Published: 16:45, 14 May 2016 |
Updated: 21:03, 14 May 2016
Maidstone are celebrating promotion to the National League after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Ebbsfleet.
Lee Worgan saved from Danny Kedwell to complete a 4-3 win on spot-kicks after a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Kedwell had earlier scored two penalties to leave Fleet seconds from victory but Dumebi Dumaka’s last-gasp leveller took it the distance.
But he missed when it mattered most, Worgan with his second save of the shoot-out having earlier denied Tom Bonner.
Alex Flisher, Jack Paxman, Bobby-Joe Taylor and Dan Sweeney were successful from the spot for Stones in a thrilling National South play-off final.
Kedwell had given Fleet a half-time lead only for a Taylor wonder goal to take the final to extra-time.
The Maidstone plan was clear early on as Jay Saunders’ side flew out of the traps.
It centred on getting balls in the box and testing an unfamiliar Fleet defence surprisingly showing captain Tom Bonner out of position at right-back.
United seemed to have their tactics spot-on with Fleet a mess at the back and goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore - the penalty shoot-out hero in the semi-final - looking unexpectedly nervous.
When he flapped at a Flisher long throw in the first minute it set the tone.
He should have drawn confidence from a superb point-blank save to keep out Jay May header’s from a Vas Karagiannis corner but with Maidstone crowding him out, he continued to look uncertain.
Stones were happy to see Fleet top scorer Matt Godden playing wide left rather than through the middle.
He did, though, fashion Fleet’s first opportunity, Worgan with a comfortable low save from a 25-yard strike.
Having barely been in the game, Fleet were in front in the 20th minute.
There seemed little danger when Stuart Lewis met a ball in the box but his header across goal hit Manny Parry’s arm and captain Kedwell fired his spot-kick into the bottom right corner.
Dean Rance and Jordan Parkes grew in influence after the goal, Fleet now on top and keeping the ball well.
The build-up was nice but Maidstone generally got their tackles in before looking to break quickly.
There was a minor scare for the hosts’ when Ashmore had to turn Karagiannis’ cross over the bar.
The Greek winger was then denied from the edge of the box and collecting May’s flick.
Maidstone levelled two minutes into the second half with a wonderful solo effort from Taylor.
He collected the ball wide left from Karagiannis, skipped past his ex-Cambridge team-mate Bonner, worked his way into the box and beat two more challenges before shooting low into the far corner.
Fleet responded well to the goal but with Taylor testing Bonner again, it wasn’t long before Daryl McMahon moved his makeshift right-back out of the firing line.
He switched to a back three with the Fleet skipper in his natural position at centre-half, while the change also saw Godden move into the middle alongside Kedwell.
Fleet looked better for the switch, Worgan with an excellent save after Parkes cut inside Parry, then Callum Driver got a crucial touch to divert Godden’s effort over the bar.
Anthony Acheampong sent a header over from a Parkes corner as the hosts continued to turn the screw moving into the last 10 minutes but Stones held on and finished added time on the front foot.
Ebbsfleet substitute John-Paul Kissock saw a deflected strike go wide after combining smartly with Kedwell early in the first period of extra-time.
Stones then threatened with Flisher’s header well held by Ashmore from lively substitute Dan Sweeney’s cross.
Worgan’s shanked clearance and a missed punch opened the door for Godden but the angle was against him and the ball went across goal, then Parkes volleyed over.
Ebbsfleet were back in front on 109 minutes, Parry harshly penalised when Lewis played the ball on to his arm, which was by his side.
Referee Chris O’Donnell pointed to the spot and this time Kedwell hammered the ball down the centre, Worgan with no chance.
The game was in the final minute of extra-time when the ball fell to Dumaka, the Stones substitute lashing home in a crowded area.
Parkes, Charlie Sheringham and Godden were Ebbsfleet's successful penalty takers.
Ebbsfleet: Ashmore, Bonner, Howe, Lewis (Sheringham 120mins), Acheampong, Clark, Deering (Kissock 57mins), Rance, Kedwell, Godden, Parkes. Subs not used: Miles, Pooley, Shields.
Maidstone: Worgan, Driver, Mills, Coyle, Parry, Rogers (Paxman 111mins), Karagiannis (Dumaka 81mins), Healy, May (Sweeney 87mins), Taylor, Flisher. Subs not used: Davies, Godmon.
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