Ryman League Premier Division,
In the swirling wind, this match was always going to struggle to live up to last season’s encounter between the teams when Hornchurch took all three points by winning by the odd goal in nine. Mark Butler had selection problems of the desirable kind, that is, who to leave out. In the end he bought in Stuart Bamford, fit again after damaging his ribs, to resume his central defensive partnership with Billy Jeffreys in place of Russ Canderton, and Paul Johnson preferred to Adam Logie in midfield who joined Canderton on the bench.
Ashford played the first half with the wind in their faces but soon went on the offensive when a long throw by Stuart Bamford was nodded on before being blasted over the Hornchurch bar by Byron Harrison from close range.
With both sides struggling to keep the ball on the ground and with the pedantic referee Mr Webb stopping the game for every minor misdemeanour, the game lacked any semblance of continuity or flow and both sides seemed to gain much of their success from set plays of which their were many.
A Paul Johnson free kick swung in dangerously goal ward and had to be dealt with by Frankie Curley then, Hornchurch’s own long throw man, Billy Coyne, found Mark Janney who shot into Craig Ross’ arms.
Ashford skipper Gavin Bamford was penalised for ‘foot up’ just outside his own penalty area but Sam Higgins blasted his free kick straight into the arms of Ross.
Ashford took the lead in the 36th minute courtesy of a Ricky Wellard penalty. Stuart Bamford won the ball in defence with a well executed tackle and the ball broke to Scott Harris who advanced before releasing to Harrison on the left. Harrison played a well weighted ball into the path of Johnson, in the Hornchurch penalty area, who was adjudged to have been bought down. Up stepped Wellard (pictured) to tuck the spot kick into the bottom corner of the net despite Dale Brightley’s valiant attempt to keep it out.
Scott Harris had a chance to increase his side’s lead and thereby add to his nine goal tally so far this season but he fired his volley over Brightley’s bar after good work on the left from his brother Warren then, shortly after, a dangerous free kick swung in by Andy Tomlinson was pushed round the post by Ross for a corner. Hornchurch fared little better, five minutes later, Janney and substitute Simon Parker combined well to set up Elliot Styles but he shot yards wide.
Referee Webb, at times, resembled a magician engaged at one of the Hon. Secretary’s ‘Gentlemen’s Evenings’ as he produced card after card from his grossly over-worked pocket, Janney and Ashford’s Ricardo Joseph being just two after a bout of hand-bags.
With eleven minutes to go Warren Harris made way for Wes Goggin who was immediately into the game linking well with the irrepressible Brett Cooper as Ashford looked to preserve their lead. Gavin Bamford sent Cooper scampering down the right, in the 84th minute, Cooper’s cross was cleared as far as Johnson who attempted an outrageous header from the edge of the box that flew over Brightley’s bar.
With nerves jangling every time Hornchurch attacked it was seen as rather a blow when Mr Webb signalled three minutes of time added on but with just one of those minutes gone Ashford were awarded a free kick one yard outside the Hornchurch penalty area for a trip by Styles on Wellard who was in full stride. Johnson lined the ball up then proceeded to smash a vicious, unstoppable, left-footed free kick through a gap in the defensive wall, past Brightley and into the net to ensure all three points went to the home side.
Three welcome points for Ashford against a strong Hornchurch side that, had luck been on their side, may have gone home with something from the game. Ashford have a break from league action for at least the next two Saturdays when they are engaged in cup matches, firstly entertaining Chippenham Town, who play in the Southern League Premier Division, in the 3rd qualifying round of the FA Cup on the 11th, then away at Wingate & Finchley, Ryman League Division One North, the following Saturday 18th, in the 1st qualifying round of the FA Trophy