Ryman League Premier Division,
With the meeting of the two highest scoring teams in the Ryman League Premier Division, there was always going to be goals and, despite being under the cosh from the start of the match, it was the Short Lane men that scored first. Early possession from a confident Darts side meant that Ashford were forced to defend in numbers and they could have found themselves two goals down in the first six minutes but Lee Noble’s run down the Dart’s left and subsequent cross was chested into the path of Danny Harris by his strike partner Lee Burns but Harris missed his kick.
Shortly after, a long throw from the Dartford left was cleared as far as Noble but he fired wide of Paul Burgess’ goal.
Against the run of play, it must be said, and on their first real foray in to the Dartford half, Brian Haule broke through a static Dartford defence only to be felled by Andrew Young, in the Darts goal. Up stepped Jamie England (pictured) to coolly send Young the wrong way to give Ashford the lead.
The solid Dartford defence, although very experienced, lacked real pace, certainly not an accusation that could be levelled at the two Ashford wingers, Warren Harris and Jermaine McGlashan, and it was the latter that was sent crashing to the turf as he burst past Adam Gross, the Dart’s left back, and not for the last time in this match.
Femi Ilesamni must be praying for a change in his luck, following on from last week’s penalty incident, the talented defender just got enough of the ball from a Ryan Hayes’ free kick to head past Burgess for an own goal to give Dartford an equaliser but, shortly after, he managed to thwart the lively Hayes and prevent the cross to where Burns and Harris were waiting to test Burgess.
With the pressure growing exponentially, it was no surprise when the league leaders scored again to take the lead. A cross from Burns, on the Dartford right, was headed goalwards by Elliot Bradbrook for Harris to nod the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Rather than shrink at the challenge of trying to compete with the champions elect, Jamie Lawrence’s men started to play their own brand of football and one sublime move on the half hour deserved a better fate than a corner. McGlashan raced down the right, squared the ball to Paul Johnson who, in turn, found Brian Haule who flicked the ball back out to McGlashan who had continued his run, but McGlashan’s cross was punched over his own bar by Young.
Paul Burgess was back in the action, soon after, comfortably saving shots from Noble and a fierce left-footed effort from Hayes before McGlashan and Johnson combined to give England a chance, but he bent his shot just wide of Young’s right hand post.
Gross bought down McGlashan again, giving Johnson a chance with a free kick from a dangerous position on the right hand edge of the Darts’ penalty area and he forced a finger tip save from Young to keep the score in the Kent side’s favour. This time Gross received a finger wagging ticking off from referee Mr Forrester but, two minutes later, another indiscretion by Gross on McGlashan saw the perpetrator punished with a yellow card.
Another good move by the hosts, two minutes before half-time, nearly increased their lead. Hayes cross from the right was left by Noble for Harris, the striker lifted the ball into his teammates path only to see Noble’s attempted lob clear Burgess’ bar.
Ashford equalised one minute into time added on at the end of the first half, much to the dismay of the vast majority of the 1101 paying customers. The ball was worked forward to Ashford skipper Johnson who played England in, Johnson’s fellow midfielder slid the ball wide of Young and into the net for his second of the game.
Ashford were caught napping with just two minutes of the second half on the clock, when a cross from the right managed to reach Paul Burgess who could only palm the ball straight to Burns who had the simplest of tasks of tapping into the empty net.
Ashford remained undaunted by this setback and really set about their hosts for the remainder of the game, if Dartford had much the better of the first half, Ashford undoubtedly had the better of the second.
Davis Haule found Ileamni on the left and he sped past Hayes before delivering a deep cross that was pushed just wide by Warren Harris then England shot wide from range after good work by Johnson. The same pair joined forces again, minutes later, England’s cross was met by Johnson whose shot was deflected back out to England who fired over Young’s bar.
A surging run forward by Brett Cooper took the Ashford right back deep into the Dartford half where he played in Brian Haule whose shot was blocked only for Warren Harris to pick up the rebound and try his luck but his shot fared no better.
England again shot over after good work by Johnson and McGlashan managed to get round the back of the Dartford defence but his cross was just beyond Davis Haule, then a late run by Warren Harris took him past three defenders but his cross was just too high for Davis Haule to profit.
Paul Burgess was not exactly redundant in the second half, but he was the less busy of the two keepers. Dartford bought on Carl Rook, late in the half, and he was instrumental in setting up Noble to try his luck against Ashford’s veteran keeper who was equal to the challenge and, soon after, when he punched the ball clear from the head of Burns.
Dartford held on to inflict only Jamie Lawrence’ second league defeat but Jamie and the team will be encouraged by the second half display that deserved at least a point.