Ryman League Premier Division,
Christmas came early for Maidstone United on Saturday, rarely have Ashford been so in control of a game only to throw it all away in the space of seven ludicrous minutes. Well on top and cruising, all the visitors had to do was hold on to the ball but, two loose passes gave Maidstone the chance to launch two late desperate attacks and the game was lost.
Played in bitterly cold conditions and with a swirling wind, Maidstone set about Ashford from the kick-off but, after weathering the early storm, the visitors gained control. Five corners to Ashford in the first five minutes were enough to illustrate their superiority with keeper Andy Walker frantically organising his defence to keep out the marauding Middlesex side.
Two free kicks from Paul Johnson found Scott Harris and Byron Harrison respectively but neither could force the goal before a long throw from Aaron Lacy found the head of James Pinnock but Paul Burgess was well positioned to snuff out the danger.
Two more corners to the visitors, in the 17th and 18th minutes were desperately clawed away to safety by Walker but an Ashford goal seemed inevitable and it duly came in the 25th minute. Ashford’s own exponent of the long throw, Guy Hollis, launched an enormous ball into the Maidstone penalty area from the right, the ball was flicked on by Byron Harrison to Scott Harris who turned and fired a vicious half-volley into the roof of the net.
Ashford continued to push forward and a great ball by Hollis, soon after, found Harrison on the left, the rangy striker danced past Kevin Watson who bought him down from behind giving the visitors a free-kick in a very dangerous position near the goal line. Ricky Wellard rolled a short ball into Johnson, who had peeled off from the cluster of players, but his first time shot went just wide of Walker’s left hand post.
Another long throw from Hollis, just over the half hour, just failed to bring about a second goal for Ashford when Harrison nodded the ball on to Harris whose flick cleared the Maidstone bar. Ashford were playing some extremely attractive football and a move in the 38th minute had their small band of travelling supporters purring. Wellard played a good ball out to Johnson who played in Scott Harris, Harris played a well weighted pass out to the right to his younger sibling Warren who shaped to cross but slid the ball back to Scott forcing an excellent save from Walker at the foot of his left hand post with a fizzing shot.
Most of Maidstone’s success was coming from the long throws of Lacey and, with Ashford only having a single goal to show for their nearly total domination of the half, they were cause for concern but were mainly easily dealt with by Hollis and his partner Billy Jeffreys. One though threatened to give the hosts parity when Pinnock managed to beat the Ashford defence to the ball and head goal-wards only to see Burgess make an acrobatic save.
Ashford’s profligacy continued in front of goal when Johnson fired wide after Harrison had held the ball up well before feeding the arriving midfielder.
Ashford continued in the second half as they finished the first, a Harrison volley just clearing Walker’s bar after good work from Johnson then Maidstone wasted a rare opportunity to equalise when a foul on Pinnock gave them a free kick that was played into James Peacock by former Arsenal favourite Ian Selley, but the Maidstone front man shot high over Burgess’ bar.
One of the greatest goalscorers of all time, Jimmy Greaves, once commented that strikers need to be the most selfish players on the pitch, never pass if you have half an opportunity to score. It is a lesson that Ashford’s strikers need to heed. Harrison drifted past two defenders with ease and found himself with space and in a good shooting position but, instead, elected to find his partner, Scott Harris, on his left whose cross was cleared.
Maidstone had a larger percentage of the play in the second half than they achieved in the first and a good move in the 63rd minute involving Selley and Peacock culminated in the latter finding Meshach Nugent with a good ball but Nugent showed too much of the ball to Burgess who scooped it up and sent the hard working Brett Cooper away down the right. Cooper played the ball down to Harrison who nodded the ball past Neil Smith before hitting a perfect cross into Scott Harris whose blistering volley was blocked.
Selley was replaced soon after by Lloyd Blackman who was soon into the affray.
Maidstone’s equaliser came in the 83rd minute as a result of an unforced error as Wellard delayed his pass to Warren Harris allowing the ball to be intercepted by Ian Cox who, with acres of space in front of him, set off up-field before playing in Blackman. The Maidstone substitute held off the challenge of Ashford’s defenders and rifled a 25 yard drive that swirled in the wind before finding the top corner of the net, affording Burgess no chance.
Ashford still had two late chances of taking the three points, first Logie shot wide from a Wellard cross then a Wellard corner was cleared as far as Warren Harris whose low drive was well saved at the foot of Walker’s post. But as Ashford pushed up looking for the winner, they were hit with the sucker punch and again it came from an unforced error, this time from Johnson who lost the ball to Neil Smith in the last minute of normal time. Smith found Pinnock whose excellent finish past Burgess ensured a long journey home for Ashford.The visitors should have sewn the game up before half-time such was their superiority but, credit to Maidstone, they didn’t stop trying and, even if they were gifted the balls, they still had to find the net and it took two superb strikes to beat Burgess on the day.