Ryman League Premier Division
After Ashford’s lacklustre and disappointing display against lower league opponents AFC Hayes, formerly Brook House, in the semi-final of the Middlesex Senior Cup earlier in the week, Mark Butler made five changes to the starting line-up for today’s game, with Paul Burgess resuming in goal from Craig Ross, Ricardo Joseph, back from injury, replacing Moses Phillips at left back, Michael Peacock, signed on loan from AFC Wimbledon, in for Billy Jeffreys in the centre of defence, Luke Pigden, another signee from AFC Wimbledon, replacing club skipper Paul Johnson who suffered a reoccurrence of his injury on Tuesday and Anthony Joseph who replaced Jon Palmer, although Anthony played on the wing as opposed to up front.
With the threat of relegation looming ever closer, it was a daunting task that beset the Middlesex side when faced with trying to wrest all three points from a strong, physical team with plenty of technical ability. Sutton arrived at Short Lane in fourth place and looking to cement a place in the play-offs and they certainly started at a good pace but it was their hosts that had the first real chance when Ricky Wellard found Anthony Joseph on the right and his cross was put wide by Warren Harris.
A good break by Sutton’s Craig Dundas was halted by a well timed challenge from Michael Peacock but the ball fell to Gavin McCallum who forced an excellent save out of Paul Burgess.
Dundas and McCallum were both involved in the build up to a move which concluded with Dean Palmer’s shot being blocked by Brett Cooper before Burgess was called upon to save from McCallum again.
The game moved swiftly from end to end with neither defence being penetrated until, in the 29th minute and slightly against the run of play, Ashford took the lead. Anthony Joseph picked up the ball on the Ashford right and delivered an early cross which Byron Harrison left to enable Luke Pigden to execute a text-book left foot volley from 20 yards that gave Paul Nicholls no chance as the ball flew into the far corner of the net.
The visitors looked a resilient side though, and came back again and Burgess was obliged to save from Darren Ebsworth before the home side very nearly doubled their advantage. The speedy Anthony Joseph was proving to be a profitable outlet on the right and it was his run and pass into the feet of Pigden that set up the chance, Pigden’s flick found Harrison but the Ashford striker’s shot was blocked by Nicholls, the rebound reached Wellard whose shot rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.
Another goal scoring opportunity for Ashford went begging, just before the break, when Harrison embarked on a mazy run down the left before sliding the ball into Warren Harris who touched it back to Anthony Joseph, but the Ashford winger could only side foot the ball over Nicholls bar from just inside the penalty area.
Sutton came out for the second half all guns blazing and, in the 57th minute, scored a deserved equaliser. The ball was played down the Sutton right where David Hughes latched on to it and managed to squeeze it beyond the diving Burgess and just inside the near post.
Three minutes later, Wellard sent a searching ball out to Anthony Joseph on the Ashford right and his curling cross was met by Harris who volleyed just over. But Ashford were not to be denied and scored what turned out to be the deciding goal, in the 63rd minute. Man-of-the-match Anthony Joseph managed to get his head to the ball from another curling Wellard cross to turn it into the net despite Oscar Lubwama’s desperate attempt to keep it out.
The home side had the chance to finally kill off Sutton’s challenge when Harris chased down Nicholls, who had strayed outside his penalty area, forcing a poor clearance that fell to Harrison, but the Ashford striker could only watch as his shot rebounded to safety off the far post.
Sutton pressed looking for the goal that would at least give them a share of the points but Ashford defended strongly with Vinnie O’Sullivan forming a tight partnership with Peacock while Brett Cooper and Ricardo Joseph, when defensive duties allowed, made sniping runs down the flanks as the home side looked to hit on the break.
So three vital points for Ashford but thanks to their unprecedented success in this years cups, the action continues unabated with two more matches before the team visit Tonbridge Angels next Saturday (21st), namely Harrow Borough away in the League Cup semi-final on Tuesday followed by a return to league action on Thursday with a trip around the M25 to Harlow. Mark is going to need his squad to remain injury free if he is to successfully fulfil Ashford’s fixtures list which will have seen 13 games played in 28 days at the end of March.