The FA Carlsberg Trophy, Preliminary Round
|Ashford booked an away trip to former FA Trophy winners Grays Athletic with this emphatic win, which was neither as comfortable as the scoreline might suggest, nor Ashford’s best performance of a strong recent run.
That might sound counter-intuitive, or harsh on the players, after a four goal win. And it is certainly true that Ashford were excellent for significant patches of the game and deserved to win. But there were also times when the home side seriously tested the Ash Trees and it is a testament to Ashford’s current form that they not only withstood the pressure from their hosts, but had the quality to convert their good spells into goals.
The Tangerines had the perfect start to the game when they were awarded a penalty in the third minute after Mark Bitmead was fouled. As he had twice in midweek, Bitmead scored the spot kick himself, giving Chico Ramos no chance.
The Stags immediately went in search of an equaliser and won a series of corners, the third of which saw Hassan Nyane gifted a free header, which went wide. Although the Ryman League side were dominant at this stage, it was Ashford who scored the next goal and a fine effort it was too. Ashley Lodge passed the ball to Kofi Lockhart-Adams, who in turn hit a sumptuous ball for Ed Thomas who bombed down the left and cut inside towards goal, before crossing the ball to Dan Brown, who finished well.
Casuals continued to search for a way back into the match. Glenn Stanley had a shot blocked and Paul McCarthy made a superb save from Sol Patterson-Bohner’s header to keep Ashford two goals ahead. However, in the 29th minute, Ashford were three goals ahead, Jack Mullan finding the net from a free kick.
Another good move saw Harry Knock fire over the bar from 25 yards before, with four minutes remaining in the first half, Walton Casuals were both awarded a free kick and reduced to ten men. Scott Weight committed a foul and Walton midfielder Hassan Nyane confronted the Ash Trees midfielder, his aggression prompting referee Olexsander Saliy to dismiss him. From the free kick, Walton enjoyed a strong spell of possession which saw them awarded a penalty, which Liam Holden scored comfortably.
The second half started well for Ashford, with Bitmead having an early sight of goal before the visitors were awarded another penalty – their fourth in two games – in the 59th minute. Dan Brown was pushed as he tried to connect with an excellent cross from Ashley Lodge and the referee pointed to the spot. Bitmead again took the penalty, but his second spot kick of the day was not as well struck as his first and Ramos made the save.
Lodge’s crossing was, by now, consistently excellent and although one corner narrowly eluded everyone, a 67th minute free-kick was perfectly weighted for Bairoh Conteh to nod in Ashford’s fourth goal.
On a warm day, it was perhaps inevitable that the tempo of the game would drop in the final quarter, but Dan Brown did have a half chance thanks to a booming clearance from McCarthy. The Tangerines added a fifth goal with two minutes remaining, which was similar in style to the second goal. This move came down the right flank, substitute Samad Kazi finding Dan Brown, whose run down the right and into the box drew Ramos off his line. The forward squared the ball beyond the goalkeeper, leaving Ed Thomas with a simple finish.
This win stretches Ashford’s unbeaten run to eight matches, six of which have been won and the form shown by the squad in this current sequence has been impressive. However, Ashford’s next opponents, Burnham, have also been in excellent form and will be difficult opponents.
Photos from the match by Steve McCarthy