Ashford Town (Middlesex) 2

Tring Athletic 2

The FA Cup with Budweiser, Preliminary Round
Robert Parker Stadium
25th August 2012

The FA Cup with BudweiserAshford are still in The FA Cup, but only just, after an incredible ending to a game that Tring Athletic thought they had won when captain Graham Hall fired home from a corner.  However, a wicked free kick from Mark Bitmead saw the Athletic skipper head into his own net to ensure that the two sides will meet again at The Grass Roots Stadium in midweek.

This first meeting between the clubs was a remarkable affair in many ways.  The first 45 minutes were played in a storm so severe that the match at neighbouring Staines Town was abandoned after just eight minutes, yet the surface at the Robert Parker Stadium remained superb throughout the game.  The appalling weather included thunder and lightning but the two sides got on with it and played their part in an old-fashioned cup tie.

Tring took the lead in the second minute, Connor Waite firing a well-struck shot beyond Paul McCarthy after being given time and space to set himself up.  Ashford responded well, Mark Bitmead and Kofi Lockhart-Adams both having half-chances in the early stages.

Athletic were content to play on the counter-attack and relied on set-pieces to threaten the home goal, while Ashford were passing the ball well, even in the teeth of the monsoon, without testing visiting goalkeeper Mike Underwood. Alex Duffy was causing problems for the visitors, but was less effective after being cautioned for a foul on Mike Duncan.  However, Ashford were establishing a grip on the game and a superb run down the flank by Kofi Lockhart-Adams won a corner, which was the first of five in a row.  The last of these corners was crossed to Bairoh Conteh, who headed the ball into the net.  The goal was disallowed, but any infringement must have been committed by another Ashford player, as Conteh’s header was as clean as it was powerful.

The Spartan South Midlands League side held on until the break, but Ashford were level less than a minute into the second half.  The Ash Trees undid their guests with some slick passing and got the ball to Mark Bitmead, whose crisp shot was too good for Underwood.  Bitmead’s pace and trickery was proving difficult for Tring to deal with and his work with Harry Knock down the right was impressive.  However, if the crowd expected the home side to have things their own way, they were mistaken.  First, Dan Brown was cautioned after reacting to a harsh free-kick decision but petulantly launching the ball in the opposite direction.  The striker’s frustration was understandable but Mr Panconi had no choice but to show the yellow card, although it was noticeable that he did not caution visiting players whose attempts to delay the restart were as blatant, but less visually spectacular.  Then, with 24 minutes to go, Sam Mitchell was gifted a sight of coal, but shot straight at Ashford ‘keeper Paul McCarthy.

Tring sensed a cup “upset” and Graham Hall had a 72nd minute shot deflected over as they looked to claim the win.  Ashford’s response was to replace Alex Duffy with Samad Kazi, with the youngster’s pace immediately giving Ashford a boost.  Bitmead had a shot saved, but Tring remained a danger at the opposite end.

Three minutes into added time at the end of the game, Tring looked to have secured a dramatic win, when a corner was hit into Graham Hall, whose excellent strike beat McCarthy at his near post.  However, within seconds of the restart, Ashford were awarded a free-kick.  There was a delay before it was taken, caused by vehement protests by Athletic players, but when the ball was eventually launched in by Bitmead, it was Hall – the hero seconds earlier – whose head helped the ball into the net.

So, these clubs will have to do it all again, with home advantage now resting with the Step 5 side, although Ashford manager Paul Burgess will be seeking a reaction from his squad for the replay.