FA Cup Sponsored by E.ON, 1st Qualifying Round,
Ashford made heavy work of defeating their spirited opponents from the Sussex County League, where they currently sit in 15th place. Mark Butler left Byron Harrison on the bench as he was suffering from a heel injury, Scott Weight and Hone Fowler joined him with Russ Canderton back in the centre of defence and Guy Hollis returning to the side after breaking his foot last season. New signing from Hendon, Davis Haule, joined his brother Brian to fill the position left by the suspended Scott Harris.
Crawley Down kicked off on a difficult pitch and, within the first three minutes found themselves a goal up, Davis Haule was adjudged to have pulled down Aaron Watson and Tony Reid converted the ensuing penalty.
Crawley continued to take the game to their Ryman Premier League rivals and, shortly after the penalty incident, should have added another. Watson found his way past a sleeping defence but shot wide when one on one with Ashford keeper Craig Ross.
The tempo of the game, for the early part, was being dictated by the home side but gradually the visitors came into the game. They should have pulled the goal back in the 13th minute when Paul Johnson slid a well weighted pass into the path of Warren Harris but the young winger, in a good shooting position himself, elected to square the ball to Brian Haule, which was intercepted, instead of testing Shayne Goldsmith.
A heavy challenge on Joe Ranson by Davis Haule led to the Crawley Down man being helped off the field with an ankle injury, to be replaced by Noel Etherington who was unfortunate enough to come up against a rampaging Ricardo Joseph.
Ashford started to turn the screw and Adam Logie found Joseph with a square ball left, the wing-back raced past Etherington and up to the goal line where his first cross came back off of a defender and his second, deeper cross was met by Vinnie O’Sullivan who blasted over.
The Logie – Joseph combination worked again, just before the half hour mark, and again Joseph showed Etherington a clean pair of heels, not bothering to check his run, he crossed to the incoming Johnson (pictured) whose first time shot found the back of the net for the equaliser.
Joseph returned the favour soon after, finding Logie in midfield who continued the move across the pitch by picking out the run by O’Sullivan from the right wing-back position, but Goldsmith just got a finger tip to the cross before it could reach the unmarked Davis Haule.
A slip by the solid Billy Jeffreys left Sam Cane one on one with Ross but the Ashford custodian produced a superb diving save at his near post at the cost of a corner. Cane continued to be at the forefront of the action, being cautioned for not retreating from an Ashford free-kick then, shortly after, shooting high over Ross’ bar.
Meanwhile usual service was resumed on the left flank, Joseph again left the bemused Etherington in his wake and, after a neat one-two with Logie, sent over a good cross where Brian Haule forced a corner. Brian Haule was unlucky just before the break when he ran on to a good ball by Johnson and advanced into the host’s penalty box where it took a very well timed tackle from Tom Familton to overt the danger.
Ashford took the lead three minutes after the restart and, again, it came from their most potent attacking force, Ricky Joseph, who cut in from the left and, despite being pulled back, still managed to cross to Warren Harris who got in front of his marker to flick the ball past Goldsmith.
Etherington wasn’t the only full back being tormented by the Ashford wingbacks Joseph and Harris, Guy Harding and Familton were forced to double up in an effort to negate the threat posed by Warren Harris on the Ashford right and ,soon after taking the lead, Harris was the recipient of a long throw by Logie, turned and lost both his markers and cut the ball back to Johnson who saw his fierce left foot drive fizz inches wide of the far post.
As Ashford sought to impose their authority on the game, Billy Jeffreys came forward to win the ball in a challenge with Reid and then launch an audacious but well struck shot from fully 45 yards which Goldsmith gathered comfortably.
Ashford continued to press and Joseph continued to give Etherington a torrid time and in the 63rd minute he again went past the full back and this time attempted to lob the advancing Goldsmith but Familton had got back and headed off the line, the ball carried as far as Harris whose overhead effort was a little wayward.
Three minutes later, Joseph put a slight dent in what was otherwise a superb display of the art of attacking wing-back play when he pulled back Watson and gave away a free kick which was swung in by Harding and headed past Ross by Familton for the equaliser.
Mark Butler made an inspired substitution in the 77th minute, bringing on Ivo Ginev for the tiring Guy Hollis whose solid display marked a successful return to the first team. Ginev took up position on the left wing and his first action, two minutes after coming on, was to receive a square pass from Johnson, execute a couple of his trademark step-overs before smashing the ball past Goldsmith from 20 yards for, what turned out to be, the goal that carried Ashford into the second qualifying round draw.
Ross found himself bundled into the back of his own net in a late off-the-ball incident which bought about a frank exchange of views between players of both sides with Jeffreys and Reid being singled out by the referee for a stern lecture after peace had been restored. Ashford, perhaps naively, were expecting to play the ball back to the opposition but Reid, in a less than gentlemanly action, took matters into his own hands and sped off towards Ross’ goal with the ball at his feet, fortunately Canderton was on hand to ease Reid off the ball before he could shoot.