Ryman League Premier Division,
Ashford very nearly caused a major upset leading the champions elect for three quarters of the match until, after a period of intense pressure, Dover equalised, then Ashford were cruelly undone by a very soft penalty decision given by the book happy referee Mr Smith.
Ashford started the stronger and could have had a goal in the first minute had somebody got on the end of Brett Cooper’s exquisite cross from the right but Dover showed why they are running away with the league with some incisive passing and movement of their own. Paul Burgess had to be at his best in this match and he was forced to save at the feet of Guiliano Grazioli and pluck the ball off the head of Shaun Welford in quick succession. Then, at the other end, a snap volley from Paul Johnson warmed John Whitehouse’s hands.
An excellent move started from deep by Billy Jeffreys gave the hosts another chance, Gavin Smith’s flicked pass into the path of Scott Harris set the move up, his pass to the right to brother Warren stretched the Dover defence but Scott’s volley from Warren’s return cross was well taken by Whitehouse.
With Sam Gore finding plenty of space to provide his team with a stream of accurate crosses from the left it was looking like a case of how long Ashford could hold out and when he combined with Lee Browning, in the twenty third minute, the Dover winger found space to curl the ball just past the far post. But Ashford looked anything but overawed and it was they who took the league, a long throw from Adam Logie, in the 29th minute, was played back to him by Johnson, Logie’s subsequent deep cross was well controlled and fed to Scott Harris by Warren Harris (pictured) for the elder brother to poke the ball past Whitehouse for his seventeenth goal of the season and his fiftieth since forcing his way into the first team.
A Warren Harris shot was spilled by Whitehouse, soon after, but no Ashford player was following up to take advantage before Welford was forced to leave the pitch after taking a full blooded Vinnie O’Sullivan clearance full in the face, to be replaced by Jerahl Hughes.
With Dover pushing up looking for the equaliser chances at both ends came thick and fast, the visitors came closest to scoring however, when a thunderous free kick from Sam Moore struck the Ashford bar and bounced to safety.
Dover started turning the screw in the second half but two excellent breaks by Ashford should have increased their lead. First, Warren Harris sped down the centre of the pitch before releasing the ball square to Scott Harris whose goal bound effort was blocked, and Scott returned the favour, after good work by Ricardo Joseph, only to see Warren’s shot meet the same fate.
As the pressure built, Ashford were forced to defend, sometimes desperately, with Jeffreys and O’Sullivan at the heart and Burgess flinging himself around his goal to keep the Dover attacks at bay. But with the defence seemingly coping it came as a great disappointment when Dover equalised. Moore and Grazioli combined well before Hughes squeezed the ball into the Ashford net from close range.
Burgess was called upon to perform more heroics when he bravely dived to save at the feet of Grazioli then John Keister. A very soft penalty in the 75th minute gave all three points to the visitors, Grazioli, under pressure from Johnson, went to ground too easily and the referee pointed to the spot, adding Johnson’s name to his ever growing caution list. Browning crashed home the penalty.
Substitute Byron Harrison, on for Gavin Smith, saw his speculative lob clear the Dover bar before a good 50 metre run by Olly Shulz went unchallenged. Shulz slipped the ball in to Hughes whose shot was well taken by Burgess.
Late in the game, a Byron Harrison back header from a Scott Todd free kick fell into the hands of Whitehouse and all chances of Ashford retrieving a point were gone.