The sun shone at York Road as winless Maidenhead welcomed high flying Wrexham to their first home evening fixture of the season. A healthy crowd of over 1500 was swelled by close on 400 from the Dragons, a very decent effort from the Welshmen for a midweek fixture.
They were tucked into one corner of this slowly improving, yet still very much a lower league ground and they more than made themselves heard. They sang throughout as their team eased themselves to a comfortable victory, their two goals midway through the first half seeing off a spirited but ultimately inferior home side.
It is somewhat amusing to observe the somewhat strict and stringent rules at this level of football. The Wrexham supporters were cordoned off behind iron railings with only their elderly or disabled supporters being allowed entry to the seated area. Alcohol is only allowed to be consumed out of view of the pitch, so Maidenhead have erected close boarded timber fences at a couple of locations around the pitch to comply with this regulation, such fences looking more like fences dividing back gardens in suburbia. All quite ridiculous really when in Dortmund, 80,000 plus supporters are able to quite happily quaff beer both in the stands and on the terraces and, furthermore, beer sellers wander around the gangways and in front of the stands refilling punters plastic glasses. Not a hint of drunken trouble making, yet not permitted for the mighty Magpies against the Dragons for fear of a riot. Really ?
To matters on the pitch. Wrexham looked a level above. Manager Sam Ricketts has a side big on experience both at this level and in the higher echelons of the football pyramid, with a mix of early 30 somethings and hungry youngsters.
Manny Smith is an imperious centre back and recent recruit Luke Summerfield, coming off the back of two seasons at Grimsby Town, pulled the strings in the middle of the park. The young guns, in the form of 20 year olds Rekeil Pyke, on a long term loan from Premiership Huddersfield, and Jordan Maguire-Drew, on a season long loan from Premiership Brighton, added the spark.
Indeed it was Maguire-Drew’s delicious left footed curling effort into the top corner, cutting in from the right flank, which effectively sealed the match on 27 minutes after another new recruit, Mike Fondop, had volleyed in the opener only 13 minutes earlier to continue his impressive goalscoring start to the season, making the most of some uncertainty in the Maidenhead rear guard to a deep hanging cross.
Whilst Wrexham looked organised, effective and confident, Maidenhead looked quite the opposite. Results bring confidence and with only a single draw to show from their opening three matches, Maidenhead appeared tense and uncomfortable, clearly desperate for that first victory.
Football at this level can be cruel at times as Alan Devonshire, the decorated Maidenhead manager, has found. Wearing his now trade mark flat cap, “Dev” cuts a more portly frame these days, in contrast to the slender look of his illustrious playing career as a West Ham and England maestro. In non league football, a manager can only control so much and at Maidenhead, he has been something of a victim of his own success.
He took the club up to the National League and in their first season at this higher level last year, they finished in a very creditable mid table position, including five victories in their last six matches. With it came the vultures, taking arguably his side’s most attacking players. Sam Barrett went to Southend, Harry Pritchard to Blackpool and on deadline day defender cum midfielder Max Kilman has been snapped up by Wolverhampton Wanderers to join their youth set up. Only last night, ironically, Pritchard was making the headlines as he scored a glorious goal to help Blackpool beat Barnsley in the Carabao Cup.
So, even at this very early stage of the season, it is clear that Maidenhead need to gel and do so fast, otherwise they could possibly be facing a long period in the lower reaches. This would be a huge disappointment to the club, and their supporters, especially after the successes of the previous few seasons.
The problem seems most pronounced in the attacking positions where the departing players do not appear to have been adequately replaced. However, it is still very early days, and the newer recruits need some time to become familiar with each other and the gaffer’s preferred formations and style of play. That is not to say that they caved in here, far from it, for they mounted a spirited response to going behind, Adrian Clifton hit the bar with a header when it would have been easier to score and they had numerous other opportunities but just did not quite have the poise, skill or indeed luck to score. Nana Owusu and Harold Odametey, as always, caught the eye as being the Magpies most dangerous attacking threats and both Ryan Bird and Max Worsfold showed promise and have a good track record at this level of football.
No such problems exist for Wrexham thus far. They appear to be determined and a well organised outfit on a mission to return to the Football League. Time will tell but for now they are sitting pretty on top of the Vanarama National League and that’s where they will be hoping to remain.