Ryman League Premier Division,
Club skipper Paul Johnson (pictured, below) capped a fine personal display with two of his side’s three goals, including a late winner, as Jamie Lawrence’s Ashford extended their unbeaten run to twelve games. Tooting, looking to avenge a 0 – 1 defeat by their visitors in September, had forced their way into the play-off positions but had recently suffered some indifferent results but, notwithstanding that, were expected to provide stiff opposition, and the Ashford contingent were not disappointed.
After weathering an early Tooting storm, the excellent Vinnie O’Sullivan surged forward on a run down the right before playing the ball into Brian Haule who was bought down. Johnson stepped up but sent his free kick just wide of Dave King’s Goal.
Simon Parker linked well with his strike partner, Paul Vines soon after but the Tooting striker could only shoot wide then, at the other end, Haule climbed to head over from an enormous Guy Hollis throw from the right.
A disgraceful and needless challenge on Ashford winger Jermaine McGlashan by Dean Hamlin gave the visitors a free kick near the goal line on the left, with Hamlin not even given a lecture by referee Hillier. Warren Harris’ free kick was headed out for an Ashford throw on the other side, cue another missile launched into the Tooting penalty box by Hollis and this time Brian Haule made no mistake, planting a firm header past King and into the net to give the visitors the lead.
The home side had a good chance to equalise, soon after, but Aaron Goode headed wide from a free kick then King came to his side’s rescue when quick thinking by Jamie England set up a good chance for Byron Harrison. England was fouled in the centre of midfield but spotted Harrison’s run behind the Tooting defence and played a superb ball into the Ashford striker’s path, but King came quickly off his line to save at Harrison’s feet.
Ashford increased their lead in the 36th minute courtesy of the first of Johnson’s brace. Haule was unceremoniously pulled to the ground some 10 yards outside the Tooting penalty area and the resulting free kick was driven goal wards by Johnson, taking a slight deflection which took the ball beyond the reach of King.
Brett Cooper was on hand to foil an attempt by Vines before O’Sullivan sent England away with a fine ball. England advanced deep into the Tooting half then unleashed a powerful left footed drive that King managed to hold.
Vines showed his predatory instincts soon after, running onto a ball from Parker but fired across the mouth of the goal from an acute angle before, in the 44th minute, Tooting pulled a goal back. A free kick was awarded to the hosts 5 yards outside the Ashford penalty area, up stepped Parker to smash the ball through the ineffective wall and past Paul Burgess who managed to get a hand to the ball but could not deflect it from its tragectory.
Early in the second half King was required to save from another free kick from Johnson after Harris had been bought down then Parker replied for the hosts with a free kick of his own that was cleared. From a corner, the ball was headed goal wards by Vine but Johnson was on hand to head off his goal line.
Tooting right back Hamlin was having a nightmare match and just could not cope with McGlashan’s pace and guile and, on the hour, found himself in the referee’s book for yet another foul on the flying winger.
Soon after, McGlashan and O’Sullivan combined to give England a chance but the midfielder saw his shot rebound off a post.
Tooting scored the equaliser in the 63rd minute when the ball was intercepted in midfield and pushed out to the unmarked Parker on the left. Parker steadied himself then bent a superb shot round Burgess and into the net at the far post.
Weak refereeing by Mr Hillier let Hamlin off the hook when he fouled McGlashan yet again then McGlashan sped past Hamlin, cut inside and fired a shot across goal but just wide.
With a quarter of an hour left and the game delicately poised, Paul Burgess showed why he is still one of the best keepers at this level, making a triple save to deny Tooting the goal that would put them in the driving seat. Parker had the first chance but Burgess beat the ball away but only as far as Vines whose shot came back to him as Burgess dived low, then the Tooting striker was foiled again by Ashford’s veteran custodian as he palmed the ball away for O’Sullivan to complete the clearance.
Davis Haule replaced Jamie England with ten minutes to go and six minutes after that Ashford scored what was to be the winning goal. Harrison cleverly held the ball up before laying it into the path of the supporting Johnson on the right. Johnson set off on a run across the pitch to manoeuvre the ball onto his left foot and until he found space and time to rifle the ball past King’s outstretched left hand and in to the Tooting net at the far post.