Hungerford Town 1 Maidenhead Utd 1
A SEASON’S best Bulpit Lane crowd saw honours even as Hungerford dragged Maidenhead off the top of Vanarama National League South after claiming their second draw off Magpies this term.
It was a sometimes fraught, frenzied and frenetic battle, not helped by Kent referee Paul Kelly, who at times looked overawed by it all. He sent Hungerford manager Bobby Wilkinson from the dug-out midway through the second half and also dismissed Maidenhead striker Jordan Cox towards the end when Hungerford were chasing an unlikely victory.
Unlikely because Hungerford were barely in the game in the opening period when Magpies were buoyed by a stunning goal from Harry Pritchard inside three minutes of the start, Dave Tarpey finding space to pick out his midfielder and Pritchard cutting inside before sending a stunning curling shot beyond goalkeeper George Legg.
The visitors took a vice-like grip as Hungerford struggled to create anything and once the Hungerford back line had recovered from that early setback, it had to establish its own grip and Ian Herring had to bundle the ball off the line from a Pritchard corner.
Hungerford did go close as they showed signs of settling before the break, and Herring’s free kick bounced awkwardly to force goalkeeper Carl Pentney into action.
But Magpies were well worth their interval lead and had looked comfortable - too comfortable in fact - at the back. That was until the 55th minute when Wilkinson made triple substitute and threw on Nat Jarvis, Harry Goodger and Alan O’Brien to go for it, and suddenly the visitors defence looked rattled.
O’Brien produced a string of dangerous crosses, one of which was blocked out for a corner. Although that came to nothing, Scott Rees hoisted the ball back into the box and Pentney came under pressure from three challengers with Jarvis deemed to get the touch that took the ball into the net.
While still having to be wary of Magpies on the break,Hungerford were on top until the 75th minute when Tarpey wasted a corner that flew over everyone and out harmlessly, only for referee Kelly to delay and then award a penalty after Herring and Cox had landed together a long way from the ball.
But Legg got down to make an outstanding save from 32-goal Tarpey’s spot kick,and in the aftermath of the battled that followed, Wilkinson was ordered into the stands, not far from where the referee’s assessor was busily scribbling notes.
Magpies had lost of the late pressure but continued to look shaky when Hungerford broke and they had an anxious ending when, in stoppage time, the referee broke off a Hungerford corner to consult his linesman before booking Goodger and showing Cox his second yellow card, although neither referee nor his assistant saw Remy Clerima’s contact with Goodger that caused the problem.
An O’Brien shot was blocked at the finish as Magpies conceded top spot back to Ebbsfleet, while Hungerford slipped just off the play-off places as they continue to negotiate a testing period against rival challengers.
Hungerford Town: Legg; Rees, Boardman, Day, Tyler; Clark, Herring, Williams, Soares; Meechan, Bentley. Subs: Goodger, Jarvis, O’Brien, Jones, Lynch.
Maidenhead Utd: Pentney; Clerima, Massey, Inman, Steer; Comley, Smith, Cox, Pritchard; Tarpey, Marks. Subs: Peters, Barratt, Upward, Mulley, Wiltshire.
Referee: Paul Kelly (Rochester). Attendance: 724.