It’s Gareth Heath on the mark for Leiston. They head towards the play-offs while Maidstone United rue another poor away-day result as their Ryman Premier League title hopes take a hit
PUBLISHED: 20:34 08 March 2014 | UPDATED: 20:40 08 March 2014
Gareth Heath’s 54th minute penalty was all that separated these sides in a relentless Ryman Premier League clash at Victory Road on Saturday.
Heath calmly slotted his spot-kick wide of Lee Worgan in the Maidstone goal to give Leiston all three points as they continue they march up the Ryman Premier table.
In a game of few clear-cut chances but plenty of honest endeavour, Heath’s spot-kick – courtesy of Jerrome Sobers foul on the advancing Joe Francis – lifted Leiston into 10th spot in the League and just nine points off the play-off places.
For Maidstone, it was their eighth league defeat of the season, all of which have been away from their 4G ground in Kent.
However, the Stones contributed to a fascinating – if not thrilling – encounter in the Suffolk sun and will feel they maybe did enough to deserve a point.
Back in 1990 the former Maidstone United were a Football League club, while Leiston were plying their trade in the Suffolk & Ipswich League
It would have been inconceivable then to think the two would ever meet in a League encounter – any League encounter!
But when Stones lost their Football League status in 1992, they began a descent which now sees them at Step Three. A big name club hopefully now on the road to making strides back up the pyramid..
Leiston on the other hand have only been going forwards in recent years.
On Saturday it was impossible to spot which side had been challenging for promotion to Step Two all season and which side had been involved in a relegation scrap earlier in the campaign.
Leiston matched their more illustrious opponents in all parts of the pitch and their battling qualities were as impressive as their quality on the ball.
It would be foolish to single out individual Leiston players for praise.
It really was the most complete team effort to win a game of football, this journalist has seen for some time at non-league level.
There is little doubt Leiston boss Steve Ball has rejuvenated the spirit in the team – the results under previous boss Steve Pitt weren’t that disastrous.
It’s confidence with a cap ‘C’ at Victory Road these days and the locals in the crowd of almost 350, swelled by more than 100 from Maidstone, lapped it up.
The home side came out of the traps flying from the off, with Francis making an assault into the Maidstone half straight from the kick-off.
Jefford’s mistake allowed Alex Flisher to get the ball and play out to Alex Brown, whose cross was fired wide by Frannie Collin for the visitors.
Heath shot wide and Adam Tann produced a fine last-ditch tackle on Collin as he looked set to shoot.
The diminutive Emmanuel Osei was having a real scrap with Maidstone centre-half Jerrome Sobers, who must have been at least a foot taller than the Leiston striker.
It was an intriguing battle which both players came out of with credit.
Former Swindon Town midfielder Luke Rooney was lucky not to see red after a two-footed lunge at the ball and Jefford just before the break, as the teams went in at half-time 0-0.
The second half was only nine minutes old when Francis ran onto a through ball and, for once, Sobers was struggling.
As the former Lowestoft Town winger reached the area Sobers nudged him in the back and over the Leiston man went.
It was a penalty and Heath made sure the Stones paid for it.
Soon after, Ball introduced Colchester United academy duo Conor Hubble and Jack Simmons into the fray, the pair back on loan at Victory Road for another month.
And what an instant impression they made.
Fresh out of the blocks they tore the Maidstone defence apart with their movement and guile.
It lifted Leiston who were already on a high having just taken the lead.
Francis shot tamely after Simmons put him in, while Leiston keeper Danny Gay had to be alert as Dan Parkinson fizzed in a long-range effort.
Jefford had a shot cleared off the line for the home side from a corner with ten minutes left and Maidstone exerted pressure as you would expect near the death, with captain Jack Parkinson missing a guilt-edged chance with a header, as Leiston’s defence went to sleep for the first time in the match.
The final whistle saw rightful scenes of delight for the home players.
This had been a tough game for both sides but it was Leiston’s fans who went home happy with what they had witnessed.
The question starting to be whispered around Victory Road at this moment in time, has come full circle.
Five months ago it was, ‘will we get relegated?’
Today it’s, ‘can we get in the play-offs?’
Maidstone and Leiston . . . showing how football can change so very quickly.