Ashford hang on for fourth straight win
Evo-Stik League, Division One Central
|Ashford secured a fourth successive win with an excellent defensive performance against play-off chasing Rugby Town. The visitors will have doubtless wondered as they returned home how they had lost a game they could easily have won, but the Ash Trees deserve huge credit for their resilience in earning their victory.
With both sides looking to pass the ball along the ground, the game was an end-to-end affair from the opening whistle and Dan Brown had an appeal for a penalty turned down in the second minute. However, the lively striker made a decisive contribution in the ninth minute when a corner was flicked on by the impressive Bairoh Conteh and Brown’s low shot nestled into the bottom corner of the net.
Rugby responded almost immediately, with Richie Allen forcing Paul McCarthy into a smart save. In the 22nd minute, the visitors should have equalised when Richard Blythe’s overhead kick flew across goal and Valley skipper Tyrone Fagan headed the cross-shot over the Ashford bar.
Blythe then suffered an injury that caused both a long stoppage and a change of shirt before Allen forced another savte from McCarthy. However, Ashford were not without an attacking threat of their own and Pietro Palladino shot across goal in the 38th minute, a fine passing move creating the chance that almost doubled his side’s lead.
The visitors upped the tempo in the second half, and Seb Hamilton fired towards goal just two minutes into the second half, his shot being deflected onto the crossbar by Russell Canderton, who was making his 399th First Team appearance in Tangerine & White. Hamilton had another sight of goal a few minutes later, before the dangerous Allen forced another save from McCarthy.
In the 61st minute, Luke Leahy inexplicably headed wide of McCarthy’s goal while unmarked, then was denied by a superb save by McCarthy, who repelled a diving header from the defender. In between those chances, Ashford had withdrawn Pietro Palladino and his replacement, Kofi Lockhart-Adams, sent Dan Brown away with a superb pass but the visiting defence snuffed out the threat. Mark Bitmead then had a shot blocked in a way that had many people appealing for handball, but referee David Richardson waved away the appeals. Indeed, the official seemed keen to let play flow wherever possible and despite some hefty challenges on both sides, issued only two cautions all afternoon.
With six minutes left of normal time, Paul McCarthy capped a “man of the match” performance with the decisive save that won his side the game. It was a point-blank, reflex effort to deny Fagan a goal from a powerful header and was a split second of individual brilliance that backed up the sterling work done by his team mates, particularly central defenders Canderton and Conteh. The win was not earned by those three players alone, though – it was a victory for the whole squad, all of whom made a contribution.