FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round Replay,
Ashford received lessons in the arts of losing your marker, incisive passing and clinical finishing at Forest Green Rovers in this FA Cup replay. The speed and runs in behind the Ashford defence, particularly from the two goal scorers, were decisive as was the masterful display from Lee Fowler in the centre of midfield.
With the game played in part during an unseasonable snowstorm Ashford never really got going. The Conference club had learnt from Saturday’s match, where Ashford genuinely were unfortunate not to win, and this time ensured that Scott Harris’ and Byron Harrison’s threats were largely nullified forcing Mark Butler to replace them with Gavin Smith and Scott Todd just after the start of the second half. In midfield too, only Gavin Bamford showed a willingness to trade punches (not literally) toe to toe with his opponents but even he could not stop Fowler and Simon Clist running the show.
In the first half too much room was given to Jerry Gill and Alex Lawless on the right giving Ryan Robinson an easy get-out when he got in trouble and pulling Paul Johnson over to shut them down.
The first corner of the match went to Ashford, who started as they finished on Saturday, but was over-hit but it didn’t take long for the hosts to hit their stride and Les Afful shot wide from a Lee Molyneaux pass. Shortly after, Robinson threw the ball out to Gill forcing Johnson over to cover but Gill passed inside to Fowler who went on a run before slipping the ball out to Lawless whose cross was put just over the Ashford bar by Gill who had carried on running.
Craig Ross held a good shot from Jonathan Smith before, in the 18th minute, Rovers took the lead. Fowler won the ball in midfield and laid the ball out to the right into the path of Molyneaux and his cross was flicked into the far corner by Afful giving Ross no chance. Straight from the re-start Ashford won a free-kick, taken by Billy Jeffreys, but Scott Harris headed over Robinson’s bar.
Too many Ashford moves were breaking down through over-hit passes and as a consequence losing possession.
Rovers struck again straight from the kick-off for the second half to claim their decisive second goal. With just 18 seconds on the clock, Afful picked up the ball and attacked down the left leaving even Jeffreys in his wake before cutting along the goal-line and crossing low to where Kaid Mohamed was arriving giving the striker the easiest of tap-ins.
Two minutes later Mark sent on Smith and Todd for Harrison and Harris.
At times the visitors showed some neat touches and good passing moves with Warren Harris, in particular, keeping the Rovers defenders on their toes, but the non-stop running and superior fitness of the Conference side was beginning to take it’s toll as Afful opened up the defence but shot wide then, soon after, broke through again only to be met with a bone-jarring challenge from Stuart Bamford.
Ashford were forced into a third substitution on the hour when Jeffreys (pictured) limped off with an ankle injury to be replaced by Adam Logie.
A low shot by Johnson was saved by Robinson before a deep cross from Logie was controlled by Warren Harris and pushed out to Ricky Wellard who blazed over.
Todd was causing consternation in the Rovers ranks with his tricky runs and in the 72nd minute he danced past Paul Stonehouse who unceremoniously dumped him on the turf and earned a caution for his troubles.
A third goal in the 75th minute ended any hope of Ashford getting back into the game. Mohamed exploited a gap between Ricardo Joseph and Stuart Bamford and, from a good through ball from substitute Andy Mangan, slotted the ball past Ross.
Since coming on, Gavin Smith had won nearly all of his aerial duels with the Rovers central defenders but had not been able to convert this superiority into goals but he did have a late shot saved low by Robinson before, in time added on, Afful ran in a 4th for the hosts