FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round,
Ashford progressed to the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for only the second time with this tightest of victories over a strong and committed Chippenham Town. A goal in the 16th minute from the on-fire Scott Harris being enough to ensure a nail biting remaining 80 minutes for the Ashford supporters.
The home side started strongly but it was Chippenham who had the first real chance when Aaron Ledgister fired over Craig Ross’ bar in the second minute but Ashford hit back with a chance of their own when the ball was knocked back into the path of Byron Harrison by his strike partner Scott Harris but Harrison’s shot gave Chippenham’s keeper Chris Snoddy little cause for concern.
A trip on David Pratt by Ashford’s Brett Cooper failed to punish the Middlesex side then, at the other end, a good move involving Scott Harris and Harrison culminated in Warren Harris beating Snoddy but seeing his shot deflected wide by a defenders boot.
Ashford took the lead in the 16th minute. An unchallenged run through the centre by Ricky Wellard gave the midfielder the room for a shot but the ball came back off Cortez Belle and into the path of Scott Harris who tucked the ball home for his 10th goal of the season .
Harris just failed to add to his tally soon after when he got under the ball and lifted his shot on the turn over the bar from a Paul Johnson free kick then another free kick, this time on the half-way line taken by Billy Jeffreys, found Ricardo Joseph on the left whose deep cross was headed over by Harrison.
A mazy run by Warren Harris left 2 defenders in his wake before a shove left him face down on the turf but referee Mr Kendall waved away the penalty protests and gave a goal kick to the visitors, but a free kick given moments later for a foul on Scott Harris led to former Clevedon Town man Kye Holley being shown a yellow card for prolonging an exchange of views with the referee despite the ball being harmlessly played out for a goal kick.
Craig Ross was forced into his first meaningful save of the game on the stroke of half-time to keep out a deft flick by Pratt. The Wiltshire side came out for the second period looking a much more determined side but a good run by Johnson took him past three men and he was disappointed to see his shot sail wide of the far post.
Ashford, with skipper Gavin Bamford selflessly patrolling from penalty area to penalty area, looked unfazed with Chippenham’s increased work rate, pilling men behind the ball to cut down the space needed for their visitor’s attacking options.
Ross Adams managed to get in a good cross from the Chippenham right but Mark Richards could not keep his header down before Johnson embarked on another adventurous run eventually finding Scott Harris whose goal-bound effort was thwarted by Snoddy’s finger tips.
The tenacious elder Harris was a thorn in the collective Chippenham side all match seemingly enjoying his muscular battle with their central defenders, one of whom, Belle, became the second Chippenham player to gain entry in Mr Kendall’s note book for hauling back the young striker.
It is reasonable to say that Ashford had the better of the first half but were forced to defend for periods of the second half but with Billy Jeffreys and the athletic Stuart Bamford in superb form, goal-keeper Ross was, for the most part, well protected but on occasion had to produce vital saves as he managed late in the game from Kevin Halliday and Sam Allison before Richards wasted Chippenham’s best chance of the game when he connected too well with Allison’s low cross and fired over from close range.
Referee Mr Kendall indicated at least 4 minutes of time added on and in the 5th minute a free kick from Holley found the head of Allison forcing a superb last-ditch save out of the increasingly impressive Craig Ross.
After the match Ashford manager Mark Butler commented that he was delighted with the win over a very good team, pouring extra praise on his defenders who were tremendous all match. This win puts the Short Lane club into the hat for the 4th Qualifying Round which, for the first time in this season’s competition, sees the inclusion of the Conference proper sides.