04:44PM, Saturday 11 January 2020
Maidenhead 2, Richmond 1
A poachers' finish from Matt Keylock in the final minutes of the game saw Maidenhead HC men's 1st celebrate a come from behind victory over a dogged Richmond 2nds at Altwood School.
The visitors arrived in Maidenhead bottom of the Premier Division 2 West table, having won just once all season, however, that 2-1 victory came at the expense of Chris Brown's men on the opening day of the season.
And, for a time in the first half it looked like they'd prove to be a thorn in Maids' side once again, as the hosts struggled to get back their fluency after a four-week break for Christmas and New Year.
The home side began brightly, immediately winning a penalty corner. But the ball from the insertion was poorly controlled and the chance went begging.
Much of the remainder of the first half followed on in a frustrating fashion, as passes went awry and chances to break were squandered by the hosts.
It was also a physical contest with players being bundled or slipping over after tackles on the Altwood astroturf. The umpires brandished a couple of green cards for two minute sin bins but the first period was stop-start in nature and neither side was really able to take a stranglehold on the play.
In the 10th minute Tom Marriott swept an angled drive into the side netting from just inside the D on the right hand side of Richmond's area, but the hosts weren't able to force any clear cut opportunities or lull the visitors into conceding short or penalty corners.
The best chance of the opening half hour fell Will Strang's way but the Maidenhead man wasn't able to convert a difficult chance that came to him quickly. Controlling the ball with his back to goal he turned in an instant and flicked the ball just wide of the upright.
However, in the final 10 minutes of the half Richmond gained in confidence and just before the break they forged ahead from a short corner. The ball was played in with pace, the set up was clean and the ball was dispatched high into the Maidenhead goal beyond the keeper.
Maids pressed in the final seconds of the half but they were restricted to free kicks on the edge of the area from minor infringements and couldn't break down the wall of maroon shirts. Frustration eventually set in and the ball was pumped across the area with too much power and ran out for a throw in.
There was plenty of work to be done by the home side at the interval, but the half time words of encouragement from Brown seemed to do the trick as their play was brighter and more incisive in the second half.
Moving the ball quicker and dragging their opponents across the field they soon started creating chances.
Five minutes after the restart they were back on level terms. Matt Heller did excellently to win the ball back close to his own D and it was worked up to Will Strang who thread a great pass through to the marauding Keylock. Through on goal he kept his composure to move the ball wide of the advancing keeper before slotting it into the empty net.
From that moment on it was pretty much one-way traffic as Richmond looked to hold onto what would have been a hard-fought point.
A scramble on the Richmond goalline was cleared out for a short corner in the 53rd minute from which an excellent save denied Phil Cowell. The home side then had the ball in the net a few minutes later but an infringement was spotted in the build up and the whistle blown.
Dan Reid was sin-binned for a clumsy foul in the 61st minute, temporarily halting Maids' advances, while the home side's goal survived in tact after a well-worked short corner routine from Richmond drew instinctive saves from the hosts' keeper.
With around 10 minutes to play Maids worked the ball well for James Duke on the right side of the area but his low drive flew inches wide of the post.
When Phil Cowell's attempt from another short corner was kept out by a defender's stick on the line with seven minutes to go it looked like it wouldn't be the home side's day. But they kept plugging away and got their winner with a couple of minutes to play when Keylock showed great determination to get in front of his man to turn home Dave Tyler's low cross from close range.
A late chance for Richmond was deflected over and Maids held out to get the second half of their season underway in a fine style.
Reflecting on his side's start to the new year, Brown said: "We started the game really well and forced a penalty corner, which was the start we were after. But we let them in the game a bit after that. We tired and stopped playing our simple hockey.
"But in the second half we managed to control the game a bit better.
"They had one corner in the first half, and managed to take their opportunity. It was a great finish. But that's just the nature of the league to be honest, if you give someone a chance they might take it.
"We tried to counter with a bit more pace in the second half and we had the right person, with the right composure (in Keylock) to finish off those chances.
"There have been times this season when we've had the momentum but not taken our chances. Against Richmond in the first game of the season we had loads of chances and should have taken them, and they then came back in the second half.
"We've talked a lot about taking those chances and being more ruthless in front of goal or when we get a corner. We kept at it today though and that might be the difference for us in the second half of the season."
Their match-winner Keylock was limping a bit at the end but was clearly delighted to have bagged both goals for a crucial win.
The victory lifts Maidenhead above Woking into ninth ahead of next Saturday's trip to Oxford OBU 1sts. They were promoted with Maids last season but hit the ground running in Division 2 West and currently sit third in the table.
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