FA Trophy, Preliminary Round
Ashford Town (Middlesex) secured a trip to St. Albans City thanks to this hard-fought win against good opposition, which saw the Ash Trees recover from the loss of an early goal to defeat a Maidstone United team who had won seven successive league matches before making the journey to Stanwell.
Paul Burgess named an unchanged squad following Tuesday’s draw with Uxbridge, which meant that Dan Brown and Pietro Palladino had passed fitness tests before taking their places in the starting line-up. However, the home side started slowly and Maidstone had a couple of half-chances before they took the lead in the 8th minute. The goal, when it came, was well-worked – a pinpoint pass from James Pinnock put Shaun Welford through on goal and the visiting forward scored with some aplomb.
Shane Graham laid down a marker in the 17th minute with an incisive run down the right, although Dan Brown was unable to get a shot away from the winger’s fine cross. Indeed, it wasn’t until Paul Burgess swapped his wide players over that his team began to truly stretch their opponents. Mark Bitmead had three difficult chances to score, while Brown had a shot that flew just over the Stones crossbar.
Although Ashford went into the interval a goal behind, they began the second half with energy and were rewarded with two goals in a minute that transformed the tie. Five minutes after the break, Pietro Palladino fired a free kick across goal and Jack Mullan turned the ball in to equalise. Virtually from the restart, Ashford took the lead, cutting through the visiting defence and teeing up Shane Graham, whose shot across Charlie Mitten gave the ‘keeper no chance.
Maidstone manager Jay Saunders brought himself into the action and, thanks in part to his efforts in midfield, Maidstone enjoyed long spells of concerted pressure. However, the Stones attempts on Paul McCarthy’s goal went consistently wide of the target. Pinnock went close in the 60th minute and created a 64th minute chance for Saunders.
By this point, the hosts were hitting their visitors on the counter-attack and Palladino forced a save from Mitten with a 75th minute snapshot. Bitmead also headed wide after good work from Palladino. However, as the clock ticked down, it was Maidstone who looked dangerous, with Welford and Waugh both firing over. With the game deep into stoppage time, though, it was Ashford who scored the decisive goal. A rapid attack saw Bitmead cut the ball across to Palladino, whose venomous shot crashed in off the crossbar to secure what Ashford manager Paul Burgess described as “a magnificent result”.