The FA Carlsberg Trophy, First Qualifying Round Replay
| Ashford bowed out of The FA Trophy despite a stirring second half performance against former winners of the competition Grays Athletic, who deserved to progress on the balance of play over the two matches of this cup tie.
Paul Burgess named an unchanged starting eleven following the first match between the clubs the previous weekend, while the visitors made one change, Grant Cooper starting the game in place of Junior Baker, who survived a late arrival to make it onto the substitutes bench.
Athletic started the match brilliantly, Paul McCarthy making a fine double save to keep both Jack West and Joe Sweeney from opening the scoring in the fifth minute. However, Ashford had chances of their own, a Mark Bitmead cross causing consternation in the Athletic defence and Dan Brown having a 20 yard shot saved by Grays goalkeeper Jake Larkins. From Larkins’ clearance, Grays moved up the field and Jake Hall turned and shot across goal, the effort striking Jack West and leaving McCarthy with no chance.
Ashford almost equalised instantly, a Bitmead free kick hitting the crossbar from 25 yards. However, the Blues regained control of the match and enjoyed several chances. In the 33rd minute, the only real flashpoint of the match came when Jake Hall committed a very late challenge as he attempted to regain possession. With many of the home contingent in the crowd calling for Hall’s dismissal, referee Rob Smith adjudged the tackle to be mistimed rather than malicious and showed a yellow card.
Ashford had a good spell after that, Bitmead and Brown combining to create a chance for Kofi Lockhart-Adams, whose shot was blocked. The resultant corner, taken by the impressive Alex Duffy, caused chaos in the Athletic defence, but was worked clear.
Lee Flynn blazed over for Grays six minutes before half-time, before the visitors doubled their advantage in the 43rd minute. Perhaps inevitably, it was Jake Hall who scored the goal, hitting a brilliant strike beyond McCarthy from distance.
Hall almost put the game beyond the Ash Trees five minutes after half-time, forcing a great save from McCarthy, although the hosts rallied and Lockhart-Adams drew a tidy save from Larkins. However, the situation got worse for Ashford when Perry Luckins had to helped from the field just before the hour. However, substitute Joe Bennett was a revelation on the right flank, causing constant problems for Grays and providing the Tangerines with new impetus.
Bairoh Conteh had a header cleared off the line and Ashford made their pressure pay in the 62nd minute, Kofi Lockhart-Adams heading deftly beyond Larkins.
Jack West almost made it 3-1 to Grays after springing the offside trap, but by this stage the teams were trading chances. Sweeney might have scored for the visitors before Lockhart-Adams shot across goal with Bitmead well placed at the far post.
The final ten minutes saw Ashford throw everything at their guests, including the goalkeeper, who went forward in stoppage time. Joe Bennett and Russell Canderton both had good chances to equalise, but substitute Tyrone Scarlett might have made the game save for Athletic, as he exploited the gaps left by the marauding Tangerines. Despite Ashford giving their all, Grays secured a deserved win to earn an away tie at Whitehawk and we wish them well for that match.