The Thursday Preview: Maidenhead Vs Aldershot
While risking sycophancy, it seems fitting to tribute this post to therealfacup. Not so long ago, I had little interest in the Cup’s First Round or anything that preceded it. My focus was on Plymouth Argyle, its status as a Championship club and not a lot else. If asked whether I was a fan of football or Argyle, then my answer was a depressingly parochial one.
Fast-forward to the present day, and my perspective’s changed. Not least because of the efforts of Damon and Simon of the aforementioned in promoting the virtue of these early rounds. For me, at least, non-league clubs are beginning to hold an increasingly alluring space after years of shelling out body parts for what can too often turn out to be a mediocre day out in the Football League. The FA Cup, with its periodic scheduling of fixtures between teams belonging to the various steps of the pyramid, offers an easy gateway.
After two years of previewing games involving the 72 most weeks, how refreshing it is, then, to type out the word Maidenhead in the header. While the Magpies are a new team to these pages, the club couldn’t be much closer to home for one of our number. As much as he laments the town’s conservatism — its Blue blood running so deep that the Tories even won here in 1997 — Maidenhead is the place where Rob spent his formative years and to which he still returns most weeks either side of a Reading game.
Despite its modest size, the Thameside town may also possess a folklorish character for many; it being Nick Hornby’s place of birth and the reason that the Arsenal-supporting nipper is berated on the terraces at Reading for “not supporting his local club” in Fever Pitch. The fact that Maidenhead itself had, and still has, a perfectly decent side isn’t mentioned, perhaps reflecting the club’s stature both locally and nationally.
In spite of being one of only two clubs to enter every single FA Cup, part of the reason for Maidenhead’s obscurity may owe to a lack of progress in the competition in modern times. While the Magpies chalked up three successive Quarter Final appearances back in the 1870s, the First Round has been as far as they’ve reached since 1886. Given that the club have since undergone an amalgamation and a name change, these last few years, in which the Conference South side have been performing at their highest level since their founder member days in the Southern League, might be described as their best ever.
Since coming in to replace Carl Taylor in 2006, motormouth manager Johnson ‘Drax’ Hippolyte, who’s coincidentally an ex-Aldershot player, has done tremendously well. Taking the club back up to the Conference South in 2006 directly after relegation, Hippolyte has subsequently kept Maidenhead at this level for four seasons, even recording a 6th place finish in 2008-09.
There’s been two Cup appearances during Hippolyte’s spell with the Magpies, but the arrival of basement side Aldershot marks the first time that a professional club has travelled to York Road for a competitive fixture. As great as this all sounds, though, Saturday’s game comes at a challenging time for the home side, whose league form has seen them drop to 18th position after a decent start this season. Back-to-back 4-1 defeats against Eastleigh and Dover in the past week underlines the immediacy of their problems and once-in-a-blue-moon supporters will hope that the side can at least put up a spirited fight on Saturday.
Skipper Mark Nisbet misses out once again, but team news is otherwise hard to come by. Judging by the last few games, the side is unlikely to vary too much from the 15 that went down to successive three goal margins. Attacking hopes may well rest on former Havant marksman Manny Willams, as well as ex-League boys Ashan Holgate (Swindon) and Anthony Thomas, who some may recall from a 20-odd game spell at Barnet in the late noughties. At the back, captain John Scarborough, who moved clubs three times alone last season, will be at the centre of things.
Aldershot go into the game in decent enough nick, their mid-table position providing an underwhelming matte finish to what’s been a quietly productive season so far. Striker Danny Hylton, the recipient of October’s League 2 player of the month gong, has been amongst the goals and will be the man to watch. Ammunition may well come from Jermaine McGlashan down the right flank, while Luke Guttridge has reportedly been in his element in central midfield since joining from Northampton last season.
A big day in Berkshire but, putting romance to one side, I can see Shots doing a professional job. 0-3.