Stones Goals is back! It’s a New Year and a new start as Wealdstone kick off the second half of their campaign at title favourites Maidenhead United.
The busy festive period always provides entertainment and Boxing Day delivered another gift for the Stones when they put the Magpies to the sword ahead of Sunday’s return.
It’s now 41-years since the Royals last lost a home fixture on that festive day and 13-years since defeat of any sort on 26 December.
1975: Remember when… imperious home form on Boxing Day since
New Year’s Day football
So you’ve had your ear chewed off by your gran, drunk
a bit a lot of alcohol and smashed through three bags of chocolate coins. What now?
In footballing terms it’s time for reflection and the overall consensus is that Wealdstone have underperformed. Underachieved, even. It’s hard to disagree and evidenced further when the Stones derailed Sunday’s opponents and runaway leaders Maidenhead for the second time this season.
Alan Devonshire’s Magpies must be sick of Barlett’s men. Dumped out of the Trophy and now beaten at the Vale by the same opponent.
In contrast to Wealdstone, perhaps Maidenhead have overachieved. Nine points clear at the top of the National South, they are 1/3 odds on to lift the title in May and boast the league’s best scoring record and meanest defence to date. With statistics like those, it’s no surprise they have lost only twice in twenty-two league outings.
Dave Tarpey (pictured) has been in scintillating form for the Magpies netting an impressive 1.22 goals per game. Such form has attracted interest from a host of league clubs including Wycombe, Leyton Orient, Cheltenham Town and Barnet. With Hampton hotshot Jamal Lowe already sealing a move to Portsmouth, it remains a possibility that 28-year-old Tarpey could follow him as the latest National South export.
In attack Tarpey is partnered by hard working Sean Marks, who has ten league goals this campaign. Despite playing second-fiddle to Tarpey in the scoring charts, Marks contribution was recognised by the league when he scooped the coveted player of month award for November – a month that included a match-winning hat-trick at Ebbsfleet.
Stones bouncing back?
Since slumping to defeat at Hungerford on 19 November Wealdstone have slowly turned the corner stringing together a seven-match unbeaten spell in all competitions. That same period has seen them play Maidenhead three times, drawing once (2-2) and winning twice (2-1, 2-1).
The squad haven’t answered all their critics just yet but the pertinent recurring question whether this season’s squad was an improvement on last has surely been answered with Wealdstone six places and eight points better off than at the same stage of last season (albeit having played two games more).
Gordon’s last Christmas?
Bartlett will have tucked into his turkey a relieved man after overseeing a change of fortunes that appeared unlikely just six weeks ago. If anything the three games against leaders Maidenhead underpin why the manager has been under such scrutiny. Consistency is what keeps Wealdstone from being a serious challenger.
Many well known showbiz faces were lost in 2016 but Bartlett saw out a record-breaking 22nd Christmas as Stones boss. The internet was fervent with speculation on 20 November that wasn’t going to happen when rumours circulated claiming he’d been sacked. Those rumours died out almost as quickly as they started but the manager remains under pressure. And better is still expected.
With an average 70.33 points required to secure a play-off place in the last six seasons, Wealdstone would require another 38 points – equivalent to 1.72 points per game, or 13 wins to be sure. To put that into perspective, that’s one more win than Wealdstone managed in the entire campaign last time out.
But if the blue horse continues to gather pace there’s no reason why Wealdstone can’t be in the play-off mix come May – the Chairman expects it, even if the supporters don’t.
Despite the good Boxing Day record, Wealdstone have been indifferent on New Year’s Day – just one win in the last nine on that day (Hendon, 2006). And it’s just two wins from their last eight fixtures to fall within the first five days of New Year. (Note below: Wingate game played 2 January 2012, Horsham game played 5 January 2008).
One El of a player
If the Player of the Season vote took place today Elliot Benyon would be the obvious front-runner. But it’s time to champion the forgotten man. The other Elliott. A month ago you could be forgiven for forgetting about him altogether but Elliott Godfrey remains a lynch pin of this Stones outfit.
Frozen out of the starting-11 for the first few months of the season and written off as just a squad player by some, Godfrey’s re-introduction to the starting line-up for the Hemel game has gradually helped change the momentum.
Godfrey boasts an impressive win ratio for league games where he’s started this season. The Stones have won 6, drawn 2, and lost only twice (both at home v Truro 1-2, and Bath City 0-1) when Godfrey starts from the off. The stalwart was also a starter in both Trophy games against Maidenhead and in cup matches has five wins and a draw from his six starts.
Champions are built from the back and Maidenhead made one of the most shrewdest acquisitions of Devonshire’s revolution last Summer when he bought his former-Braintree player, Alan Massey, to York Road.
Massey is no stranger to Wealdstone either having featured 229 times (221 starts) for the Royals between 2007 and 2012. In that time Massey established himself as a fans favourite, with the Stones losing just 59 times when he took to the field from the outset.
Massey’s steadying influence for the Magpies and formidable partnership with former Hayes and Yeading captain Dean Inman has helped shut out the meanest National South attacks. The table-toppers have conceded just 15 times in the league, an average of 0.68 goals against per game and they’ve kept a league-best 11 clean sheets (averaging one clean sheet every two games).
He won’t be the only familiar face in black and white on Sunday either. Maidenhead boast an array of ex-Stones in their ranks. James Hammond, James Mulley, Rene Steer and Kieron Forbes are the other stars with blue blood.
Last season the sides shared a 1-1 draw in the league with Wes Parker netting for the Stones in front of 524.
Head to head
Stones have been decent against the Magpies since promotion to the NLS having won two and drawn three of the five league encounters since 2014. With the trophy games included it means Stones are unbeaten in their last seven outings against Sunday’s hosts – this after Maidenhead had enjoyed five wins on the spin against the Stones between 2000 and 2007. (note: below all competitive matches between 1923 and present – excludes friendlies)
Maidenhead home record
The hosts are imperious at York Road, shipping just four times in the league where they remain undefeated.
Team news and verdict (featuring “Lawro’s prediction”)
“We certainly do not have a hoodoo over Maidenhead. It’s a huge challenge for us” said Bartlett ahead of the Boxing Day clash.
“They are solid all over. Good at the back and tough to break down, they have energy in the middle and experience up front, capped off by Mr Tarpey knocking in goals for fun. But if we play to our strengths we can give anyone in this league a good game. We have been inconsistent and that’s something we need to change.”
For the hosts winger Harry Pritchard is in contention again and Ryan Upward, who also missed the Boxing Day clash, could return to bolster midfield following suspension. Stones meanwhile continue to sweat on the fitness of on-loan defender Liam Goulding but Tom Hamblin may be back in contention to start.
It’s been well documented that Bartlett and Devonshire share a friendship that stretches back to their youth but the pair disagreed over a key moment in Monday’s clash.
“We didn’t get the rub of the green this time” said Devonshire as he bemoaned the decision not to send Eddie Oshodi off when the sides met earlier in the week. Speaking to The Slough Express he said: “The penalty was a booking, he actually caught him quite high. He was already on a booking so should have been off, which would have made it a different game. I spoke to the ref who said he (Oshodi) just bundled into him and it wasn’t bookable.”
Speaking to the same paper, Bartlett admitted he might ‘tweak’ the team for the return fixture and remains wary of the threat posed by the leaders. “You have to respect a team like that, with the players they have and the position they are in and the manager they have,” he said.
SkyBet go 33/1 Maidenhead to lead at half-time and Stones to win. Equates to bet a pound, lose a pound – Stones are yet to win when trailing at half-time, losing on four occasions and drawing once. Maidenhead have won on all 12 previous occasions where they’ve led at the break.
SkyBet go 12/1 for another 2-2; 14/1 for a Stones 2-1 victory or 13/2 Maidenhead by the same scoreline.
Click here for a blown up version Lawro’s predictions.