Bitmead’s blasts see Town through
after extra time; score at 90 minutes: 0-0
The FA Cup with Budweiser, First Qualifying Round Replay
|Ashford Town (Middlesex) have never reached the First Round Proper of The FA Cup, but remain in this season’s competition after a night of high tension that saw Ashford withstand significant pressure before making the breakthrough in extra time.
Dunstable Town arrived at the Robert Parker Stadium unbeaten in all competitions this season and might feel a sense of injustice at losing that record, given that they enjoyed spells of territorial dominance. However, this Ashford side have a remarkable resilience about them and capitalised on an individual error by Blues’ goalkeeper Lewis Kidd to gain the lead in the third minute of extra time. Once they were in front, the Ash Trees never looked like relinquishing their advantage.
However, to reach that point, the home side had to work hard through the 90 minutes of regulation time against a fine team, who had been very close to winning the original meeting between the clubs. The match was a frenetic affair, with both sides having chances, most notably Lee Roache of the visitors, who was excellent in both games but hit an early shot against the post when it seemed inevitable that he would score. At the other end, Harry Knock rattled the crossbar with a fierce drive and Mark Bitmead was regularly causing the visitors problems.
The second half saw Dunstable dominate possession and create several good chances, most notably one shot that forced a good save from Paul McCarthy, while his team mate Nathan Frater fired a free kick at the Ashford stopper. By this point, the tension around the ground was palpable, although the nerves of the home contingent might have been soothed by a fierce shot from Bitmead that was well saved by Lewis Kidd.
Over a half-time cuppa, the visiting Chairman had observed that, with these two sides being so evenly matched, it would take either a “moment of genius” or an individual error to break the deadlock. He was absolutely right; sadly for his team, it was an error by his goalkeeper three minutes into extra time that sent Ashford on their way. Lewis Kidd had looked shaky at corners all evening and having failed to claim one delivery, he charged from his goal in search of the loose ball. The goalkeeper was a long way from his line when he collided with Ashley Lodge and left referee Adrian Piggott no choice but to award the penalty. Mark Bitmead took it and his emphatic finish gave Kidd no chance.
Dunstable had to chase the game, but Ashford’s tails were up and it is in extra time where home advantage often counts most. With the crowd backing the Tangerines in enthusiastic fashion and the visitors having had an arduous journey, the home side began to dominate matters. Ten minutes into extra time, a neat attack found Bitmead, who ran across the penalty area in an attempt to create space for a shot. His run was checked by a challenge by Graeme Buchanan, which was adjudged to be a foul. The winger picked himself up and again converted the spot kick.
The relief among the home support was noticeable and the second period of extra time saw Ashford enjoy a good deal of possession as Dunstable tried to get back into the game by throwing players forward. The Ash Trees’ counter-attacking style was perfect for this phase of the game and with eight minutes to go, the game-clinching third goal arrived. A rapid break allowed Dan Brown to finish in fine style.
Dunstable never gave up and Roache forced two late saves from McCarthy but Ashford shut out their guests to secure a home tie with St Albans City.