George Elokobi always believed Maidstone were capable of causing an FA Cup upset

By Sports Desk January 27, 2024

George Elokobi toasted the magic of the FA Cup after a 2-1 win at Ipswich, but insisted he always believed Maidstone could produce one of the great upsets in the competition’s history.

National League South side Stones were playing their seventh FA Cup tie this season after entering in the second qualifying round and, despite facing 38 shots at Portman Road, they stunned the Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls.

Brazilian goalkeeper Lucas Colovan was the initial star with a string of first-half saves before Lamar Reynolds dared the 4,472-travelling support to dream with a superb lob in the 43rd minute.

When Brighton loanee Jeremy Sarmiento levelled for 1978 FA Cup winners Ipswich, Kieran McKenna’s men were expected to overpower the Kent club, but third-round hero Sam Corne had other ideas with his left-footed strike enough to earn etch Maidstone’s name in FA Cup folklore.

Ex-Wolves defender Elokobi said: “We had to be resilient for 98 minutes and I drummed this into our players.

“We prepared right and told them to enjoy the occasion because they are already history makers in the eyes of the world, eyes of the people who watch football and to take every bit of the glory today.

“When we set off this morning on our walk, we saw the fans at the pub and waved to them. That’s how we wanted to approach today. To make it historic, to have memories to look back to and again the magic of the FA Cup is making us dream again.”

Ipswich hit the post twice inside eight minutes through Sarmiento and Omari Hutchinson before Colovan denied Nathan Broadhead and Hutchinson.

Sarmiento went close again with a deflected effort and after Sone Aluko dragged wide from close-range, Maidstone sent their fans into pandemonium.

After an Ipswich corner had been cleared, Liam Sole found Reynolds, who collected the ball and scooped over Christian Walton for a memorable first goal for the club.

Sarmiento equalised soon after half-time with a curled finish, but Maidstone remained full of belief and grabbed a 66th-minute winner with another breakaway effort when Reynolds teed up Corne and he rifled in from 12-yards.

Covolan tipped Conor Chaplin’s 84th-minute effort onto the crossbar before Stones survived eight minutes of stoppage time to become only the 11th non-league outfit to reach the FA Cup fifth round.

“If you know George Elokobi, he is a believer. I am a believer,” Elokobi insisted.

“Every project I embark on as an individual and with my management team, we believe and we believed we could truly come here and compete against a fantastic Championship side.

“In our preparations we have showed every bit of respect to Ipswich Town. We normally train on 3G but we hired a grass pitch and looked at the dimensions of the Ipswich pitch.

“We also created what we would come up against, wave of attacks, so our defenders and the entire team could be resilient. Everyone knew what their jobs were and knew we had to run a little bit more than we have ever done.

“Let’s be honest nobody believed we could pull the shock out like we did against a great Ipswich side, which we watched on Monday play against Leicester.

“We knew we was coming to a tough place but it was about installing belief in them today.”

All eyes will now be on who Maidstone, – who reformed after being liquidated in 1992 – draw in Sunday’s draw.

Elokobi added: “If we can have another big tie away from home then the magic of the FA Cup is still alive. Whichever club we draw, we will take it.

“The community will be looking forward to who we draw next. Again this is the magic of the FA Cup and to be in the hat for the fifth round is truly amazing. I am really proud and honoured to be the manager leading this.”

Opposite number McKenna paid tribute Elokobi’s team.

“Look, first of all full credit to Maidstone. It’s a fantastic day for them, they worked ever so hard for it and of course they rode their luck, but they showed great spirit,” McKenna acknowledged.

“We really didn’t want to be on the end of one and prepared well and did some good things, but that’s cup competitions.”

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