Evo-Stik League Southern Division One Central
A late flurry of goals ensured a deserved victory against a plucky Aylesbury side, though the margin flattered Ashford a little to be fair. All four Ashford goals were taken with aplomb and showed the confidence flowing in the team at the moment.
Manager Paul Burgess gave starts to Billy Witham, in place of Bairoh Conteh in the centre of defence and new signing from Molesey Ashley Lodge, wide on the left flank while Ed Thomas, another recent acquisition, took his place on the bench.
For the first 15 minutes the game ebbed and flowed as both sides sought to gain control, an early cross from Pietro Palladino was just too high for the head of Lodge while, for the visitors Kevin Mealor slid the ball wide of Paul McCarthy’s post following a corner. A Palladino run and shot forced a corner, soon after then a deflected ball stood up nicely for Aylesbury skipper Keiron Schmidt but he volleyed wide.
The deadlock was broken in the 18th minute and the goal went to the away team. McCarthy pulled of a tremendous diving save to deny Ricky Miller at the cost of a corner then, from the subsequent kick, the ball bounced up and hit the hand of Jim Mann but, despite there being a good case for “ball to hand” referee Whittaker pointed to the spot. Daniel Mead trotted up from left back to despatch the penalty.
With most of the Ashford supporters of the opinion that the side was behind to a somewhat “soft” goal, mood was not improved 3 minutes later when Dan Brown chased down a long ball and found himself one-on-one with Anthony Ender in the visitors’ goal. Ender raced out of his area to handle the ball and received a yellow card instead of the expected red for denying what was a gilt-edged scoring opportunity. The resulting free kick was cleared down-field where Schmidt drove over McCarthy’s bar from 25 yards.
Simon Martin screwed his shot on the turn wide after good work on the Aylesbury left by James Rudd before, on 29 minutes, the visitors found themselves down to 10 men, referee Whittaker reacting to verbal abuse from Miller to the extent that he halted a promising Ashford attack to dismiss the striker.
Hoping to exploit the deficit in personnel, Ashford pushed up, coaxed on by the gentle persuasion of the Manager and after Brown had glanced a header wide, the home team succeeded in gaining parity. A ball through the midfield was played through the Aylesbury defence for Lodge to run on to, he drew the keeper off his line before coolly firing in at the far post for his debut goal and his side’s equaliser.
Scott Weight (pictured), driving Ashford on from the centre of midfield, forced a good full-length diving save out of Ender with a powerful rasping shot then, moments later, held off the challenge of Schmidt to send Mark Bitmead away down the right. Bitmead’s low cross was put wide by Palladino from close in when it looked easier to score.
Weight and Bitmead teamed up again just after the break, only this time the recipient of Bitmead’s cross was Brown who touched the ball narrowly wide then, at the other end, a cross from the left by Schmidt was just too high for Lemmar Simpson who, had he connected successfully, would have been a contender for goal of the season with his attempted diving header.
Palladino embarked on a mazy run that took him past 3 challenges and which deserved a better conclusion than his shot being deflected into the grateful arms of Ender and the same could be said, shortly after, when Jeanmal Prosper got forward from his right back position to cross for the unmarked Rudd to blast wildly over McCarthy’s bar from the edge of the 6 yard box.
Ashford’s tenacious Japanese left back Takahiro Kirihara, Kiri for short, showed his doughty side as he fought for, and won, the battle for the ball in the left corner to force Prosper into surrendering a corner kick which Lodge curled in and Russ Canderton headed across goal then the 10 men won a free kick on the right that Mead placed perfectly on the head of Martin but a great save from McCarthy kept the scores level.
Ashford finally managed to get their noses in front in the 78th minute. Brown made a long run with the ball down the pitch before picking out Scott Weight who steadied himself before thumping the ball past the advancing keeper.
Two minutes later, sensing blood, the home side put the game to bed. Canderton found Brown with a throw on the left and the Ashford striker turned and, spotting Bitmead’s run on the right, sent an inch perfect cross-field pass into the path of the young wide man. Bitmead did what Bitmead does best as he threaded a superb shot past Ender from 20 yards to put daylight between the teams.
Bitmead was on the end of probably the best passage of play of the match, shortly after. Starting with Kiri, on the left, the ball went through Dan Brown and Ashley Lodge before Bitmead found himself with the ball wide on the right where he cut in and tested Ender with a vicious left foot shot.
Bitmead, to the applause of the Ashford supporters, left the pitch to be replaced by Tom Kanek with 5 minutes remaining and Kanek was soon in on the action. It was from his teasing cross that Dan Brown volleyed Ashford’s 4th and so to conclude a very satisfactory afternoon’s work.