Ashford were absolutely fuming to have been knocked out of the FA Cup on Tuesday evening after another stirring encounter against Daventry Town, which saw the home side win the replay by two goals to one.  Three controversial decisions, all going against the visitors, contributed massively to the defeat, although once again, the Tangerines gave a hugely encouraging performance that bodes well for the league matches to come.

Manager Ben Murray decided to give Conor Moody his first start of the season, following his sterling performance from the bench on Saturday, and also brought Rob Curtis straight back following his absence on Saturday.  Tom Brunton and Joe Hughes were unlucky to have to step down to the bench, joining Samad Kazi, being used sparingly at present.

Daventry clearly had not under-estimated the visitors after Saturday and the home side looked far more determined than they had in the previous encounter, starting well but without causing Tyler Tobin in goal too much trouble.  As they had on Saturday, though, Ashford were soon in the game and once again enjoying more of the possession. Ex Northampton, Ben Heath in the Daventry goal was well protected by his defence though and although he had to field one or two rasping efforts, notably one from Jack Beadle, he was more than up to it.  Then came the first controversial moment as Mark Bitmead was taken down by a desperate tackle close in on the home goal area that seemed an obvious penalty, and probably a red card but referee Taylor somehow saw it differently and said afterwards he felt that the Ashford player had engineered the tackle.  It was hard to accept his view as Bitmead would surely otherwise have scored with the incident taking place close to the home goal.

There was no option other than to get on with it and with Daventry, just as in the first encounter, enjoying their best spell immediately after half-time, once again one wondered if they had finally crushed Ashford’s spirit as they scored the opening goal of the game on 64 minutes.  Yet again it hinged upon a decision in the home club’s favour with Tom Hill seemingly winning the ball quite cleanly in a tackle near the corner flag but a free kick was awarded and with the cross causing some consternation it was eventually seen home by Saturday’s scorer Kieran Fitzgerald.

There was a notable air of relief amongst the home supporters but Ashford, just as they had on Saturday, fought back and incredibly, were level within five minutes.  A tempting cross hit with venom from Max Webb was powered home by Jack Mullan whose fierce header finally saw Heath beaten.  It would have beaten any keeper.

With both teams finally tiring, it looked all the world like extra time and possibly penalties but with just seven minutes left on the clock, Ashford suffered their third cruel blow when Elliott Jones was adjudged to have tackled too high even though his immediate opponent seemed to have his head down to some extent, and a penalty was given which Daventry happily accepted to go 2-1 up, scorer Tommy Berwick.

Ashford continued to give it their all but the home club were finally in ascendency and at the death Tobin was possibly fortunate only to see yellow when he came racing out of his area clattering his opponent only for the free kick to come to nothing.

Although there were no histrionics, it was a hard defeat to take but looking back, maybe the writing was on the wall in the first match with the three second half efforts that had all hit the woodwork and failed to go in.  Ashford would have loved to have renewed acquaintance with Hitchin Town, against whom they have enjoyed one or two memorable encounters in the past and would also have loved the prize money that was on offer last night, but the disappointment will quickly subside with every prospect of a fine league campaign to come, based upon the season’s displays to date.  Let it be said that the Club was proud of all of its players and management last night.  Maybe next season will see a kinder draw in the World’s oldest cup competition.

It will be important now that Ashford go to Frimley on Saturday with the same steely determination that almost got them through against higher ranked opponents and indeed one of the favourites to reach Step 3 at the end of the season.  The unofficial Ashford “Man of the Match” award, organised by Chad Beadle, saw Jack Mullan receiving the honour last night, although just about everyone was a contender.  Finally a big thank you goes to every single Ashford supporter who made their way up to Daventry last night and there were quite a number.  Daventry were excellent and friendly hosts and we wish them well.

The immediate spotlight now falls upon the Under-18’s who have their first Ryman Youth League encounter this evening (Wednesday) at home to Wingate & Finchley U18, kick-off 7.45 p.m.  Under the new managership of Sean Caldwell, the squad will be an unknown quantity initially but extensive trials and friendlies will hopefully have enabled Sean to field a strong team this evening in what is always a highly competitive league.  The lads will appreciate your support and, as a reward, free entry (which has been covered Madam Treasurer) will be given to any Ashford supporters who travelled to Daventry last night.