Ryman League Premier Division,
Two second half goals pulled Ashford back from the brink of relegation as they took on neighbours and league runners-up Staines Town on a sunny Easter Monday afternoon. Mark Butler stuck with the same line-up that unluckily, it must be said, went down to Canvey on Saturday by the only goal of the game but the topic that promoted the most debate among supporters of both sides was “what team would Steve Cordrey put out?” bearing in mind that Staines had already secured second place in the league as mentioned.
Would the Staines manager rest his top players or would the likes of Gareth Risbridger, Elliot Onochie and Richard Butler play? Local derbies can, sometimes, be fraught affairs with emotions running high and tackles running higher so it was a brave decision that Cordrey took to play the three players already mentioned as well as others of his best X1with the play-off’s looming.
As the game settled it was clear that Butler had been identified as a danger source for Staines and he was the subject of one or two hefty challenges early on, as well as a few lighter ones that equally appeared to require a lay down on the pitch. Staines had their own man ‘putting it about’ in the shape of Andre Scarlett who seemed to delight in launching himself into tackles whether the ball was there or not, but it was a typical derby and no one was complaining as both sides played some excellent football in the bid to hold the local bragging rights.
The dangerous Butler had a chance early on when he received the ball from a good cross by Risbridger on the left and turned only to scuff his shot straight to Craig Ross in the Ashford goal as he came under pressure from Michael Peacock.
Ashford then went close when Warren Harris headed against the Staines bar from an Anthony Joseph cross on the right before Ricky Wellard tested James Courtnage with a powerful drive from a short Luke Pigden free kick, Staines though broke straight down the other end where Onochie headed wide from a cross from the right.
A tricky run by Warren Harris took him past three players before sending a cross over to Joseph who tried a chip but the ball was cleared to Byron Harrison who fired point blank at Courtnage then, soon after, a good turn in the box, by the Ashford striker, gave him room to shoot but the ball flew past the far post.
Ashford again went close when Peacock got his head to a Warren Harris corner obliging Courtnage to make a good diving save to tip the ball over his bar.
On the stroke of half time, Peacock was adjudged to have unfairly bought down Risbridger earning the big central defender a caution, Onochie’s free kick warranting a superb save from Ross who tipped the ball round the post.
Always a threat on the right, Anthony Joseph tore past his full back, early in the second half, but Harrison shot wide from the winger’s cross then, in the 55th minute Ross sent Joseph away on the right again with an early throw but, after leaving two Staines men in his wake, he was upended by Mark Coulson who received a caution. Up stepped Ricky Wellard to send in a curling free kick with his trusty left foot and, amazingly, the ball eluded Ashford and Staines players alike to end up in the back of Courtnage’s net to give the hosts the lead.
Leroy Griffiths, a 43rd minute substitute for Butler, who had limped dejectedly off with a dead leg, had the chance to restore parity just 3 minutes later when he broke through the Ashford defensive line, drew Ross out of his goal but shot wide.
To the delight of the small but vociferous choir of Ashford supporters encamped behind Courtnage’s goal, ably led by the Club Lout, Ashford doubled their advantage in the 64th minute with a vintage header from Gavin Smith. That man Joseph was again at the heart of the attack combining with Scott Harris to give Harrison a chance to add to his impressive goal tally but the rangy striker’s shot was saved at the cost of a corner. Wellard’s inch perfect ball picked out the late run by Smithy who sent an unstoppable header past Courtnage and into the back of the Staines net.
Late chances for Risbridger and Smith went wide and high respectively then a late mazy run by Scarlett beat three Ashford defenders but Ross was equal to his shot.