Evo-Stik League Southern, Division One Central
|In sweltering heat, Ashford failed to find their rhythm and were ultimately well beaten by a very capable Rugby Town side. The Valley did not enjoy the best of journeys to Middlesex, but overcame heavy traffic and a problem with their coach to arrive just after 2.00pm and appeared to take the issues in their stride. For Ashford manager Paul Burgess, it was “as you were”, with the majority of the team returning from last season although, with leading scorer Dan Brown unavailable, a debut was handed to forward Joe Bennett who has arrived from Hampton & Richmond Borough.
When the match finally started at 3.06pm, after the officials held the players in the tunnel for a considerable period of time, it was Rugby who looked stronger virtually from the kick-off, although Kofi Lockhart-Adams and Joe Bennett linked up well to cause an early problem for the visitors.
Although Rugby were enjoying the bulk of possession and Seb Lake-Gaskin was a constant thorn in the side of the home defence, Lockhart-Adams and Mark Bitmead both carved out half-chances before Ashford took the lead in the 29th minute. Having been on the defensive, Ashford hit their guests on the break and an incisive run by Ashley Lodge, coupled with some good passing, enabled Lodge to cross for Kofi Lockhart-Adams, who was left with a simple finish
However, within four minutes, the game had been turned on it’s head as Rugby scored two fine goals. The equaliser, scored in the 31st minute, saw the Warwickshire side attack the Ash Trees at pace and create a chance for Lake-Gaskin, who turned and fired powerfully past Paul McCarthy. Two minutes later, Rugby had the lead, Richard Blythe flicking in a cross from Seb Hamilton. The home side tried to get back into the game and did enjoy some pressure, but there was no further scoring.
There was a long delay to the start of the second half, caused partially by a problem with the goal at the Tank End, although Ashley Lodge was cautioned for his role in the contretemps. Whatever the cause, it was again the visitors who handled matters better and within a minute of the restart they were two goals ahead. Ashford’s youthful defence – none of the back four were older than 20 – suffered a collective lapse of concentration and allowed the visitors to put together a good move which was finished tidily by Blythe.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Ashford and Rugby took control of the match. In the 62nd minute, the Valley made the game safe, Seb Lake-Gaskin striking a powerful shot into the net.
Ashford responded to this setback by making a double substitution, Joe Bennett and Alex Duffy making way for Samad Kazi and Perry Luckins. Kazi almost immediately had a shot at goal, firing just over. Rugby were not finished, though and Lake-Gaskin lobbed a 70th minute shot onto the roof of the net and Fazel Koriya had a free-kick saved.
With the match effectively over as a contest, the Tangerines enjoyed a late rally, with Mark Bitmead and Samad Kazi both going close to scoring a consolation goal. However, Ashford could have no complaints at this defeat, having been outplayed by a good team, although they will have a quick opportunity to bounce back with Tuesday’s trip to Northwood, who were defeated 5-0 by Slough Town.