FA Carlsberg Trophy 1st Qualifying Round,
A precipitation moved in from the north-east that dampened the pitch prior to the kick off but it certainly didn’t dampen the aspirations of the home side that looked energetic throughout. With Rico Morris absent through injury, manager Jamie Lawrence moved Akwasi Edusei back from the left wing to left back and gave a first start of the season to Mark Bitmead. Similarly, a first start was also handed to Rob Curtis at right back following Jim Mann injuring his hip in the pre-match warm-up.
After a barren first half that produced plenty of effort and endeavour but no goals to show for it, the floodgates opened and the supporters of both sides were treated to an eight goal festival for the second half.
Curtis was into the action early finding Jordan Kiffin with a good ball down the right but nobody was on hand to profit from his cross then a clever flick by Jamie Lawrence gave Bitmead the chance to cross but Babucarr Jallow, in the United goal, dealt with the threat.
Jordan Kiffin and Luke Hickie were creating plenty of options from the centre of midfield, ably backed up by Alain Behi, and it was from a free kick swung in by Hickie that Billy Jeffreys rose to head back across the United goal but Behi couldn’t keep his shot down.
It was not all one-way traffic though, former Staines favourite Andre DeLisser tested Paul Burgess with a good strike mid way through the half but Ashford’s experienced keeper got plenty of his body behind the ball to save comfortably.
Another good flick from the head of Jamie Lawrence, from a Jeffreys through ball, found Curtis on the right, as the home side went looking for the opening goal, but his cross was well defended by Nick Turner as Isaiah Rankin threatened then, at the other end, United’s danger-man Dave Lawrence’s cross was cleared only as far as Luke Kenny whose shot sailed over Burgess’ bar.
Referee Mr Hillier did little to endear himself to the Ashford supporters when he saw nothing wrong when Rankin was clearly unfairly bought down just outside the United penalty box on 36 minutes, just one of several incidents that he chose to ignore.
Jallow came to his side’s rescue, soon after, saving Turners blushes as the United skipper skied a header, Jallow just managed to beat Jamie Lawrence to the ball then, from a cleared corner at the other end, Bennell fired over.
A handball by Jamie Diston, five minutes into the second half, gave Ashford another free kick which was curled into United’s area by Hickie, but the Referee awarded the visitors a free kick for pushing which led to Bennell cutting in from the left to test Burgess who dived low to save at the foot of his right hand post.
The breakthrough came in the 54th minute when Bitmead sent Edusei away down the left, the wing back left three defenders in his wake before he crossed low to the far post to where Rankin was on hand to finish and give Ashford the lead.
Rankin was cautioned shortly after and was joined in the Ref’s book by Bennell for a separate incident where he executed a late challenge on Kiffin.
Shots from Ricky Pither for United and Bitmead were safely dealt with by the keepers before, in the 65th minute United hit back through Dave Lawrence’ looping header from a free kick. Parity lasted just 50 seconds though. Bitmead took the ball down the left where, tight to the goal line, he crossed only for Jallow to fumble the ball allowing Jamie Lawrence to nip in and head home to regain the lead for the hosts.
A second yellow for Bennell, for another late challenge, this time on Curtis, saw him dismissed and United down to ten men before a good effort from Kiffin whistled just over Jallow’s bar.
Ashford increased their lead in the 71st minute and it came from the same source as the previous two. Bitmead had the ball on the left and waited as Edusei’s overlapping run took away a defender giving the young striker the room to curl a cross into the penalty area where it was touched on by Jamie Lawrence for Rankin to force home at the far post.
Three minutes later Rankin looked to have claimed his hattrick but the ‘goal’ was ruled out for off-side then Kiffin played a one-two with Bitmead before shooting just wide.
With ten minutes of normal time remaining Jamie Lawrence gave way for Tom Kanak who, two minutes later, was instrumental in Ashford’s 4th goal when he sent over a superb cross-field pass to Kiffin on the right of the United penalty area. Jallow could not hold Kiffin’s shot and the predatory Mark Bitmead was on the ball like a shot to fire home.
Isaiah Rankin who, along with Jamie Lawrence, had run himself into the ground, was replaced by the tall figure of Spencer Tauferelli, and Tom Betts came on for Alain Behi in a double substitution on 84 minutes. With the inclusion of Betts Ashford had four of last season’s Under 18’s on the pitch, Curtis, Kanak and Bitmead being the others and it was Kanak who played the ball into Betts who sent Tauferelli away to slide in goal number five in the 86th minute.
The hosts concluded their side of the goal-fest two minutes into time-added on when Tauferelli turned provider picking out Russ Canderton, still loitering up field from a previous corner, with a pin-point cross from the right. So accurate was the cross that Canderton did not even need to leave the ground in order to head past Jallow.
But it was the visitors that had the final say as DeLisser shot under the defensive wall from a free kick, Burgess dived low but was powerless to prevent the goal.
This result makes it five wins out of their last six matches in all competitions for Ashford and confidence will be sky high for the visit of Atherstone Town next Saturday..