National League leaders Notts County dispatched Maidstone United under the Friday night lights at Meadow Lane as the home side ran out 3-0 winners. On the night they took their lead over second-placed Wrexham to four points, Impact’s Rhys Thomas was there to report on the match.
County went into the game unbeaten at home in the league and top of the table, one point clear of nearest challenger Wrexham. Though it has been a buoyant league campaign, County slipped to a disappointing defeat last week in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round at the hands of Coalville Town. That was a rotated side, though, and Head Coach Luke Williams reverted to the eleven that started their win at Woking two weeks ago.
Maidstone, meanwhile, have suffered rather contrasting fortunes so far this season. They began the game in 21st place, only three points above bottom place side Torquay United. The Stones had accumulated a solitary point from the last 15 available, during which they recorded a four-match losing streak ended only by their 1-1 draw with Halifax last time out. This defeat may see them end the weekend bottom if the three teams below them win.
County kicked off the game in their famous black and white kit, kicking away from the bouncing Kop end despite the persistent rain blowing into their faces. The buoyant County fans were challenged by a small but noisy Maidstone following in the early stages, their poor form not a concern for the loyal away supporters who had made the 172-mile trip.
County dominated from the off and put two dangerous looking balls onto the head of talisman Langstaff. The forward had 15 goals this season ahead of this game, leading the National League golden boot race at a rate of 1.27 goals per 90 minutes. This time, though, he was unable to make the net bulge as the crosses were marginally too high for him to generate the right power and direction on his headers.
His ensuing cross fizzed across the face of goal to Chicksen at the back post, who could only divert the ball into the side netting when he seemed certain to score
A golden chance presented itself to County in the sixth minute as Aaron Nemane sped down the right wing. His ensuing cross fizzed across the face of goal to Chicksen at the back post, who could only divert the ball into the side netting when he seemed certain to score. The Notts crowd grew louder at the perceived injustice of the disallowed goal and missed chances, and the home side piled on the pressure, with numerous dangerous passes threatening the Maidstone penalty area.
County skipper Kyle Cameron – who was played every league minute this season – was at the heart of things even from centre back, firing just wide from distance and penetrating gaps in the opposition defence.
Despite the Notts pressure, they failed to find the breakthrough and allowed Maidstone to creep back into the game. Slocombe beat away a decent strike from Regan Booty before doing well to claim a free kick, a reminder that County still had a game on their hands.
The Portuguese striker showed excellent feet to roulette between Maidstone defenders, but his shot was blocked
Ruben Rodrigues was an especially bright spark for the Nottingham side in the first half. The Portuguese striker showed excellent feet to roulette between Maidstone defenders, but his shot was blocked as it headed towards goal. Minutes later he burst past his marker with the ball but could only send his effort over the crossbar. Rodrigues has struggled for goals this season, perhaps due to Langstaff’s arrival. Ahead of this game he had only scored two goals in twelve games, a rate of 0.17 per 90. Comparatively, he scored at 0.48 and 0.44 in the 21/22 and 20/21 seasons respectively.
The deadlock was broken in the 44th minute when the National League Haaland pounced on his own header’s rebound to smash home from a yard out! That goal was Langstaff’s sixteenth in the league this season, a quite incredible feat.
That was all the action for the first half as County took a deserved lead into the break, but they made hard work of it. They could have led by two or three quite easily, but nonetheless they had the crucial advantage and Maidstone would have to start taking less than thirty seconds over every goal kick if they wanted to get back into contention.
The number 20 made no mistake, curling beautifully into the far top corner.
Seven minutes into the second half, County double their lead and it was the goal-stricken Rodrigues who produced the goal! A neat pass into Langstaff saw the goal machine in a promising position, but he couldn’t work enough space for a shot and unselfishly laid the ball off to Rodrigues. The number 20 made no mistake, curling beautifully into the far top corner.
Rodrigues had the chance to put the game to bed minutes later from the penalty spot after Scott was carelessly brought down by the sliding Deacon. The County man strolled up to the ball, hopped, but failed to deceive Mersin in goal and his weak penalty was comfortably saved.
Scott did make the game completely safe in the 63rd minute with a powerful strike from the edge of the box that deceived Maidstone’s defences. Scott shaped to whip one towards the back post but fired across his body to make it 3-0. After his brace in the win over Woking, he is in fine goalscoring form.
County fans were feeling so confident that they broke into the chant of “We’ve got the ball!” when in possession, quickly switching to “We’ve lost the ball” on the rare occasions Maidstone did regain possession.
It was a sloppy night for the Stones, in part evidenced by how often centre back Cameron found himself within shooting range. This time, he was well inside the penalty area and was only denied by the outstretched arm of Mersin. Their break in the 80th minute felt like their first venture forwards all half. This dreary performance was not mirrored by their travelling support though, who, to their credit, continued to contribute greatly to the atmosphere as their chants continued even when 3-0 down.
County continued to press forward in the last ten minutes as the visitors were going through the motions, keenly awaiting the full time whistle. By this point, the game had petered out, County satisfied with the scoreline and Maidstone players just keen to get on the bus home.
Our player of the match goes to Ruben Rodrigues, who was buzzing around all night causing endless problems to Maidstone
And that was that! A 3-0 win for County, and a comfortable one too. They made it difficult for themselves early on but were more decisive in the second half and were deserved winners. Our player of the match goes to Ruben Rodrigues, who was buzzing around all night causing endless problems to Maidstone.
Victory sees County make it five National League wins on the bounce and they now have daylight at the top of the table, at least until Saturday’s fixtures are over. Surely this is the year they make it back to the football league?
Featured image courtesy of Rhys Thomas. Permission given to Impact to use. No changes were made to this image.
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