It is always galling to go out of a cup competition at the semi-final stage but to do so after leading 3-0 at half-time is particularly frustrating.  Such was Ashford’s fortune on Tuesday evening, when a rejuvenated Merstham side turned disaster into triumph.

Ashford got off to a great start when, just four minutes in Mitchal Gough shot from distance from a free kick which Brannon Daly in the Merstham goal was unable to deal with, resulting in a scramble.   Mark Bitmead saw his effort cleared from the line but Max Webb (not Gough as shown on the Merstham site) was on hand to force it home.

Ashford doubled their lead on 21 minutes when a home defender gave the ball away giving Jack Beadle a chance.  His effort was saved but the predatory Bitmead was on hand to sweep home.

Nine minutes later it was three as Webb out on the right flank attempted to cross the ball but it spun off his foot and ended up hitting the woodwork and going in.

At this point Ashford looked a good bet to progress but there is no doubt that Merstham are a formidable team at the moment and the last five minutes or so before the break saw Ashford endure a few uncomfortable moments.

A very obvious change in tactics saw Merstham take over the match in the second half.  Gone was the tapping about of the first half which had often played into Ashford’s hands.  The long ball took over and it worked within a minute as Merstham reduced the arrears through Fabio Saraiva.  In many ways that goal was the killer.  If Ashford had been able to hold out for longer it may well have thwarted Merstham’s determination but it served as a massive spur for the home side, and the whole of the second half saw Ashford fighting a rearguard action.

Try as they did, the visitors, not helped by a series of decisions going against them, could not withstand the now rampant display from the home side and the writing was on the wall when further goals from Saraiva on 70 and 74 minutes brought Merstham level.  The equaliser came from the spot when Tyler Tobin made probably an ill judged dash almost to the edge of his penalty area to punch but was adjudged to have shoved his opponent.  In another game, it wouldn’t have been given but the writing had been on the wall for some time before that and the winning goal on 78 minutes, again from Saraiva, was not a surprise.

In the final ten minutes Ashford did at last steady the ship to a degree and sub Samad Kazi came close, as did Gough but it was not to be.  The Tangerines though can look back on a super run this season, with the scalps of both Woking and Leatherhead in the bag and to lose to a powerful Merstham side, very much in the hat for promotion to the Ryman Premier Division, by the odd goal, was no disgrace, even though the manner of the defeat was obviously disappointing.

Ashford need to take the positives from the match, and there were plenty, into the next two crucial league games away at Windsor on Saturday, and Molesey next Tuesday.  Last night’s league matches saw Molesey winning by the odd goal in the crunch match against Cove but Cove retained top spot as Camberley lost their second match in a row, this time away at Westfield, whilst Windsor also went down, losing 1-2 at Spelthorne.

The writer did not realise that the Under-18’s were in action twice this week but can report that a much improved display against Hampton on Monday saw another defeat but by the only goal of the game.  This evening  (Wednesday) the lads are back at Short Lane against Camberley Town U18, whilst the big European match between Chelsea and PSG will be showing in the clubhouse.

Thank you to those Ashford supporters who made the effort to get to Merstham last night.  Please come and support the side again on Saturday when we make the shorter trip to Windsor.  More on that one later in the week.