Ryman League Premier Division,
|Ashford Town suffered a sixth successive League defeat at Hartsdown Park on Saturday, and find themselves just five points ahead of the relegation zone after once again lacking a cutting edge up front. Mark Butler made only one change from the side that was victorious at Wheatsheaf Lane in midweek, with Paul Burgess restored in goal in place of Craig Ross.
The Tangerines have never beaten Margate in six attempts but started strongly, with Ricardo Joseph firing over the crossbar as early as the fourth minute. Ricky Wellard also had a low shot from the edge of the box saved by home ‘keeper Pat Mullin in the 14th minute as Ashford took the game to their opponents. Moments later, the Harris brothers combined well, which led to Scott Harris having a shot turned around the post by Mullin. The resultant corner was worked to Joseph, whose low drive was well saved by Mullin, although Assistant Referee Wells concluded that the goalkeeper had not, in fact, turned the ball around the post. To the bemusement of the travelling supporters, a goal kick was duly awarded.
Margate had good spells of their own but were not testing Burgess and it was the visitors who looked likelier to score, with the pace of Warren Harris causing real problems for the ‘Gate. However, Terry Yorath’s team stood firm and took the lead against the run of play in the 37th minute. Burgess punched a corner out to Dan Stubbs, whose harmless shot was deflected into the net by Kenny Pratt. It was the home side’s first goal in 418 minutes of football.
The hosts were galvanised by gaining the lead and combative defender Liam Harwood almost doubled his side’s advantage with a shot that fizzed just wide, although he then blotted his copybook by screaming at Referee Lugg until Scott Weight was cautioned for a challenge that was clumsy but not malicious.
Ashford continued to look dangerous and both Scott Harris and Byron Harrision having shots in first-half stoppage time, with Harrison’s effort having to be cleared off the line by Keiran Morris.
The home side lost their captain, Dan Young, to injury a minute into the second half, with Jackson Ohakham replacing him. Ashford started the second half well, with good interplay from Harrison and Warren Harris setting up a shot by Scott Harris, which was saved by Mullin. However, Margate began to take control of the match, with both Pratt and Ryan Peters forcing saves from Burgess.
Peters again forced a save from Burgess just after the hour mark, before Ashford again had their hosts pegged back, with Harrison being felled in the box, with a corner being awarded, from which Warren Harris miskicked an attempt on goal. The younger of the Harris brothers had two more opportunities – hitting a free kick into the wall, then forcing a save from Mullin – before Mark Butler made a double substitution in the 69th minute. Byron Harrison and Scott Harris were withdrawn, with Gavin Smith and Scott Todd replacing them.
Todd almost made an immediate impact by springing the hosts’ offside trap, but Mullin faced from his goal to avert the danger. The hosts were defending stoutly, with Harwood denying Warren Harris with a fine challenge inside the area to concede another corner, from which Billy Jeffreys headed towards goal but Mullin saved comfortably.
Margate looked to run down the clock by bringing on Curtis Robinson for James Gregory, then secured a vital win in their relegation battle in the second minute of stoppage time. With the Tangerines pushing forward, Peters broke down the left flank and squared the ball to Pratt, whose shot took a deflection on it’s way into the Ashford net.
After the game, Mark Butler declared that his side were now firmly part of the battle to avoid the drop and that his injury-ravaged squad must now “scrap” for every point. With play-off chasers Carshalton Athletic the next League opponents for his side, Butler will hope to begin that process with a League Cup tie at home to Kingstonian on Tuesday.