Manager Ben Murray made a number of changes to the side that beat Spelthorne on Saturday but whether that could used as an excuse for Ashford’s sluggish 1st half performance on Tuesday evening, which eventually saw them lose at Knaphill by 4 goals to 3 in the 2nd Round of the Surrey Senior Cup, is doubtful.

There was a lot to talk about after the match but there was no doubting the home club’s superiority throughout much of the 1st half, which saw them take a 3-1 lead, and then increase it to 4-1 just five minutes after the re-start.

Ashford had Mark Bitmead and Dan Fleming both in their opening line-up for the first time in ages, following their injuries, and it is telling that, despite some obvious rustiness, the pair between them scored all three of Ashford’s goals.  It would seem that they just need additional game time now to get back to that attacking force that terrorised CCL defences last season to the tune of 60 goals plus between them.

At the back Ashford were unusually hesitant last night.  Knaphill deservedly took the lead on 23 minutes.  Joe Green, after bringing down a high ball with considerable skill, then gave it away and the opponent’s through pass to a colleague found George Marks on the wrong side, allowing Knaphill’s Danny Turner to open the scoring.

Parity was quickly restored, within three minutes in fact, as Mark Bitmead sent in a rocket of a shot that gave the home keeper no chance.

Four minutes later though, Ashford failed to defend a corner and Jamie Doble duly scored to restore Knaphill’s lead.  They made it three before half-time when once again Tyler Tobin was left exposed and his dash to the ball was never going to be successful, resulting in a penalty, duly scored by Doble.  Tobin was rightly booked and but for Will Boye’s sprint back may well have found himself the last man and thus off the field.

Referee Ellsmore then incurred Ashford’s displeasure a few moments later when a scything tackle by Knaphill’s Connor Close, similar to and probably worse than Tobin’s attempt, went unpunished apart from the award of a free kick.

Ashford recently have not been used to being two goals down at half-time and attempted to take the second half by storm.  Indeed within three minutes of the re-start, the match could have been level with firstly Bitmead blasting over from short range and then Fleming unable to beat the keeper as he went through unchallenged.

Ashford were immediately made to pay as Knaphill scored their 4th goal, courtesy of Matt Morris.

It all looked over and everyone will have seen matches where at three down, clubs accept the situation almost and the game is over.

To the visitors’ credit that was not the case on this occasion as slowly but surely the pendulum swung and a comical mix-up in the home defence gave Fleming the opportunity to pull a goal back with what, in the end, became a simple tap in.  Two goals down with 20 minutes left – could the Tangerines pull it round?

The eventual answer was no but they gave it a good go, especially when Bitmead the predator got it back to 3-4 with around ten minutes on the clock.  It was time to throw caution to the wind with Ashford more or less leaving just keeper Tobin and one defender back and it should be mentioned that Knaphill could easily have scored again from more than one breakaway but Tobin was at his best keeping everything out enabling Ashford to attack ever more frantically.

The visitors thought they should have had a penalty when Josh Andrew was brought down in a similar manor to the penalty awarded to Knaphill in the first half.  It looked at first as if Mr. Ellsmore was just waiting to see if the ball, which had rebounded into the air, was going to drop over the line but to the away contingent’s disappointment, he did not give the award.  When everything has cooled down, that was the referee’s view and has to be accepted but Ashford cannot be as charitable concerning the official’s time keeping.  The match generally had been played at a fast pace and mostly within the laws of the game but an incident out on the touchline saw Knaphill’s Close dismissed from the field for what looked like an over the top piece of retaliation.  The player then took longer to get himself off the field than the amount of time added on by the referee, let alone all the stoppages, substitutions, injuries etc.  Mr. Close should surely have been told to take the shortest way off the pitch and Ashford were absolutely furious when Mr. Ellsmore blew his whistle with not quite two extra minutes added on and more than one person had an exact stop watch on it.  There should have been at least a further five minutes and with Ashford threatening all over the pitch, there was every chance of an equaliser.  It was very poor time-keeping and very disappointing but that said, Ashford have only themselves to blame for a sub-standard performance for much of the match. 

Some of that can be attributed to the enterprising and indeed efficient play of the home side, especially in the first half and they maybe should be asking why they are still in mid table when they can play as well as they did for much of the match.  Somehow one knew it was going to be a difficult evening when three of Ashford’s officials went through a door marked “officials” upon arrival but found themselves in the kitchen and ushered out again just as quickly! 

The usual Ashford “man of the match” award was not conducted last night but the writer would certainly have opted for Tommy Brunton, who seemed to have more running in him than one or two of his colleagues, especially when moves broke down.

At the end of it all we wish our friends from Knaphill every success in their forthcoming FA Vase match against Canterbury on Saturday week.  They were there doing a spot of spying last night and will surely be concerned if Knaphill can repeat their performance in this match.

Ashford meanwhile start preparations for their home match against Horley on Saturday and will hope to repeat last Saturday’s form rather than that of last night and quickly put this one behind them.