FA Carlsberg Trophy, 1st Qualifying Round,
Ashford departed this season’s FA Trophy with not so much as a whimper. This lacklustre, limp performance was possibly their worst since they went out to Wingate and Finchley last season. Perhaps it was a hang-over from last Tuesday’s FA Cup disappointment, but gone was the flowing passing game that we have come to expect over the last few weeks and in it’s place was the banging of high balls up to the strikers expecting them to magic something from nothing, making the midfield some what of an irrelevance.
Take nothing away from Croydon Athletic, who thoroughly deserved their victory. Two players stuck out as dangerous, Goma Lambu and Gary Noel, Lambu set about Hone Fowler from the start and the Ashford left back looked uncomfortable against the diminutive winger’s guile and pace. Noel, on the other hand, managed to get himself into good positions all match, finding space and willingly becoming the ‘get out’.
Mark Butler made three changes to the team that came so agonisingly close to defeating Hendon on Tuesday, two were enforced, veteran keeper Paul Burgess came in for Craig Ross, who has a possible fractured hip, and striker Jon Palmer who replaced Brian Haule suffering from a calf injury. The other change involved Vinnie O’Sullivan who gave way for Brett Cooper at right back. Ross and Haule join Warren Harris and Ricardo Joseph on the injury list while Scott Harris had to work.
The Rams had the ball in the back of the Ashford net within the first five minutes when Lambu was bought down on the right. The free kick was cleared for a corner and found its way into the net but referee Mr Lennard ruled the ‘goal’ out for off-side. Further early chances fell to Danny Waldren who shot wide, then failed to connect with Noel’s cross.
A clumsy challenge from behind by Jeremy Williams on Byron Harrison earned the Rams defender a caution then, soon after, the Croydon bench demonstrated that their hypocrisy knew no bounds when a trip on one of their players by Billy Jeffreys, also cautioned, had them noisily protesting to Mr Lennard and leaping out from their dug-out like demented jack-in-the-box’s.
First blood was drawn by the visitors, in the 25th minute, and, it must be said, against the run of play. Jon Palmer spotted Harrison’s run and flicked a good ball into his strike partner’s path, Harrison continued his run and slotted the ball past the on-rushing Rams keeper Ross Flitney and into the net. Flitney did very well soon after coming off his line to clear off the foot of Harrison who had been put through by Davis Haule.
The hosts equalised in the 41st minute, following a good period of domination as Ashford failed to clear their lines. A poor clearance found Chris Piper who whipped in a cross which was met by Ben Godfrey to score from close range. The goal-scorer blotted his copy book minutes later when he was rightly cautioned for simulation.
Early in the second half an excellent turn followed by a vicious shot by Noel warmed Burgess’ hands then, in the 52nd minute, the Rams scored what turned out to be the winner. Lambu was allowed to run half the length of the pitch without any hint of a challenge before crossing low into the Ashford penalty area where the ball was turned into the net by Noel.
Four minutes later Godfrey could have stretched Croydon’s lead when he fired over from Noel’s chested pass then, Noel headed over from a corner soon after and Piper had a decent effort saved by Burgess.
As the game drifted toward its conclusion, Harrison had a chance to equalise. Cutting in from the left he made room to fire goal wards but saw his shot just clear the bar. At the other end Piper fired in a tremendous volley that Burgess couldn’t hold but Noel put the rebound over the Ashford bar from six yards.