Ryman League Premier Division,
Ashford slipped into the bottom four with this defeat at Homelands, the home of Ashford Town, Kent where Maidstone United ground share. Fortunately for the Middlesex side the three teams below them, Margate, Bognor Regis Town and Waltham Abbey, all failed to capitalise so Ashford now have just two games remaining to claw their way to safety starting on Tuesday when they entertain Canvey Island then, ending a very strange season, playing hosts to Harrow Borough.
Both teams started brightly and an early Paul Johnson free kick had to be dealt with by Andy Walker, in the Stones goal, who punched the ball away for a throw then a good diagonal run from, fit again, Warren Harris took him past three defenders and into the Stones penalty area but he wasted the opportunity with a weak cross.
Johnson was on hand again, shortly after, receiving the ball from fellow midfielder Scott Weight and finding Harris on the right with a superb ball but Harris’ cross was knocked out for a corner before Walker’s opposite number in the visitors goal, Craig Ross, sprung into action to keep out a smartly taken snap-shot by Nathan Paul.
Ashford’s run of bad luck continued when, in the 14th minute, the ball was played into the Stones penalty area to Harris but was knocked away from him by the hand of a defender. Despite vociferous calls for a penalty by Ashford players and supporters alike, referee Mr O’Keefe waved play on. To be fair to the official, who had a good game, he may have been unsighted but the incident was in full view of one of his assistants who kept his flag down.
Four minutes later Ashford were left to rue the non-penalty when Maidstone took the lead. A free kick just outside the Ashford penalty area, given for a foul on Adrian Stone, was blasted into the back of Ross’ net, via a post, by Danny Hockton.
As the visitors strove to find the equaliser, Alain Behi embarked on a surging run forward from his position in the centre of defence before attempting to set up Johnson, who had drifted into the opposition penalty area, but a defender stuck out a leg, lobbing Walker, with the ball bouncing just the wrong side of the post, from an Ashford perspective.
Early second half pressure by the hosts forced Ashford into defending in depth before Vinnie O’Sullivan won the ball and sent Jermaine McGlashan away but the young Ashford winger was bought down for a free kick which Johnson blasted into the defensive wall then, on the hour, another free kick, this time given for hand ball by Jermaine Darlington, was headed clear for a corner to Ashford which was delivered perfectly by Johnson but Behi skied his header over Walker’s bar.
Nathan Paul had been supporting his forwards as often as he could from his position at right back and, on 70 minutes, a superb cross from him was volleyed just wide by Stone. In Femi Ilesmni’s absence at left back through injury, arguably Ashford’s best player over the last few weeks, it fell to the versatile Brett Cooper to fill Ilesmni’s considerable boots but he was unable to stop Paul from getting in a good cross which was simply headed in by Antonio Gonnella in the 75th minute.
Earlier, Ashford had been lifted by the appearance of Billy Jeffrey’s, back in the squad after suffering a broken leg against Dartford earlier in the season and on as a substitute for Behi who had limped off and he provided Ashford’s closest chance of the match when his towering header struck Walker’s bar from Harris’ corner.
Ashford fought to the last but, apart from Jeffreys’ late header , never tested Walker even though they enjoyed plenty of possession