Salford City return to The Gallagher Stadium on Saturday to take on Maidstone United in the Vanarama National League (KO 15:00).
An unbeaten run of seven games in March, with just one goal conceded, has put The Ammies back in contention as we start April in second having been in sixth at the start of March. In fact a win on Saturday, coupled with a draw or defeat for Ebbsfleet United at Gateshead, will guarantee a play-off place.
However after Leyton Orient’s surprise 2-1 defeat at Bromley on Tuesday evening, a second game without a win for The Os, there is a brewing optimism amongst Salford supporters that a late assault at top spot is possible. Of course with another game in hand to play it is still firmly in Orient’s hands, but if Salford can continue to pick up results as efficiently as in March then it will be an interesting end to the season.
Meanwhile Maidstone are hoping for results of another kind as they hope to pull off a great escape. Currently bottom on 30 points, they have 18 points to play for and anything less than a win will see them relegated on Saturday as Dover in 20th with 47 points are the only team they can overtake (barring an incredible swing in goal difference). If Dover win against Chesterfield, it will be curtains for The Stones who will return to the National League South for the first time since 2015-16.
As far as the 2018-19 season is concerned, Maidstone look set to pay a heavy price for changes at the club. Long-serving Jay Saunders left by mutual consent just seven games into the season, and his replacement Harry Wheeler managed five wins in 19 before departing. John Still and Hakan Hayrettin took over in January, with Still having guided the old Maidstone to the Football League back in 1989.
Such a turnover in management has inevitably resulted in a large number of players coming in and going out of The Gallagher Stadium, and on the pitch Maidstone have suffered. They are the league’s second lowest scorers (32) ahead of Aldershot (31), and have conceded the third highest volume of goals (69) behind Braintree Town (74) and Havant & Waterlooville (72).
They also have the fewest points at home in the league (10), and have been better away from home this season. Barrow and Havant & Waterlooville are the only teams to lose at The Gallagher Stadium in the league.
The Stones reached the FA Trophy quarter-final, after a replay win against a young Salford side in the Third Round, but were defeated by Stockport County. In the FA Cup they beat Leyton Orient (2-0) and Macclesfield Town (2-1) before being beaten 2-0 by Oldham Athletic in the Second Round. There could still be silverware for Maidstone though as they travel to Bromley in the Kent Senior Cup final, a competition in which they are the holders.
It was a tough March for Maidstone with games against a lot of the teams in and around the play-offs, but they picked up a win against Havant and tested Harrogate Town last weekend, coming from behind to lead 2-1 before Jack Muldoon equalised from the penalty spot for 2-2.
Goals have again been the problem for The Stones though with just four scored in two matches out of six. Although Harrogate became the only team not to keep a clean sheet at home against Maidstone in the top seven, they are also the only team in the top seven to have kept a clean sheet at The Gallagher Stadium. On home turf, Maidstone have drawn two and lost four against the top seven ahead of our trip as the last top seven team Maidstone play.
One to Watch – Blair Turgott
The forward has actually not played in any of the three meetings so far this season, but with 11 league goals the club captain is top scorer at The Stones. He graduated from the West Ham academy and made his debut, and only appearance, in a 5-0 FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest along with Salford midfielder Danny Whitehead.
The 24-year-old had a number of loan spells away from Upton Park at the likes of Bradford City, Colchester United and Dagenham & Redbridge before leaving for Coventry City in 2015. A spell with Leyton Orient and Bromley followed before spells at Stevenage and Boreham Wood.
Turgott , who has also played for England from Under-16 to Under-19 and for England C, signed permanently at The Gallagher Stadium in the summer after a loan spell last season, but has been blighted by injuries throughout the campaign.
Our record against Maidstone comes entirely from this season, and is evenly shared at one win a-piece and a draw in three games.
The league meeting at The Peninsula Stadium in September ended in a 1-0 win for Salford, thanks to an own goal scored by Shamir Mullings early in the second half.
In the FA Trophy, Mani Dieseruvwe scored to cancel out Michael Phillips’ goal at The Peninsula Stadium, and Devante Rodney could have settled the tie in added time on the break. Maidstone won the replay 3-0 at The Gallagher Stadium with Phillips again scoring, and Elliot Romain and Will De Havilland sending The Stones through against a young Salford side.