Elokobi and Maidstone still smiling after party atmosphere at Coventry

From fielding calls from Roger Milla to being the focus of the world’s media, George Elokobi will surely never forget the last few weeks. Maidstone’s miraculous FA Cup run might have come to an end thanks to a quickfire hat-trick from Ellis Simms and two late goals from Fábio Tavares that ensured it was a ruthless Coventry side that progressed to the last eight. But for Elokobi, the former defender born in Cameroon who is taking his first steps as a manager after being appointed by Maidstone last year, there was only pride.

Not since Blyth Spartans in 1978 had a team from the sixth tier reached this stage of the competition. While there was never much chance of matching the efforts of Brian Slane’s side that famously took Wrexham to a replay 46 years ago this week, the way that Maidstone kept fighting after finding themselves 3-0 down after 35 minutes was just what you would expect from an inspirational manager like Elokobi. He and assistant Craig Fagan, who have known each other since they were on the books of Colchester as young players, were the last to leave the pitch as they savoured the efforts of the travelling supporters, all of whom stayed until the end to acclaim their team.

There had been a party atmosphere around the stadium even hours before kick-off after a fleet of coaches made the journey from Kent. Many of the almost 5,000 Stones fans were there to greet Elokobi and his players when they stepped off the coach, with one dressed as Harry Potter hoping to sprinkle some more magic dust on this Cup run that began back in September when they beat Steyning Town Community FC in the second qualifying round.

The co-owner, Oliver Ash, expects his side’s record-breaking run to earn them around £700,000 before tax – a sum that he admitted was “substantial but not necessarily a gamechanger”. Ash and his partner, Terry Casey, have been in charge of Maidstone since 2010 and oversaw the club’s return to the town after several nomadic years. Yet having achieved three promotions in four seasons to return to the National League in 2016, they have struggled to stay afloat in the competitive top tier and were relegated last year having finished with a goal difference of -59.

A deal to sell the club to local businessman Alan Manchett collapsed last January but with the town’s population approaching 200,000 they remain ripe for investment in a county not exactly overrun by football clubs. Their week in the spotlight – not to mention their exceptional manager who looks capable of taking them to a higher level – will certainly have helped that cause.

George Elokobi’s team will not forget their remarkable FA Cup exploits. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

One of the knock-on effects of Maidstone’s Cup run has been their nosediving league form, with Elokobi’s side having now slipped out of the playoff positions following a 2-0 defeat in their last game to Aveley that was played in front of just 709 supporters seven days ago.

Their manager had promised there would be no repeat of that disappointing display when most of the players seemed to be already thinking about their big night. Sadly for him, however, there was to be no repeat of the heroics against Ipswich in the last round as soon as Simms prodded home after the outstanding Kasey Palmer had seized on a loose pass from Reiss Greenidge in the ninth minute.

skip past newsletter promotion

Palmer, who began his career at Chelsea and played six times for England’s Under-21s, was too good again for Maidstone’s defenders when he played in Simms for his second five minutes later. The visiting fans responded in good humour with a chant of “Championship, you’re having a laugh”, which was given another airing when Simms completed his hat-trick after Lucas Covolan parried Palmer’s shot straight into his path. Coventry, who were knocked out last year by Wrexham and know all about FA Cup shocks after losing to non-league Sutton United in 1989 two years after beating Tottenham in the final, were clearly in no mood to mess around.

Fearing a potential mauling, Elokobi and Fagan swapped to a back five and thankfully it helped to stem the tide. Lamar Reynolds came closest to giving the travelling fans the goal they had been craving in the second half when his shot from a tight angle hit the side netting. But even after Tavares rounded off the scoring with two late goals, they still went home smiling.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.