09:00AM, Wednesday 01 January 2020
Maidenhead United kept their heads above water with a much-needed 2-0 win over Wrexham AFC at York Road on Saturday – only their third win in the league on home soil all season.
But it’s still far from certain that Alan Devonshire’s side will be celebrating survival in the National League come the end of April, writes Daniel Darlington.
The Magpies form over the festive period – like much of the rest of their campaign – has been patchy, with the team losing to Barnet and Notts County - conceding seven goals in the process - before finally finding some much-needed form at York Road to beat Wrexham with two goals from Danny Whitehall.
It’s difficult to predict how Maidenhead will get on in the early months of 2020 because, while they’ve improved, the division has become more competitive to match that. They’re a stronger side than they were 12 months ago, have more quality in certain positions and plenty of players capable of contributing both goals and assists.Their form is also likely to improve in the coming months – if the last two seasons are anything to go by.
But the side's horrendous home form means there’s still a nagging concern they’ll get dragged into an unwanted relegation scrap.There’s also an expectation that some of the big name teams below them in the table will get their act together and drag themselves clear of the bottom four.
Chesterfield, Wrexham, Aldershot and AFC Fylde fans will all be hoping this is the case, even if their current form might suggest otherwise. United do have a handy five point buffer over the bottom four, but Devonshire would like it to be a lot bigger and their inconsistent form means they still don’t have breathing space over the sides beneath them.
However, the concertinaed league table means that a couple of wins would take them into the top half and - ahead of their game with Notts County - they’re only seven points off a play-off place. A good start to the new year could see them challenging for the top half or even the top seven!
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic going into the 2020s, a decade which could well see the club leave York Road, the oldest continually used ground in world football, while the shackles of being a part-time club might also be thrown off if the club's proposed move to Braywick Park does go ahead.
The current first team squad is also blessed with real talent and genuine pace. It’s the best side they’ve had since the likes of Harry Pritchard, Max Kilman, Sam Barratt, Dave Tarpey and Sean Marks all departed 18 months ago. In Josh Kelly, Shamir Fenelon, Danny Whitehall and Jake Cassidy there are goals in this team, even on days when the side doesn’t perform to its maximum. And, with Joe Ellul and Alan Massey forming a solid central defensive partnership the team can still eke out points and victories.
Away from home they’ve been one of the best teams in the division. Stockport County, Yeovil Town, Sutton United and Torquay United have all been toppled on their own turf.However, their crippling home form is still a major worry. Picking up more victories at York Road will be crucial to the Magpies' chances of survival. Home fans have undoubtedly been short-changed this season but the team showed against Wrexham – and in their previous victory over Solihull Moors – they are capable of stepping things up on their own patch.
Another positive is the return of players to form and fitness. Despite making moves towards becoming a more full-time outfit, the Magpies’ squad is still one of the smallest in the division and their form suffers if players are sidelined through injury or suspension. The return of Fenelon could be key and he showed what he can do with a brace in the side’s 4-2 win over Hemel Hempstead Town in the FA Trophy a few weeks ago. Ellul putting his recent flurry of suspensions behind him should also steady the ship defensively.
I believe Maidenhead will survive the drop but how comfortably they manage to do that is open for debate.The target for Devonshire will again be to get to the 50 point mark and then re-evaluate the side’s goals for the season. They could get there fairly quickly or be sweating on picking up points throughout March and April. My cautiously optimistic view is they’ll finish in lower mid-table, but anything from a relegation scrap to a top half finish is still a possibility.
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