Ashford undone by resurgent Woods
Evo-Stik League Southern Division One Central
Ashford Town (Middlesex) suffered a somewhat unfortunate defeat at play-off chasing Northwood at a windswept Northwood Park. Having rotated his troops in midweek for the home Aldershot Senior Cup win over Alton Town, Paul Burgess fielded a more familiar looking starting XI, with leading scorer Dan Brown back in the line-up after being an unused substitute against the Wessex Leaguers. However, both Pietro Palladino and Jack Mullan had to be content with places on the bench after their recent absences, while the manager also named himself as substitute goalkeeper.
The Town elected to play with the wind at their backs in the first half and, on a heavy pitch, the visitors dominated the opening period. A Russell Canderton header drifted across the goal as early as the fourth minute, with Mark Bitmead narrowly failing to turn in the loose ball. Bairoh Conteh also headed wide and both Ed Thomas and Ashley Lodge fizzed shots over Mitch Swain’s bar as the Ash Trees looked for the opening goal.
Dan Brown headed at Swain in the 27th minute, but made no mistake four minutes later when he rose highest to nod home an Ed Thomas free kick from the left flank.
Thomas, Kiri Takahiro and Bitmead all went close as Ashford looked to extend their advantage before the break, but the Tangerines were unable to capitalise on their dominance.
Northwood responded by introducing former AFC Wimbledon forward Rob Ursell at half-time. The veteran had been playing futsal in Cyprus the previous evening and apparently only landed at Heathrow at 1.45pm. His introduction was part of a wider tactical reshuffle that energised the Woods. Just four minutes after the break, the hosts served notice when Paul McCarthy made a point-blank save from a Reece Yorke strike, although the offside flag had been raised. Nonetheless, a warning had been given and, just two minutes later, the home side were level. Ashford’s undoing was a rapid counter-attack instigated by Ursell, which saw Jonathan Constant released on the right wing to release a low cross which Oliver Hawkins tapped into the net.
Northwood dominated possession in the aftermath of the equaliser, with Ursell pulling the strings, although a combination of stout defending and solid goalkeeping keeping the scores level. A long stoppage caused by injuries to Kiri Takahiro and Jim Mann helped to break up the home side’s momentum and Bitmead curled a free kick just wide of Swain’s goal. In the 64th minute, Russell Canderton collided with Woods defender Scott Raper in an honest 50/50 challenge and it was to the relief of all present that both players came away unscathed.
From the restart, Ashford pushed forward and Swain spilled a Lodge cross under pressure from Kofi Lockhart-Adams. The loose ball fell to Mark Bitmead, whose diving header at an open goal flashed wide of the post. This was the start of a good spell for the visitors, with Dan Brown hitting a fierce strike from 30 yards that flew just over the home crossbar.
However, Northwood were undettered and Hawkins found himself one-on-one with McCarthy, who recovered from an initially slow reaction to claim the ball from the striker’s feet. With 18 minutes to go, Constant hit McCarthy’s bar, striking a loose ball goalwards while his teammates bellowed for a penalty that the excellent referee Constantine Hatzidakis did not award.
With the game opening up, Canderton came close to scoring for Ashford, only for his shot to be cleared off the line by Raper. However, the decisive goal arrived with just eight minutes remaining. Constant’s cross was headed at goal by Hawkins. McCarthy parried the ball and his defenders were unable to clear the rebound, with home midfielder Craig White stabbing the ball into the net.
Both sides attacked in the closing minutes, but there were no further goals and Northwood secured their first win in five matches while Ashford will regroup ahead of their home game with Leighton Town.