Criticism of the referee is inevitably seen as sour grapes if a club loses the match in question, so firstly let the appropriate amount of credit be given to Knaphill who inflicted a first defeat on Ashford in eleven matches, the previous defeat also being at the hands of Knaphill in the Surrey Senior Cup.

Matches between the two clubs this season and this was the third, have all been extraordinary in one way or another, but this one stood out for an rather bizarre performance by the referee, Mr. Stoyanov.  His first decision was whether or not the match should go ahead at all with quite a large area of the pitch resembling a bog.  Many would have called it off but he decided to play it.

Just as they had in the County Cup match, Ashford found themselves back on their heels as Knaphill made all the early running and they were rewarded with an early goal, with less than three minutes on the clock,, the scorer being Charlie Postance.  Ashford seemed to weather the storm though and then we had the first incident.  A Knaphill defender attempted a back pass on the bog and inevitably it stuck in the mud.  Scott Harris was first to it but he was taken out by Knaphill keeper Richard Shelley who had come rushing out.  Given that all the Knaphill team had been pushing up, there was little doubt that Harris would have scored into an empty net and in Ashford’s eyes, it had to be a red card for the keeper, who had been sent off in the previous match between the sides for a similar offence but probably one that was not as clear cut as last night.  The sending off could just as easily have been for violent conduct as the keeper knew exactly what he was doing and whilst Harris had gone slightly to the left as he went past, or attempted to go past the keeper, he had absolute control of the ball until taken out and it was a clear red card offence in the visitors’ eyes.  Sadly not in Mr. Stoyanov’s who saw fit only to issue a yellow.  There is no need to accept this report as gospel as there is some excellent footage on You Tube

The decision had a huge impact on the match as Shelley, who is without doubt a fine goalkeeper, made any number of good saves during the rest of the game.  Ashford’s sense of injustice was only heightened when, within minutes Knaphill scored their second courtesy of Scott Costello.

There was no further scoring before half-time although Shelley had made a point blank stop from Dan Fleming when a goal had seemed inevitable.  Knaphill though had played better than Ashford and it would have been hard to say that they did not deserve their lead although what would have happened if they had gone down to ten men is impossible to say.

A storming come back was required if Ashford were going to get anything from this match but in all honesty it did not look as if it would materialise and the home side could have put the issue beyond doubt on more than one occasion.  That said, everyone knew that if Ashford could get one back, things would change, and they finally managed it with just fifteen minutes left on the clock, when Fleming smashed it home after good work from Mark Bitmead.

Now the fun and games started in earnest.  Very quickly, Ashford were awarded a penalty even though the foul on Fleming was committed quite noticeably outside the box.  Before the penalty could be taken, Knaphill had a player sent off for his re-action and given the speed of the red card, there was little doubt that his language merited the decision, although frankly it needed a saint not to react in some way to a blatantly incorrect decision.  The player then took some two minutes to trudge down the length of the pitch without any action being taken.  To be fair, at least the referee added on a reasonable period of stoppage time at the end of the match, unlike the previous time this had happened in the County Cup match between the sides.

The delay did not phase Mark Bitmead who calmly struck home the spot kick to level the scores.  Within minutes Knaphill suffered again at the hands of Mr. Stoyanov.  This time there was a late tackle on Scott Weight, which was definitely a foul and probably a yellow.  The player could not believe it when the referee produced another red card.  Unless he had seen something that nobody else had, it seemed unbelievable that the offence merited the ultimate punishment but Ashford now had their tails up against nine men and sensed another goal in the closing minutes.

It came alright but it was the home side who scored it.  Ashford had rather thrown caution to the wind in looking for the winner and a huge clearance from Shelley found a lone attacker closing in on goal.  A super effort from Samad Kazi saw him get back and seemingly take the ball off the attacker’s toes only for Mr. Stoyanov to strike again. He deemed it was a foul and sent Kazi off and awarded a penalty to Knaphill, who missed it, thanks to a fine save from Tyler Tobin, only for the taker, Rob Kersley, to be first to the rebound and give Knaphill an unlikely winner, based solely on the events of the last fifteen minutes.  A fourth goal for the home side deep in stoppage time from Costello as Ashford heads dropped just rubbed further salt in.

After some of the superb displays in recent weeks, Ashford were far from their best last night.  Despite the refereeing performance, he wasn’t responsible for Knaphill scoring four goals (one  maybe!) and winning the match following a poor defensive performance by the visitors.  Well done to our opponents but things move on and Ashford now look forward to entertaining Westfield on Saturday on what will doubtless be a very welcome pristine surface.

Assuming Samad’s red card was for denying a goal scoring opportunity, he will now receive a one match suspension which unfortunately for him will be the semi-final against Enfield Town in the Middlesex Senior Cup.  The coffers of both Middlesex and Surrey FA’s will benefit from the referee’s decisions last night, especially given the over the top fine system introduced by the Football Association this season but Mr. Stroyanov is unlikely to give that much of a thought.