It was the start of a new era as Ashford returned to the Isthmian (Bostik) League on Saturday, with a new look side, including seven debutants in the starting line up. Hertford Town were the visitors, playing at Short Lane for the first time in 14 years.
The visitors brought a goodly number of supporters with them and very welcome they were with Ashford’s support unusually thin on the ground. Ashford wore black armbands in memory of late Chairman Dave Baker and did their best to win a match that eventually ended one apiece. The general view was that it was a fair result overall with both sides enjoying periods of ascendancy.
On a surface that is still recovering from the extended drought conditions through the summer, both teams were fully committed and from the start it looked a difficult game to call. One or two acrobatic saves from Ashford keeper Liam Allen denied the visitors whilst at the other end good work by another debutant, Warren Thomas, almost led to a goal.
The scoreboard remained untroubled at half-time but it was Hertford who eventually broke the deadlock on 56 minutes and it was a special goal. The ball was only half cleared to Charlie Ruff just outside the penalty area. There was nothing rough though about his strike as he rammed the ball home with a force that would have beaten any keeper. For a period after that, the visitors pressed hard for a second goal that would have surely seen them taking all three points but their shooting was wayward and it wasn’t long before it was the Tangerines doing more of the pressing and in the 71st minute it bore fruit. Some excellent work on the left flank by Kofi Lockhart-Adams, back for his third spell with the club, saw the ball bobbling dangerously in Hertford’s goalmouth and it was another debutant, Bradley Wilson, who reacted first to bring Ashford level.
That led to a concerted effort to score again but it wasn’t to be and, as stated the result was a fair one overall and everyone was happy especially as it’s always so important to get off the mark at the start of the season as it removes the pressure that can quickly build up if that first point is elusive.
Ashford have lost some important players but it does look as if manager Murray has recruited wisely. The defence included three ex-Hanworth Villa stalwarts who have been a thorn in our sides more than once in the past and they all did well, so much so that left back Tom Dilloway was the recipient of the “Ashford Supporters’ Man of the Match” award with his powerful running down the left flank. Scott Weight was also in the voting with his aerial ability being a significant factor throughout. Wilson and James Cottee showed signs they will gel well together whilst Max Webb was his usual industrious self. Nobody did badly though.
Unusually at the start of the season, there is no midweek match so the next action is on Saturday 18 August, away to old friends and rivals Chipstead, who enjoyed a decent win at Chalfont St. Peter yesterday. The next home match is in the Velocity (League) Cup on Tuesday week, 21 August, when we entertain Hayes & Yeading in the 1st Round. Although we did the double over them in the Southern League last season, they beat us last season at this stage in the equivalent cup in the Southern League.
Finally a word for the referee and his assistants: Mr. Smith and his team were excellent. Ashford had three cautions, all for fouls, all correct, whilst the visitors had two but it was difficult to argue with any of them in what was a physical battle at times but always under control with Mr. Smith praising the attitudes of players on both sides.