are not included amongst those front runners. No, we're priced as very much underdogs at 80/1 for promotion, and touted to be much closer to the relegation battle than the promotion and playoff races. The pundits have predicted us to finish up in 16th place this season, which wouldn't achieve the target we agreed with the Board, which was for a top half finish.

Saturday 26th July
The Wage Budget I was given is already about £1,000 per week overspent. That didn't stop me attempting to take a few ex players from Ayr United, as I was hoping to take advantage of their lack of First Team football due to the collapse of League football north of the border. I made bold, and frankly derogatory Free Transfer offers for Ryan McStay, Magnus Eikrem and Richal Leitoe. They responded by giving us their asking prices, McStay and Eikrem both well out of our range, but potentially some room to talk over Leitoe, who would provide a fantastic one-two punch with Jack Collins down our right wing if we could land him.

Sunday 27th July
New signing and centre back Richard Anderson, who was injured early in our pre-season fixture schedule, has resumed training today. The former Brighton & Hove Albion youngster has recovered from the damaged elbow he suffered in the home win over Nuneaton Town.

Wednesday 30th July
In one year's time, twenty four of our players are out of contract. That number includes pretty much our entire First Team squad pool. If we don't have a very good season, and exceed our expectations, we may be in enough financial peril to make signing a new contract with us a pretty unattractive proposition. On the other hand, if we are successful, they are all going to want improved terms to stay here. Right now, we're £73,500 in debt, and I'm over-spending by a grand a week on the wages alone. It's starting to look like I'm making a rod for my own back here, and can only hope that we perform well enough to attract attention from another club.

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Friday 1st August 2014
It's not just player contracts that are providing us with something to think about. Robbie Blake's contract is well out of kilter with everyone else's, and expires at the end of October. He wants an increase on his £180 a week deal to even consider staying, and the Board won't let us spend that amount anyway.

The Board remain satisfied with how things are going at the club, and still hold James Curtis as an extremely good signing, and someone the fans are delighted to have at Bourne Park. They make mention of the £37,000 we lost last month, and it is likely just a matter of time before we start hearing more about that.

The domestic football season starts for us in just eight days time, and today we play our final pre-season match, away to Kingstonian, another side plying their trade in the lower non-League divisions. We'll be expected to win again, but we will at least be able to get some information that may be useful for later in the season, when we visit The Fans' Stadium - Kingsmeadow, as we will be here again in November to face AFC Wimbledon.

Before travelling, I learn that our negotiations with Ayr United over the potential transfer of Netherlands Antilles International winger Richal Leitoe, have broken down, and any potential deal is off. They are refusing to accept any deal that does not include a transfer fee for the 31 year old former FC Utrecht man.

Pre-Season Friendly
The Fans' Stadium - Kingsmeadow, Kingston upon Thames
AFC Wimbledon v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
118. Weather :- Dry, 26c.

I'm not going to say that this is my strongest team, as there are plenty of players who are capable of putting their hand up and competing for spots, and they will over the course of the coming season. But for now, this is the team of players that are in pole position to start the season next weekend.

A lacklustre opening to the game should have been broken when Marc Canham lifted the ball from the right wing to the edge of the penalty box, Michael Haswell arrived to hit a half volley, but it sailed well over the bar. Moments later, Jack Collins sent a close range effort towards the top corner, Sam Doran managing to tip the ball over the ball. From the resulting corner, the ball eventually arrived to Terry Hindmarch at the far post, but when he tried to take it down on his chest, the chance disappeared. After that brief flurry of action, the game settled back into a dull spell, this time not lifted again until the 33rd minute, when we emerged a goal down. Adam Ince sent in an inswinging corner, and centre back Simon Pearson jumped highest at the near post, glancing it in off the underside of the bar. Our response was swift, and clinical. Malcolm Carr made an interception on halfway, and got the ball out to Collins. The winger beat two men on his way to the byline, and then stood up a cross into the middle, where Jamie McMaster lost his marker, and volleyed in an equaliser from close range. The game had turned right around, and Haswell dropped the ball over their back four, Daniel Walsh getting to the ball first and firing a shot Doran shrugged away, Canham's volley of the loose ball smashing back off the cross bar. He'd get another shot within seconds, Collins also involved again, twisting past his marker and sending in a cross to the near post, Canham shooting on the turn and Doran getting a hand to it, but unable to prevent it going inside the post and finding the bottom corner to ensure we went into half time with a lead.

Four changes are made at the break, James Curtis, Carr, Hindmarch and Walsh are all replaced, with Richard Anderson, Alan Dallas, Adam Campbell and Danny Carey-Bertram. The first of those replacements to get seriously involved was Northern Irish winger Campbell. After missing most of this pre-season with injury, he's still playing catch up, and so was the defender who chased him hopelessly down the left wing, Campbell way too quick for him, and then guiding a cross to the far post, where Collins arrived in front of his marker and side footed us further in front from close range. Now it was surely just a matter of how many, and shortly after the hour mark, we clicked the scoreboard up to four, Haswell whipping in a corner, and Carey-Bertram arrived with perfect timing between a defender and the keeper, and placed a firm header beyond everyone and into the back of the net. The striker had a chance to add another with a quarter of an hour left to play after Dallas set Collins free down the right with a raking cross field pass. The winger picked out Carey-Bertram with his cross, but the striker missed the target with his downward header. That was the last action before I sent for more reinforcements from the bench, making half a dozen more changes, which covered every unchanged outfield player. And we still had a goal left in us from the substitutes, Gordon Chin stepping away from a tackle and finding Matthew Hatch on the right, who set off on a mazy run that took him into the box past several Kingstonian players, but with no route to goal for a shot of his own. So instead, he cut it back across goal and into the path of Campbell, who struck a rising shot into the roof of the net, to round off a much improved second half performance!

Kingstonian (1) 1 - Simon Pearson (34)
Maidstone United (2) 5 - Jamie McMaster (35), Marc Canham (42), Jack Collins (54), Danny Carey-Bertram (62), Adam Campbell (85)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon © (Ian Rossiter 76), Aaron Steele (Shaun Culverhouse 76), James Curtis (Richard Anderson 45), Michael Haswell (Mark Williams 76); Malcolm Carr (Alan Dallas 45); Jamie McMaster (Gavin Molloy 76), Marc Canham (Gordon Chin 76); Jack Collins (Matthew Hatch 76), Terry Hindmarch (Adam Campbell 45); Daniel Walsh (Danny Carey-Bertram 45).

Unused Substitutes :- Peter Hylton (GK), Jack Deeney.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 35% - 65%. Man of the Match :- Jack Collins (Maidstone United).

Just like that, pre-season is over, and the next time we step foot on a football park in a fixture will be a week tomorrow when we host our rivals Dartford in our opening fixture of the Blue Square South. We beat them last time out, one of my early games in charge of the club.

Saturday 2nd August
With an expectation that new staff will arrive into the Backroom within a few days, Robbie Blake has left the club today, almost three months before his contract was due to expire. The 38 year old former Bradford City, Burnley & Leeds United striker had been the Assistant Manager at the club for just over nine months, but refused to consider a new deal, and has been paid £1,000 to leave the club early. I'm confident that his replacement will actually prove to be an upgrade.

Sunday 3rd August
One of the gaps that needed to be filled in the Backroom, was for a Coach. 39 year old Aberdeen born Roy McBain had a very stellar career in the game, racking up nearly 450 League appearances in Scotland for Dundee, Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. His playing career ended in 2007, and since then he has been participating in a steady stream of Coaching badges, which have all been geared towards the next phase of his career. That begins today, as he takes the job of Coach at Bourne Park on a three year deal.

Monday 4th August
28 year old Ulsterman and right back Andy Miskimmon has today been named as the Maidstone United Club Captain for the 2014/15 season. His deputy will be Sunderland born 32 year old centre back, James Curtis.

Later in the day, the pair get to meet the clubs new Assistant Manager, 39 year old Liverpool born Jim Bentley. He was a former Manchester City apprentice, and after never playing at Maine Road, he did something that quite a few of our squad have done, and dropped right down the levels to try and kickstart his career. He spent the next ten seasons at the top level of non-League football, split between Telford United and Morecambe, before the latter finally got him to the Football League in 2007/08. He had two seasons of League football with them, followed by playing a small role in another season for Cheltenham Town, and another with them where he didn't play at all, before retiring in 2010. Like his new colleague McBain, this will be Bentley's first backroom job.

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2014/15 Maidstone United Pen Pictures

Goalkeepers :-

Peter Hylton (GK). 22 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'11. 12st 8lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £30 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Sutton United (Free Transfer).
Career:- League Matches :- 17. Goals Conceded :- 30. Clean Sheets :- 3.
Did okay in the limited amount of time he was given during pre-season, but is quite some way off the level needed for the First Team.

Josh Derry (GK). 20 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'1. 13st 5lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £50 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Woking (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 12. Goals Conceded :- 10. Clean Sheets :- 5.
Our first choice stopper, and a young man who continues to grow as a keeper week on week. Made a solid contribution to us avoiding relegation last season.

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Defenders :-

Gary Murray (D RC, WB R, DM, M RC). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'0, 13st 5lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £100 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Bradford City (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 1. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
A new arrival, and labelled with the dreaded 'utility player' tag. Murray would like to nail down a position, but he isn't likely to prove to be good enough at one.

Fernando Maia (D L). 18 years old. Portuguese (Uncapped).
5'9. 11st 11lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £150 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Middlesbrough (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 0. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
A young Portuguese full back who didn't make the grade at Boro, and has some major competition in front of him to make the grade here.

Mark Williams (D L). 19 years old. Irish (Uncapped).
5'10. 12st 6lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £180 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Galway United (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 18. Goals :- 3. Assists :- 3.
The young Irish full back was a huge hit here last season, and his composure from the penalty spot helped us towards some big points. Has increased competition for his position this season.

Aaron Steele (D C). 31 years old. Canadian/British (Uncapped).
5'11. 13st 0lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £250 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Guiseley (£2,000).
Career :- League Matches :- 170. Goals :- 11. Assists :- 31.
A relative lack of height didn't prevent the Canadian centre back from striking up an impressive centre back partnership with Curtis, and moving his career up to a new level.

James Curtis (D C). 32 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'7. 13st 0lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £30 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Farnborough (£1,000).
Career :- League Matches :- 351. Goals :- 14. Assists :- 11.
The giant centre back from Sunderland quickly became the glue that held our back four together in last seasons relegation battle, and is now the Vice-Captain at the club.

Richard Anderson (D C). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'3. 14st 2lbs.

Contract :- 3 years, £100 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Brighton & Hove Albion (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 2. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Wasn't given enough chance to prove himself with hometown side Brighton & Hove Albion, likely to be a back up here, but will see more football.

Shaun Culverhouse (D C). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'0. 13st 5lbs.

Contract :- 3 years, £100 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Plymouth Argyle (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 0. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Just watched the club who have nurtured him for two years earn a place in the Premier League, and then they cut him loose. Expect him to make his Senior Debut in our colours.

Alex Sawyer (D/WB R). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'10. 11st 9lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £100 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Middlesbrough (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 0. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Better going forward than he is defending, and also has some good full backs in front of him. Very much a back up player here.

Andy Miskimmon (D/WB R). 28 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
5'9. 11st 13lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £45 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Downshire Young Men (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 174. Goals :- 13. Assists :- 16.
The Club Captain, who is solid if not spectacular, but is loved by his team mates almost as much as he is by the fans. Seems to be flourishing at the highest level he has played in during his career.

Ian Rossiter (D/WB R). 33 years old. Irish (Uncapped).
5'10. 11st 0lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £50 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Arklow Town (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 348. Goals :- 38. Assists :- 9.
Was superb for the club last season, but the arrival of Miskimmon may mean the veteran see a pretty major reduction in his First Team opportunities.

Michael Haswell (D/M L). 30 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'11. 11st 0lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £90 per week. Value :- £4,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from AFC Wimbledon (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 276. Goals :- 10. Assists :- 55.
One of my major transfer targets this summer, and I expected a bigger fight to get his signature. Improves our back four, and our attacking quality from full back.
--------------------------------------------------

Midfielders/Wingers :-

Malcolm Carr (D C, DM, M C). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'2. 13st 9lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £220 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Luton Town (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 5. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Plucked from Luton Town last season, and settled seamlessly into our First Team. This won't be a professional thing to say, but he might be one of my favourite signings.

Adam Campbell (D/WB/AM L). 26 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
5'8. 11st 9lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £150 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Fleetwood Town (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 141. Goals :- 12. Assists :- 22.
The second time I've signed the left sided Northern Irishman, hopefully this time I get to watch him develop. The stats from his time with Fleetwood suggest he might prove to be a bit of a bargain.

Chris Wilkinson (D/WB/AM L). 29 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
6'0. 13st 0lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £50 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Carrick Rangers (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 124. Goals :- 7. Assists :- 30.
Took a fairly big step up to come to this club last season from Northern Ireland when I needed players to come in and make a mark. I can't guarantee he'll be rewarded fairly for his efforts this season.

Alan Dallas (DM, M C). 18 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
5'10. 11st 13lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £140 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Killymoon Rangers (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 4. Goals :- 1. Assists :- 0.
There was nothing to suggest this young lad could play at this level when I took a shot with him. He has already started to pay back the trust, and will feature this season I'm sure.

Gordon Chin (M RC). 31 years old. Canadian(declared)/British/Chinese (16 Youth Caps/0 Goals).
5'4. 10st 5lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £375 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Montreal Impact (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 209. Goals :- 11. Assists :- 16.
The only player in our squad with International experience, and a signing that many suspect will push us forward. His experience playing in other nations will also be invaluable to the club.

Terry Hindmarch (M L). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'0. 13st 0lbs.

Contract :- 3 years, £200 per week. Value :- £4,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Manchester United (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 0. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Want to pick an early candidate for our 2014/15 Player of the Season? I think this former Manchester United youngster is the favourite. Superb in pre-season, and about to make his Senior Debut. Might be tough to hold onto long term.

Gavin Molloy (M C). 21 years old. Australian(declared)/British (Uncapped).
5'11. 12st 6lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £50 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Sutton United (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 33. Goals :- 1. Assists :- 2.
It would have been really easy to cut Gavin loose this summer, especially as we now have a pretty deep midfield. But he went to battle for us last season, and deserves his new deal, and a chance to show he can make the grade.

Marc Canham (M C). 31 years old. English/German (Uncapped).
5'11. 11st 11lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £275 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Oxford City (£4,000).
Career :- League Matches :- 271. Goals :- 50. Assists :- 52.
When Marc could do no more to help at Oxford City, we convinced him to take a second chance at avoiding relegation with us. One half of our first choice midfield duo, and hugely experienced at this level.

Jamie McMaster (M/AM RC). 31 years old. Australian/British (Uncapped).
5'10. 12st 3lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £250 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from APIA Leichhardt Tigers (£1,000).
Career :- League Matches :- 263. Goals :- 56. Assists :- 40.
Ambitious, bordering on arrogant. McMaster returned from Australia for a second crack at football in Europe, and was instrumental in us staying up last campaign. Can he be instrumental in something even bigger this season?

Mark Smith (M/AM RL). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'9. 11st 11lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £120 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Birmingham City (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 0. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Never got a chance at Birmingham City, and will likely be a back up player here. But he was superb in pre-season, and there wouldn't be too many worries about handing him a shot should the need arise.

Lewis McMahon (M/AM RC, ST). 29 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'8. 10st 9lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £150 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Dartford (£1,000).
Career :- League Matches :- 247. Goals :- 30. Assists :- 30.
Signed from rivals Dartford when our need for new blood and some depth was at its greatest. Now he is in danger of getting lost in the summer squad shuffle, and it's possible he won't see out the season here, with reported interest from Ireland.

Jack Collins (AM RC, ST). 20 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'9. 11st 6lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £750 per week. Value :- £5,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Ebbsfleet United (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 32. Goals :- 6. Assists :- 10.
Notched eight assists in just seven League games after his arrival last season to become a key player in our survival. The numbers don't lie, but he is easily our highest earner, receiving well over double anyone else at the club gets. He will have to continue to justify that salary this season.

Matthew Hatch (AM R, ST). 21 years old. Irish (Uncapped).
6'3. 14st 6lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £50 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Guilsfield (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 69. Goals :- 11. Assists :- 1.
Actually looked a very decent signing last season, until Collins arrived and took the standard to a whole new level. Capable understudy, but might not get as much football as he'd like here.
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Strikers :-

Daniel Walsh (ST). 20 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'1. 13st 3lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £100 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Witton Albion (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 66. Goals :- 16. Assists :- 1.
When I desperately needed a striker last season, Dan was the man we turned to, and he score five times in seven games to dig us out of a hole. Will need to continue in that vein this season with increased options for his spot now at the club.

Danny Carey-Bertram (ST). 30 years old. English (Uncapped).
5'10. 13st 0lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £100 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Ayr United (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 280. Goals :- 102. Assists :- 7.
The other player in the squad who I'm signing for a second time. He has an excellent goalscoring record at this level, and is itching to get back amongst the best marksmen after his unhappy spell in Scotland.

Jack Deeney (ST). 19 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'4. 14st 2lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £120 per week. Value :- £4,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Fulham (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 0. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 0.
Signed as an option, and then shocked everyone with his pre-season form. The other strikers know that if he gets in the team and replicates that form, he is going to be very difficult to leave out of the side.
---------------------------------------------------

In The Reserves.............

Martyn Giles (D LC). 31 years old. Welsh (Uncapped).
5'9. 11st 0lbs.

Contract :- 2 years, £200 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 from Bedford Town (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 309. Goals :- 15. Assists :- 16.
Did a great job when he came in late last season, but now with the squad filled out, his wages don't reflect his contribution to the squad. I'd like to move him on to a new club soon.

Grant Hanley (D C). 22 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
6'2. 11st 9lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £325 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Killymoon Rangers (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 65. Goals :- 1. Assists :- 3.
The Scottish centre back's first season at Maidstone United wasn't exactly a roaring success. An average rating in the low 6's from fifteen appearances makes him another candidate to leave the club soon to clear his salary from the wage bill.

Sean Neill (D C). 20 years old. Northern Irish (Uncapped).
6'4. 14st 2lbs.
Contract :- 1 year, £275 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Comber Rec (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 45. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 2.
Probably the best young player at the club that I didn't bring in myself, but his exposure to First Team football here hasn't gone too well so far. He's clearly being overpaid as well.

Chris Pike (M RLC). 17 years old. English (Uncapped).
6'0. 12st 8lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £5 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 2012 from Youth Intake.
Career :- League Matches :- 13. Goals :- 0. Assists :- 1.
Played thirteen times last season in his first campaign on a part time deal. He wasn't entirely out of his depth, and I like his versatility. He's a local lad as well, so I'm keen to help bring him on as a player.

Stefan Anderson (AM R, ST). 17 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
6'4. 14st 2lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £60 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 2014 (New Signing) from Gretna FC 2008 (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 33. Goals :- 11. Assists :- 0.
Had a superb first season in Senior football in Scotland's non League with Gretna. We brought him south as an option to play as the big target man up front.

Iain McMillan (ST). 21 years old. Scottish (Uncapped).
6'4. 14st 4lbs.

Contract :- 1 year, £350 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 2013 from Partick Thistle (Free Transfer).
Career :- League Matches :- 32. Goals :- 9. Assists :- 0.
At just 21 years of age, and only ten months with the club, McMillan is regarded as a bit of a hero by the fans. His nine goals last season were invaluable, but his wages are too high. Moving him on would risk upsetting the few fans that we have however.
----------------------------------------------------

The Staff........

Richard Walsh (Club Chairman) - English - Happy To Stay.
Neil Hoskins (Manager) - Welsh - 3 years, £275 per week.
Jim Bentley (Assistant Manager) - English - 2 years, £100 per week.
Roy McBain (Coach) - Scottish - 3 years, £75 per week.
Robbie Savage (Physiotherapist) - Welsh - 2 years, £90 per week.
Andy Crook (Scout) - English - 2 years, £75 per week.
-----------------------------------------------------

The Club.........

Maidstone United FC.
Founded :- 1992. Nickname :- The Stones. Status :- Semi-Professional. Reputation :- Obscure. Value :- £40,000.
Chairman Status :- Happy To Stay. Finances :- Okay (£-78,000).
Club Colours :- Home - Yellow with White Trim. Away - White with Black Trim.
Club Legends :- None
Club Icons :- None. Favoured Personnel :- Iain McMillan.
Fierce Rivals :- None. Other Rivals :- Dartford, Tonbridge Angels, Gillingham.
Honours :-  *Blue Square Premier Winners - 1984, 1989
                     *Blue Square Premier Runners-Up - 1983
                     *Isthmian League First Division South Winners - 2007

Last Season :- 17th in Blue Square League, South Division.

Bourne Park, Sittingbourne, England.
Capacity :- 3,000 (200 seats). Condition :- Average. Surface :- Grass. Surface Condition :- Average.
Adequate Corporate Facilities, Basic Training Facilities, Minimal Youth Facilities.

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Friday 8th August 2014
It's the eve of the domestic season, and to add to the excitement, it's also Derby Day for us as well, so a bumper crowd is expected at Bourne Park when Dartford come to visit. The bookies have us as narrow favourites to get the season underway with a win. I'm also described as the clubs 'popular manager', which is nice to hear. I tell the press that pre-season has gone well, and while I don't know where we stand in the shuffle, I'm optimistic that we can reach our targets this season.

Saturday 9th August

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Dartford
Attendance :-
1,053. Weather :- Showers, 19c.

The team that started our final pre-season match is also given the opportunity to start the domestic season, which means a Maidstone United debut for left back Michael Haswell, and both a Senior and United debut for former Manchester United left winger, Terry Hindmarch. Three more potential debutants are on the bench, which wasn't easy to trim down to five players, and doesn't include a goalkeeper, which will of course be a risk.

We had the first chance on goal with six minutes on the clock, Jack Collins moving across to the left to swing in a free kick that Daniel Walsh got his head to, but he was unable to keep his header down. We were having a real go at our rivals, and on the quarter of an hour mark Andy Miskimmon dropped the ball down the right wing for Jack Collins, who got to the byline before going down under a challenge from Marcus Heaton, the ref waved play on, and our players surrounded the ref and his assistant when the ball was fired into touch. Moments later, Michael Haswell received the ball back out on the right from a cleared corner, and he found Daniel Walsh, who's low shot on the turn beat Niall Morgan, but came back off the inside of the far post! As the first quarter of the game came to an end, so did our dominance. When Walsh couldn't hold the ball up against two centre backs, Dartford attacked quickly, and Jojo Connolly moved the ball left from just outside the box, finding David Miller all on his own, but Josh Derry was off his line quickly to narrow the angle, and made a sharp save. He had to make another moments later, as Dartford went route one, Morgan's long punt down the park brought down by Jason Doswell, and he hit a shot that Derry had to turn aside. He had another go from further out on the half hour, his shot from the right corner of the box beating Derry, but flashing wide of the goal frame .With half time approaching, we got the ball back down the other end of the park. Haswell put plenty of pace on the corner delivery, and Collins hit it with a volley that missed the top corner by inches. The final chance of the half would once again fall to Doswell, and again it came from a ball over the top, this time the striker missed the target, finding only the side netting. There was still enough time for each side to pick up a late first half booking, Miskimmon for us, Keith Ramsay for Dartford.

Dartford came out swinging for the second half, and James Peel hit a rising shot just thirty seconds after the restart that only just cleared the cross bar. Our own start to the second half was more than just a little disjointed, with passes being misplaced and so on, so it was a bit of a relief to see Peel have to leave the park before the hour mark with an injury, as I hoped that would cause them some issues of their own. That wasn't the case though, and Doswell brought the ball down before playing in sub Mark Graham. He got past Aaron Steele, and was about to shoot, before Miskimmon tangled legs with him, and the ref pointed to the spot! There was a moment of uncertainty, as we waited to see if the ref from Hartlepool was also dish out a second yellow card to our Northern Irish Captain, but that didn't happen. Left back Heaton stepped up, and fired his left footed spot kick into the top corner, out of Derry's reach, and we had around a half hour to get ourselves back into this game. It looked like we would be more likely to lose our heads, as James Curtis and Haswell both got booked in double quick time as we attempted to raise our intensity. With ten minutes of no real reaction gone, I turned to the bench. Jamie McMaster had been pretty ineffective in midfield today, so Malcolm Carr stepped into the midfield pairing with Marc Canham, and the Aussie was replaced to bring on another striker, Danny Carey-Bertram coming on for a debut, with Haswell replaced by Mark Williams at the same time with three quarters of the back four on a booking. With just a handful of minutes remaining, I pushed players forward and ordered the players to go route one. Dartford reacted by going to five at the back, but moments after their changes, Connolly took a knock, with James Lawson already struggling a little. Our rivals were on the back foot when Walsh took a free kick short and quickly, finding Terry Hindmarch on the left. He got by Omar Bekele and into the box near the byline when the Dartford sub tried to get back goal side, and instead felled our winger. Hindmarch didn't need too much convincing to go down, and the ref pointed to the spot again, and it was Dartford's turn to be furious with a decision. The protests continued, and the wait was a lengthy one, almost two minutes actually, before Mark Williams could make his run up for his own left footed spot kick. He placed it into almost exactly the same spot as Heaton had half hour early, and we had a dramatic late equaliser to save an opening day point in front of a bumper crowd!

Maidstone United (0) 1 - Mark Williams (90 pen)
Dartford (0) 1 - Marcus Heaton (62 pen)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Michael Haswell (Mark Williams 72); Malcolm Carr; Jamie McMaster (Danny Carey-Bertram 72), Marc Canham; Jack Collins, Terry Hindmarch; Daniel Walsh.

Unused Substitutes :- Shaun Culverhouse, Alan Dallas, Adam Campbell.
Bookings :- Andy Miskimmon (45+2), James Curtis 64, Michael Haswell 65
Possession :- 50% - 50%. Man of the Match :- Terry Hindmarch (Maidstone United).

I don't think anyone can walk away from Bourne Park saying they weren't entertained today, and our fans in particular left the ground in buoyant mood after seeing their rivals from Dartford denied the win with a very late spot kick equaliser. I was pretty relieved that Mark Williams was on the park to take it as well, the 19 year old Irish left back continuing his fine form from the penalty spot that he had shown last season.

The decision to award Terry Hindmarch the man of the match award was even less clear cut than the slightly dubious penalty award itself. The winger didn't have a huge amount of the ball today, nowhere near as much as team mate Jack Collins had on the right. But he does get credited with an assist on his Senior debut, as well as the man of the match, which could have gone to Collins, or Aaron Steele, or Jason Doswell of the visitors.

Just as good to hear today as the result of the game, was the result at the turnstiles. The attendance today was almost double our average for last season, and now we need to try and get a large percentage of them to come back next weekend when we host an AFC Hornchurch side that finished last season one spot below us, and are thought by many to be relegation candidates this season.

Sunday 10th August
Fair play to the Board, they are grabbing the bull by the horns and trying to make staunch followers of those who turned up on the opening day for the Derby Day match. They have today announced that next Saturday's match at home to AFC Hornchurch is going to be a fan day, with any paying adult able to bring a child along for half of the usual price. If the weather is good to us, we could end up with a second consecutive big crowd, with yesterdays attendance over 200 more than our best crowd from last season. It could also be that they are reacting to today's disappointing news from the ticket office, which confirms that our number of season ticket holders has dropped from 75 last season, down to just 63 this campaign.

Monday 11th August
There looks like some movement is imminent when it comes to reducing our wage bill, with a huge number of offers to take Martyn Giles and Grant Hanley on Free Transfers. If they move on, we'll take £525 per week off the salary numbers, and the guys both have chances to move up into the Blue Square Premier, further down into non-League levels, or across borders into different nations in the UK & Ireland.

It's not all good news today though, as we have our first major injury of the new season. Jamie McMaster has suffered a hip injury in training today, and it's not good news for the Australian midfielder. If the physio deals with it himself, he will be out till Christmas. So he will instead to be sent to a specialist, which means he could be back in training by mid-October/November if all goes well.

Friday 15th August
Grant Hanley has moved on this morning, completing his Free Transfer to Chelmsford City, who were relegated from the Blue Square South last season. The 22 year old is no longer in our First Team plans, and has actually earned a pay rise by moving, as his £325 weekly wage is now £400 at City.

AFC Hornchurch will visit us tomorrow, they also earned an opening day draw. The bookies think home advantage will be enough to see us through, and they have made us Even money favourites for a win tomorrow. The news from the ticket sales is encouraging too, and we look set for another good attendance at Bourne Park.

Saturday 16th August

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v AFC Hornchurch
Attendance :-
909. Weather :- Wet, 22c.

There's a little bit of squad rotation after last weekends match, starting at left back, where Michael Haswell is left out of the matchday squad, and there is a start for the man who earned us a point with his late penalty, Mark Williams. In the defensive midfield role, Malcolm Carr is rotated out to the bench, with Alan Dallas coming into the side, while the injury to Jamie McMaster means a change in the middle of the park, with Gordon Chin coming into the lineup for a Maidstone United debut. There is one further change up front, Daniel Walsh left out today, Danny Carey-Bertram starting. Gary Murray and Jack Deeney are both brought into the matchday squad, and start on the bench, both hoping for a debut today.

A quiet opening to the match wouldn't be what anyone in another bumper crowd came to see, but in the 12th minute Graham Murray found himself in plenty of space down the Hornchurch right, and he looked to have the pace on Mark Williams. But our left back got himself back on terms and blocked his attempted cross. Williams would be involved again soon, sending a long ball up the park and over the visitors defence, and Danny Carey-Bertram sprinted after it, denied only by keeper Jake Kean being out off his line quickly, and beating our striker to the ball just outside the box. We were being pressured though, and Owen Upton held the ball up on halfway, before sending it out to the left and into space for Nathan Hall. He sent the ball back into the middle for Upton, who aimed his low shot towards the area inside the near post, Josh Derry producing a superb stop to keep it out. Our own build up work was being ruined by a poor final pass, Jack Collins having acres of space on the right, but his pass to Carey-Bertam was easily intercepted. When we did get it right and Andy Miskimmon picked out Marc Canham on the half hour, the midfielder blasted the ball well over the bar. But five minutes later Canham sent the ball wide to Collins on the right, and our winger avoided the tackle of Odhrán Lenaghan, and send in a low cross from the byline. There was a queue of United players at the far post waiting to apply the finishing touch, that honour falling to Gordon Chin, who sidefooted home from close range to net our opener, and a debut goal. We were almost caught out five minutes later though, Miskimmon was behind the goal receiving some treatment, and Hornchurch attempted to take advantage, Brian Smikle sending the ball down that wing, and Hall played a one-two with Chris Kirkwood that got him into the penalty box, before he shot across goal, beating Derry, but also the far upright. Our respite was brief though, and two minutes before the break Smikle twisted for space on the right, before whipping in a low left footed curling cross that arrived at Aaron Steele at waist height. The ball hit the centre back, and left Derry flat footed, while Upton gleefully thumped the loose ball into the net from three yards out!

1-1 at the break, and we would be without our Captain for the second half, Miskimmonn unable to continue, Gary Murray coming on for his debut to replace him at right back. And that would be only the start of our injury issues, Terry Hindmarch also taking a knock that led to his substitution, Adam Campbell also coming on for a debut only 12 minutes into the second half. Seconds later, Lenaghan curled a free kick only just over the cross bar. Nothing of note happened in the next ten minutes, when we suffered a third injury, Alan Dallas this time. He couldn't continue either, Malcolm Carr coming on in his place. With just under twenty minutes to go, Campbell got into the box from the left, and went down over Lenaghan's leg as Harry Deane cleared the ball, the ref ignoring the appeals from both players and spectators alike, and waving play on. Campbell was seeing plenty of the ball, a cross from the left just too deep for his team mates, and a shot at goal from a Gary Murray cut back was blocked. In the 74th minute we finally found a way through for a second time, and again, Collins was the key. Murray found him on the right corner of the box, and our winger moved the ball away from Callum Douglas, and ran across the edge of the box, before striking a shot with his weaker left foot that curled around a group of players and inside the near post to reinstate our lead! That was the highly paid wingers first goal for us, and now we had to make sure it was going to be enough for three points today. Steele picked up a booking while preventing Hornchurch getting into our penalty box, sub Tim Flood's attempt from the free kick was just off target. Then Chin won the ball in midfield and sent it high and wide to Collins, who won his challenge in the air and nodded it down for Canham, the midfielder going for power rather than placement, and his viciously struck shot was just over the top corner he'd tried to hit. That would be the first in a series of counter attack chances we manufactured with Canham playing in Carey-Bertram all alone near the penalty spot, but he scuffed his shot wide of the far post. In a repeat move with five minutes to play, right after Collins had been booked, the striker did exactly the same, missing another chance to score his first Maidstone goal. How costly would those misses be? Almost very, Chin having to hack the ball clear when Eddie McCloskey's low cross almost found its target. And then, with seconds remaining in injury time, Kirkwood cut inside from the left and sent in a curling shot that beat Derry all ends up, but it came back off the post before Steele cleared the ball. And breathe! Our first win of the season is on the board!

Maidstone United (1) 2 - Gordon Chin (35), Jack Collins (74)
AFC Hornchurch (1) 1 - Owen Upton (43)
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon © (inj - Gary Murray 45), Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Alan Dallas (inj - Malcolm Carr 66); Gordon Chin, Marc Canham; Jack Collins, Terry Hindmarch (inj - Adam Campbell 57); Danny Carey-Bertram.

Unused Substitutes :- Shaun Culverhouse, Jack Deeney.
Bookings :- Aaron Steele 79, Jack Collins 84
Possession :- 51% - 49%. Man of the Match :- Jack Collins (Maidstone United).

We rode our luck at points in that one, particularly late on in the game, but we held on, and have our first three point haul of the new campaign. We also had another very healthy attendance, with over 900 at the game, meaning another decent pay day for the club, as £8,000 or so taken by the club over the course of the day brings the debt down to around £65,000. Hopefully, some of them will be back for our next home match in a few weeks time.

In injury news, we had escaped relatively unscathed considering three players needed to be replaced due to injury. Neither Andy Miskimmon or Terry Hindmarch will miss any time as a result of their knocks, but Alan Dallas has suffered bruised ribs, and could miss up to a week, potentially ruling him out of the two away games we have next week.

Finally, a quick word on Jack Collins, who scored his maiden goal for the club today, after setting up the opener in the first half. The former Preston North End and Ebbsfleet United youngster now has a goal and nine assists in nine League games since joining us. A superb record, and it is becoming more and more apparent that the 20 year old is too good to be playing at this level.

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Monday 18th August 2014
Four points from our opening two home games is a pretty healthy start to the new campaign, and I'm a pretty happy gaffer going into a new week. But the challenge will increase a little when we play two away matches over the coming week. We start tomorrow evening against promoted, and managerless Hitchin Town. They have earned one point from their opening two matches, and have a threadbare squad, filled out by two on loan teenagers, one from Crystal Palace, and another from Southend United. Even though we're away, the bookies make us favourites.

Then on the weekend, it's a trip that I'm dreading. Last season, I visited Gloucestershire to watch Maidstone United play away to Forest Green Rovers before I took the job, and watched the team get absolutely obliterated 5-1 at The New Lawn. We head back there on Saturday, but Rovers have lost their opening two matches and lost the large core of their squad from last season.

Tuesday 19th August

Blue Square League, South Division
Top Field, Hitchin
Hitchin Town v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
676. Weather :- Breezy, 21c.

We make the relatively short trip north to Hertfordshire, and our first recorded meeting with Hitchin Town. A rotation is required after playing on Saturday, and with another game coming up this week. Three players are called up from the Reserves as we reach right into the depths of our fairly large squad. The first of those is Ian Rossiter, who starts at right back, with Michael Haswell brought back in on the opposite side of the back four, and Shaun Culverhouse making his Senior debut in the middle, replacing Aaron Steele for this one. Malcolm Carr is also brought back into the side for this one, while Gavin Molloy comes up from the Reserves to start with Marc Canham in midfield. On the left, Adam Campbell starts today, while there is a debut up front for Jack Deeney. There are places on the bench tonight for Lewis McMahon for the first time this season, and Mark Smith, who could make his club debut.

Jack Collins is our hot player right now, and he almost had us in front in the 7th minute, striking a curling free kick around the Hitchin wall, but just over the cross bar. Five minutes later, we would go closer still, Michael Haswell swinging in a corner, and Jack Deeney beat his marker in the air, his header coming back off the angle of the goal frame. Hitchin used the wing route to try and break the deadlock, talented on loan winger Karl Charles making a great run, and his cross picked out Willie Ure, but his header back across goal was inches past the post. Chances continued to be exchanged, Haswell making a nice interception on halfway and playing Gavin Molloy into space in the left channel, the Aussie midfielders cross shot was off target. Both sides failed to take advantage of corners, before Molloy played in Haswell for our best chance so far, the full back firing his shot right at Ally Mwape. He tried to make up for that with a corner that caused Mwape all kinds of problems, the keeper needed his defence to help him out and clear the ball. A couple of Hitchin players picked up bookings as we cranked up the pressure, but they had their best chance so far before the break, a cross after a short corner was headed back at the far post by Matt Smart towards the penalty spot, John Reilly brought it down and fired through a crowd of players, Josh Derry seeing it only at the last minute, but turning it around the post with a smart reaction save.

Goalless at the break, and Jack Deeney was struggling with a knock, but that wouldn't stop him winning two headers early after the restart, but there was no one on the end of them unfortunately. That would be his last act, as his knock got the better of him, and he was replaced by Daniel Walsh, with Molloy coming off for Lewis McMahon at the same time. They would get on the park just in time to see Charles produce an outstanding curling through ball from the right wing that sent Rob Sykes in on goal, but the winger fluffed his lines, managing to mis-control the ball and fail to get a shot in. Malcolm Carr was now starting to take control of the game from the centre circle, twice in the space of a few minutes he dropped the ball over the opposition left back to get Collins running into the box, Danny Christie tackling him first, and then a penalty appeal when Cem Steiner appeared to bring the winger down, but not in the opinion of the ref. Haswell was also getting involved, a curling shot that Mwape elected to punch clear, but McMahon had no chance to get amongst the action, as he suffered an injury less than ten minutes after coming on. That meant a reshuffle, Collins moving into midfield to accommodate the introduction of Mark Smith for his Maidstone debut on the right wing. Sykes got himself in on goal again, this time getting in his shot and beating Derry, only to see his shot come back off the far post. With under 20 minutes to play, it was starting to look like a mistake, or one piece of magic would settle this match, and Sykes made it a hatrick of missed chances when he broke the offside trap from a free kick into the box, but sent his shot inches past the far post. Reilly had the next go as Hitchin pushed to try and get their first win of the season, and he tried to beat Derry at his near post, our keeper saving the shot with his legs. With just six minutes remaining, Adam Campbell got into the game for the first time of note, and thought he was fouled by the already booked Terry Haywood as he prepared to cross, once more the ref didn't agree. With just seconds remaining of injury time, Carr split the Hitchin defence open with a through ball, and Mark Smith's pace got him to the ball first ahead of the defenders, and he clipped the ball over the advancing Mwape, but it cleared the bar and the last chance to pinch the points had gone.

Hitchin Town (0) 0
Maidstone United (0) 0

Josh Derry; Ian Rossiter, Shaun Culverhouse, James Curtis ©, Michael Haswell; Malcolm Carr; Gavin Molloy (Lewis McMahon 54 (inj - Mark Smith 63)), Marc Canham; Jack Collins, Adam Campbell; Jack Deeney (inj - Daniel Walsh 54).
Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Steele, Gary Murray.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 42% - 58%. Man of the Match :- Malcolm Carr (Maidstone United).

That was one of those games that could have gone either way to be honest, and a draw was probably a fair result, with both teams creating and missing several chances. Rob Sykes was the worst culprit when it came to missing chances, the Hitchin striker will surely find himself doing extra shooting training this week. I was very impressed with 19 year old Karl Charles, he is on loan from Southend United. His range of passing was excellent, and he showed he can beat an opponent as well. We're not in the market for a right winger for the moment, but we will certainly keep an eye on him in the future.

While we're keeping an eye on him, we won't be seeing too much of Lewis McMahon, after he suffered a torn hamstring less than ten minutes after coming off the bench for his first outing of the season. He will be sidelined for three months now, meaning it's likely to be December before he can even be considered for selection again.

One player who did have plenty of time on the park to impress tonight was Malcolm Carr. The 19 year old Sunderland born defensive midfielder has improved leaps and bounds since his arrival from Luton Town, and adds another dimension to our attacking options with his ability to switch the play and pick out wingers in space. He has just picked up the first man of the match award of his career, and I suspect there may be more to come.

Wednesday 20th August
Our Reserves scored a last minute winner in Basingstoke tonight through Louis Ward, a 16 year old centre midfielder who came to the club as part of our Youth Intake in the summer coming off the bench to bag the winner. Keep an eye out for him, he's progressing well. The Reserves side featured a nice mix of fringe First Team players and young prospects for this one, with Matthew Hatch earning man of the match, and Alex Sawyer setting up the winner.

Friday 22nd August
Another £200 per week disappears from our wage bill, as Martyn Giles bids his leave to Bourne Park, and makes his move away from Maidstone United. Just like Grant Hanley, he drops down the levels to continue his career, as the 31 year old Welsh defender joins Bishop's Stortford on a Free Transfer. Just like his former team mate, he also gets a pay rise for making the move as well, a hefty one too, his weekly wage jumping up to £350 per week. That is £525 a week moved from our wage bill now.

Tomorrow afternoon we face what is likely to be our toughest test of the season so far. Despite a fairly major squad overhaul, Forest Green Rovers are considered promotion candidates, and the bookies make them favourites to inflict our first defeat of the season to the tune of Even money. They came into the week sat in the early League makeup's bottom three after a pair of away wins. But they opened their home campaign earlier in the week with a convincing win over Weston-super-Mare, the job already done before on loan Jeff Briggs picked up a straight red card with twelve minutes remaining. He's one of two loan players they have, Briggs in from West Bromwich Albion is now suspended, the other is a teenage striker from MK Dons by the name of Jack Jones, and he is also out with an injury.

Saturday 23rd August

Blue Square League, South Division
The New Lawn, Nailsworth
Forest Green Rovers v Maidstone United
Attendance :-
740. Weather :- Downpours, 24c.

We are back at full strength for another beautiful summers day in Gloucestershire, or not. Andy Miskimmon and Mark Williams return in their full back roles, while Aaron Steele is also back in the middle of the back four. Gordon Chin is also back in the side to partner Marc Canham in centre midfield, with Terry Hindmarch on the left, and Daniel Walsh up front.

In the 8th minute, Daniel Walsh held the ball up, and when Jack Collins made his run to drag a defender with him, he sent it out wider still to Andy Miskimmon, the full back and skipper getting to the byline and winning a corner that came to nothing. But Rovers used that as a springboard to a counter attack, leading to them winning a free kick that was taken quickly and Keith Quinn received the ball and drove a shot from long range that Josh Derry fielded easily. Midway through the half, and Rovers countered again, Neil Fowler sent the ball from centre back and into the right wing for Iarfhlaith Davoren to run onto, and for a moment we looked outnumbered and in trouble. But who better to spot the danger than a player who loves to make those passes himself, and Malcolm Carr got himself back to help out his defence, heading the cross clear and breaking up the attack. The next attack was a set piece attempt to break us down, this time Fowler on the end of the move, or that was the intent anyway, Quinn's free kick failed to find him as Miskimmon had him covered and made the clearance. The next time they got a free kick they would go direct for goal, Mike Woods curling the ball around the wall being marshalled by Miskimmon, but failing to get enough curl to get the ball on target. Miskimmon would be back in the changing rooms within a few minutes, an injury ending his match prematurely, Gary Murray coming on in his place. He didn't make a particularly good impact, Carr giving away the ball carelessly, Murray diving in needlessly on halfway and allowing Niall Canavan to spin past him and send the ball down the line for Alvin Hamilton to head into the path of Quinn, his dipping shot only just clearing the bar.

0-0 at half time, and to be honest, we had failed to cause Rovers any real problems at all, and only a superbly timed tackle by Aaron Steele prevented Hamilton playing Adam Foster in for an opener. Ten minutes later, and a cross from Gregory Cunningham would have picked out sub Lewis Broughton, but for a last ditch header clear by Mark Williams. We were clearly second best, and I responded, pulling the players back into a more conventional 4-4-2 system, with less focus on attacking, and more on countering when the chance presented itself, aiming to use our pacy wingers. I brought James Curtis off at the same time, our Vice Captain not having a particularly good afternoon, and he was replaced by Shaun Culverhouse. For a moment, I thought the changes would have a wonder impact, Terry Hindmarch making an interception as he tracked back down his wing, and sent a first time long ball up and over the advanced Rovers defence, Walsh showing great pace to win the race to the ball, and some strength to hold off the retreating defenders, before attempting to pick his shot with a firmly struck effort, Gary Philpott equal to it and making a big stop. With our new plan revealed, Rovers got cute, and started passing the ball around to stretch us across the park, before Dave Hogg tried a curler from range that Derry saw late through a crowd of players and had to fling himself to his right to push it away. There was a certain inevitability about the opening goal when it arrived in the 64th minute, Cunningham shaping to cross, and then knocking the ball past Collins to leave him out of the game, and then whipping in a cross that Hamilton met with a firm header as he arrived across the path of Steele and Culverhouse, and he guided his effort into the roof of the net to put Rovers in front! We simply were not creating enough, with fifteen minutes to play, Gordon Chin sent in a free kick that evaded everyone except Hindmarch at the far post. He sent it back across goal, but Culverhouse just couldn't reach it, even at full stretch, failing to divert the ball home. Chin would come off moments later, replaced by Danny Carey-Bertram as I brought on a second striker, and started to throw players forward with the ball being pumped up the park quickly to try and snatch a point back for our trip home to Kent. It just wasn't our day though, and the closest the game would come to a second goal was Hamilton's late shot on the turn that was only just wide of the post, and Williams earned a late booking purely out of frustration. At least we were more competitive here than we were last season I suppose.

Forest Green Rovers (0) 1 - Alvin Hamilton (64)
Maidstone United (0) 0
Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon © (inj - Gary Murray 40), Aaron Steele, James Curtis (Shaun Culverhouse 55), Mark Williams; Malcolm Carr; Gordon Chin (Danny Carey-Bertram 78), Marc Canham; Jack Collins, Terry Hindmarch; Daniel Walsh.
Unused Substitutes :- Michael Haswell, Adam Campbell.
Bookings :- Mark Williams (90+4)
Possession :- 51% - 49%. Man of the Match :- Gregory Cunningham (Forest Green Rovers).

We might have had plenty of the ball, but we didn't do much with it other than give it away. Just one shot, which was at least on target, but Daniel Walsh couldn't find the net at a point of the game where a goal would've forced Rovers to pour forward.

In pre-season we looked sharp as a knife, but now when we are into the thick of the domestic action, we have struggled up front, even when we have created chances. There is a player available who might be more clinical, and while I'm reluctant to put the money I've just saved from the wage bill right back into the squad, I don't want to see our ambition of being well clear of a relegation dog fight snuffed out for a lack of goals when we could have done something about it. I put a contract offer in, though I suspect we won't be the favourites for the player.

Another concern is Andy Miskimmon. The Club Captain looked assured and one of our most consistent players in the latter stages of last season. This season he has started three times, and has been booked once and injured twice. At 28 years old, he isn't an old player of course, but this is the highest level of football he has ever played at, and I need him to get back to the levels he was at when I decided to give him the armband.

Thursday 28th August
We've missed out on the striker we were chasing. Former Norwich City player Kris Renton ended up with several better options, and he decided the best of those was Charlton Athletic of Coca-Cola League One, who's contract offer gave the Irishman a weekly wage treble the amount we were able to offer.

It's a bit of a blow, but it isn't like we are short of strikers, like, oooohhh, I don't know, Dartford for example, who have just seen on loan striker Jason Doswell recalled back to Crystal Palace, leaving them very short up front.

Friday 29th August
We go into the weekend right in the mid table pack and sitting in 13th place. We return to Bourne Park, where the visitors will be Basingstoke Town, sat just two places and one point behind us. Hopefully we can get back on the winning trail, which the bookies have us down as favourites to do.

Saturday 30th August

Blue Square League, South Division
Bourne Park, Sittingbourne
Maidstone United v Basingstoke Town
Attendance :-
540. Weather :- Gusty, 16c.

After the below par performance last weekend, I have given the same eleven a chance to redeem themselves at home, and try and get us back on track. There were three changes amongst the substitutes, with Alan Dallas, Mark Smith and Jack Deeney all brought into the matchday squad today. With the rain staying away for once, we were hoping that the improvement in our attendance figures would continue, but sadly not, as a figure almost half of the opening day number were here today.

We gave away the ball deep inside the Basingstoke half in the fourth minute, and were almost on the end of an absolute wonder goal. Wesley Thomas stripped the ball from Marc Canham when he thought he had plenty of time, and then despite not being blessed with any real pace, he set off on a mazy run that saw him beat four players, and Malcolm Carr twice, before getting to the edge of the box and letting fly with a curling shot that was only inches wide of the goal frame. Our visitors would go closer still ten minutes later, Jake Foley whipping in a free kick that Peter Martin met with a glancing header at the near post, that one coming back off the bar. Moments later Foley sent in a corner this time, and and Alex Henderson found himself unmarked six yards out, but he couldn't keep his header down, a gilt edged chance going begging for Town. With nearly twenty minutes on the clock, we finally got hold of the ball ourselves, Carr sending a long diagonal pass out to the left for Terry Hindmarch, and his low cross went right through the six yard box and to the far post, finding Jack Collins who should have scored from close range, but Tony Butterworth scrambled across his goalmouth and kept the ball out. It had been a difficult start, and it was about to get more difficult yet as well. Gordon Chin received a short pass from Hindmarch on halfway, and tried to spin away from Foley, who grabbed a handful of the midfielders shirt. Chin might be lacking in height, but not in aggressiveness, and swung his elbow in response, catching Foley right in the mouth, and receiving a straight red card for his trouble. Now we had real problems, and we would have to sit back somewhat and try and counter attack when the opportunity presented. Ironically, and as is often the case, we looked a bit more dangerous set up this way, and Daniel Walsh was moving out into the channels to hold the ball up. It got us through to half time at least.

The second half started very quietly, and that suited us just fine today, as we reached the hour mark without any scares. I was yet to be convinced we could hold out like this though, and made another change on the hour, Canham replaced by Alan Dallas as we went with two defensive midfielders to sit in front of the back four and try and break play up before it became too dangerous, and force Town to play outside the danger zones. And we were still the side creating the most, not that it was very much, Walsh with a shot on the turn just over the bar, Collins making a lung busting run into the penalty box, looking to entice a tackle that would force the ref into a decision, and when it came appealing loudly for a spot kick. Hindmarch joined him, too loudly perhaps, as he earned a booking. With time ticking down, Town tried to force the issue a bit, Murray Gamble's route to goal blocked with a tackle, Foley trying a curler from range that only just missed the top corner. As Henderson hit a shot wide from just inside the box, Carr went down with a knock, and I'd need to make a change, Gary Murray coming on to play in the defensive midfield role with Dallas, with Jack Deeney coming on for Walsh at the same time. The next time Henderson had the ball, he sent in a deep cross that Hindmarch couldn't reach, and full back Johnny Watt brought the ball down and sent in a shot that hit the top of the bar on it's way over. With only minutes remaining, there would be one last chance for the deadlock to be broken, Collins free kick from near the right corner of the penalty box curled around the wall and into the danger zone, right through the box, and just wide of the far post without anyone managing to get a touch. 0-0.

Maidstone United (0) 0
Basingstoke Town (0) 0

Josh Derry; Andy Miskimmon ©, Aaron Steele, James Curtis, Mark Williams; Malcolm Carr (inj - Gary Murray 75); Gordon Chin, Marc Canham (Alan Dallas 60); Jack Collins, Terry Hindmarch; Daniel Walsh (Jack Deeney 75).
Unused Substitutes :- Shaun Culverhouse, Mark Smith.
Bookings :- Terry Hindmarch 67 Sent Off :- Gordon Chin 21
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Jack Collins (Maidstone United).

If you'd asked me before the game, I would have been disappointed if we hadn't notched a win today, but after the game, I was pretty relieved we hadn't been beaten after playing around 70 minutes with only ten men, so I have to be satisfied that we held on to earn a point.

Gordon Chin's red card was both cynical, and frankly, stupid, especially for a player of his experience. It has cost him a weeks wages as a fine, £375. He accepted the fine and the warning that came with it, and indicated that he will work on his discipline in the future. He is banned for one game initially, but that could, and likely will be increased when the disciplinary committee meet next weekend.

The bright point of the day was Jack Collins again. Despite our numerical disadvantage, the winger used his pace and trickery to cause the Basingstoke defence problems on several occasions.

Sunday 31st August
Yesterdays draw left us sat in 12th place, one place under the current target for the season of the top half of the table. A home win today for Team Bath moves them above us and up into 7th spot, meaning we end the month of August in 13th place with six points from our opening five matches. We now have no League match for two weeks, and no game at all next weekend, before we take on our first Cup match of the season the following midweek.

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19 hours ago, oche balboa said:

Big fan of the time you put into the stories, brilliant to read

 

KUTGW

Really appreciate that comment Oche, and thank you very much. I actually enjoy trying to put plenty of detail into my writing and then trying to thread it all together into some kind of a flow. Time wise, it does mean the speed of play suffers, but it's worthwhile knowing people are reading and enjoying it.

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