11 JANUARY 2014

In  a match between the top two sides in the league spectators witnessed one of most entertaining league matches played at Broad walk in the last few years from which Charlton Park emerged with a hard earned bonus point win over a highly competitive Maidstone team and in doing so further extended their lead at the top of the table.

From the onset it was evident that both sides had differing methods of play and it was Maidstone that enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges as they sought to utilise their backs by running the ball at every opportunity and were rewarded for their enterprise by spending the opening minutes of the match deep in the Charlton half. Despite the continual pressure Charlton’s defence held and in some ways they were helped in their efforts by Maidstone taking quick tapped penalties instead of taking penalty kicks at the goal posts. With Charlton competing well at the break down Maidstone were unable to play their high tempo game which they had exhibited earlier this season in the corresponding fixture at Maidstone.

Despite having to defend Charlton’s forwards had from the opening scrum established an advantage in both tight and driving play and this was to provide the basis of Charlton’s opening score. Following a scrum close to they Maidstone goal line Charlton nudged their opponents slightly backwards and following Rob Saunderson’s pick up and drive when he was held up his fellow back row colleague Luke Boyns was on hand to touch the ball down for the opening try of the match.

Maidstone in trying to contain Charlton’s forward advantage made several tactical substitutions and this seemed to limit some of their options but their direct running style ensured that the game remained finely balanced with both sides enjoying varying periods of pressure. With the game having been held up for a number of occasions while both sides had players treated for on field injuries it was deep into time added on that Maidstone’s running game finally bore them dividends when following a break and slick handling they scored their first try off the game which was subsequently converted to give them a slight buffer at half time.

The second half started in the worst possible way for Charlton when from the kick off they were pinned back deep into their half close to their goal line. In their efforts to secure possession at a line out Charlton were adjudged to have pushed a Maidstone player and the subsequent penalty kick was successful putting Maidstone further in the lead.

Having played through the first half primarily through their forwards Charlton began to utilise all fifteen players to attack from all areas of the field and had several opportunities to strike back with attempted penalty kicks which unfortunately for them all missed or dropped short of the goal posts.

It was during a period when Maidstone were reduced to fourteen men, having had a player sin-binned, that Charlton finally utilised their advantage well when following the award of a penalty they opted for field position. Following a catch and robust number of pick and go drives down one side of the pitch the ball, was transferred through a number of pairs of hands and winger “BJ” Bridges scored Charlton’s second try in the right corner of the pitch having outflanked the Maidstone defence and in doing so levelling the scores.

With Charlton in the ascendency Maidstone continued to struggle to contain Charlton’s forwards driving play and it was following another drive that Charlton scored their third try; when following good interplay between Tom Coad and Ben Chappell their slick transference of the ball led to left wing Reion Rabye riding several tackles to touch the ball down for a try to give Charlton the lead again. With a lead Charlton’s play did not diminish and they continued to press although, when they were in possession Maidstone always looked they were capable at scoring.

It in the last few minutes of the half when Maidstone were pressing for another score to was a timely interception of a pass by centre Neil Collins that was the catalyst for Charlton’s fourth try when following his seventy yard sprint desperate Maidstone ensured that Collins was adjudged to have been held up. At the ensuing scrum Charlton dominance at the scrum saw them once again driving forward enabling Saunderson to drive over with the aid of his fellow forwards to score a try that was subsequently converted by Thor Normann.

To Maidstone’s credit from the subsequent restart they spent the last few minutes of time added on for injuries attacking the Charlton goal line and they were rewarded with a try thereby extending their run of matches in this league in which they have scored a bonus point to thirteen.

By Roe Belcher
Maidstone’s view of the match:

This 22-15 loss to league leaders, Charlton Park, has probably consigned Maidstone’s promotion ambitions to the rubbish bin, for a further season. But, in all honesty, this loss to a side that played better, on the day, in a pulsating and fluctuating match, where the lead changed hands three times, was understandable: it was those to Medway and Sevenoaks, which exposed Maidstone’s flabby, on-field, game management that are harder to accept.

There were, certainly, no mysteries as to how Charlton Park were going to play this game. Their style was fully set out in the fixture at The Mote, earlier in the season, when Maidstone came away with a commanding win, and confirmed in last week’s fixture, viewed by coach, Andy Foley. But this time, they denied Maidstone the ball for long periods of the match, especially in the second half: and they performed the basics in the scrum much better than the visitors.

In any analysis of this game, it is easy to get lost in the detail of missed tackles and dropped passes but, although such vital errors happened, it was the missed opportunities to put easy points on the board from penalties, in an opening, dominant period for Maidstone that ultimately determined the cause of this vital loss. It is a truism trotted out in sporting journalism that good teams win games when not playing well. Maidstone have not yet found this knack and until they do, more defeats of this kind are likely.

Charlton Park established the foundation of this victory by playing through their forwards, making the hard yards on a heavy, but surprisingly, well-grassed pitch after all the recent rain. Maidstone, by contrast, looked to move the ball wide, as early as possible. But with underfoot conditions favouring the direct approach, the inability to match the home side’s powerful runs, gave Maidstone insufficient opportunity from which to launch their attack.

Maidstone fielded a full side for this encounter. Only recent recruit, Gareth Ellis, who made his debut in the second row after joining the club after moving back from Holland, could have been considered an unknown quantity. But the opening encounters saw full back, Jensen, take a heavy knock, which could explain his subdued performance thereafter and Sam Brill leaving the field, within the first quarter, after tweaking a hamstring.

Maidstone kicked off against a light wind and up the slope and, for fifteen minutes, dominated the play. In this period, Charlton Park barely moved into the Maidstone half but their defence was strong. However, they did give away penalties in their own half, but rather than convert these into points, Maidstone chose to run the ball. This profligate approach ultimately came back to haunt them and, while it would be foolish to assume Charlton Park would not have got back into the game, a points cushion at this stage, would have given the initiative to the visitors.

After all this early pressure from Maidstone, with their first serious foray into the visitors’ half, Charlton Park got on the scoreboard, on eighteen minutes, with a try. The lead up to the score saw Maidstone concede the ball on their own scrum and from a subsequent Park scrum, a break by No8, Saunderson, was just held on the line, but the ball was released for openside flanker, Baker, to fall on the loose ball to score.

Maidstone responded well to this setback but the early pattern of play continued. Maidstone continued to struggle in the scrum and Danny Baker was brought on in the front row to help provide a counter. Containing the position seemed to be the limits of Maidstone’s ambition for much of the remainder of the half, and this they managed going into added time. But a good break by Ben Williams in centre field, allied to good linking play by Morosan, released Willie Brown to score in the left corner, to level the scores. A solid conversion by Caleb Van de Westerloo then pushed Maidstone’s noses in front at half time.

Maidstone built on this lead within five minutes of the restart. A push in the line-out by Charlton Park, in their own 22, was rightly penalised and Van de Westerloo added the points from the 15m line to establish a 10-5 lead. But a yellow card for Morosan, for not releasing after a tackle, saw the initiative swing back to Park and they took full advantage by scoring in the right corner, winger Bridges coasting in on the overlap to level the scores.

With Morosan back on, Maidstone continued to struggle to contain the powerful Park forwards. But it was a straightforward back line move that delivered the lead back to the hosts. Left wing Rabye got the touch down, this time, but it was the subsequent containment of the Maidstone game plan, by denying them the ball that ultimately proved decisive.

With forty minutes elapsed, Charlton Park’s forward pressure eventually told, and the forwards combined to score under the posts, for an easy Norman conversion, to extend the lead to 22-10. Maidstone came back hard after this vital blow and spent the last few minutes of injury time battering the Park line. Ollie Smith got the reward of a try and a bonus point for the visitors, but it was all too little, too late to alter the outcome.

Undoubtedly, this was a crushing blow to Maidstone’s ambitions, but the lessons to be learned, especially matching the opposition in the tight and taking easy penalty points when offered, are clear.