Ryman League Premier Division,
This was Ashford’s fourth match in the last week and it showed in a tired and jaded performance where Mark Butler’s troops struggled to find any cohesion and semblance of form. The fixtures snarl-up, a result of the team’s successful cup runs, means that Ashford will have to play three games a week until the end of the season, putting undue strain on Mark’s playing resources, and magnifying the fear of dropping into the relegation zone, a position that the club is perilously close to following this latest league loss.
The match started with Wood’s Sean Sonner shooting wide from a good chance when one-on-one with Ashford custodian Paul Burgess but the balance was redressed when the lively Scott Todd was bought down in mid-flight, Ricky Wellard’s free kick was cleared but, soon after, Byron Harrison’s deft header found Todd and his first time effort was well saved by Anthony Anstead, in the Wood goal.
Ian Allison pumped a dangerous free kick into the Ashford penalty area but Vinnie O’Sullivan read the d anger and headed clear but the ball was picked up by Chris Watters, on the left, and he executed an excellent reverse pass in to the left corner inviting Raphael Sylvester to peel off his marker and force a corner which was put behind for another corner the other side. Again, the corner was cleared, but this time to Mario Noto lurking 25 yards out and he took one touch to control the ball before smashing it back through a melee of players and past the diving Burgess to give his side the lead.
Harrison, playing against one of his former clubs, had a good header saved from a Todd free kick then Warren Harris looked as if he was about to create something with a surging run through the middle, but he stumbled over the ball and the chance was gone.
Sonner was cautioned for pulling back Billy Jeffreys, following the earlier caution of Ashford’s Gavin Smith for dissent, then Jeffreys himself found himself in the book for a foul on Joe Reynolds.
A good run down the right by Brett Cooper and one-two with Harrison gave the Ashford right back room to attack but he was bought down in the act of crossing, Wellard’s free kick was punched away with Curtis Ujah completing the clearance then, shortly after, another run by Cooper was again unfairly halted but Wellard could only lift his free kick into the arms of Anstead.
Early in the second half Jeffreys decision making was questioned when he went for a ball that he was never going to get and gave away a free kick in a dangerous area ten yards out side his own penalty area, but Wood failed to capitalise with Jeffreys heading away Watters free kick and, shortly after, a good interchange between Reynolds and Noto forced Burgess to dive low to his left to keep the ball from creeping inside the post.
Young Nick Hardy, in for the injured Ricardo Joseph at left back, made way for returning favourite Anthony Joseph (pictured), signed earlier in the week from Kingstonian, as Mark Butler looked to up the pace but weariness was setting in and it was a tired free kick that Todd fired into the defensive wall following a foul on Harrison by Ujah.
Harrison, himself, headed into the arms of Anstead from O’Sullivan’s deep free kick then Cooper was replaced by another of Marks youngsters, Moses Phillips.
Wood spurned two chances to increase their lead shortly after, Wellard was guilty of dwelling on the ball and was robbed by Reynolds who advanced and shot wide with Sonner in a good position then, Noto blasted over from close range from a corner.
Todd was replaced by Scott Harris in time to join the attack as Smith was fouled one yard outside the Wood penalty area but Joseph’s free kick was too high then another foul, this time on Harrison, was sent goal-wards by Wellard but headed out by a defender to the waiting Joseph who volleyed over from the edge of the box.
As the game progressed Wood, somewhat understandably, subjected their hosts to blatant time-wasting, especially keeper Anstead, but weak refereeing from Mr Martin allowed them to get away with it.
Three more points dropped, now Mark has the task of picking up his men in time for the first of three cup semi-finals, home to AFC Hayes in the Middlesex Senior Cup, on Tuesday. Then, following next Saturday’s home tie with Sutton United, Ashford visit Harrow Borough in the League Cup before entertaining Epsom and Ewell in the Surrey Senior Cup the following Thursday, with tricky trips to Tonbridge Angels and Tooting & Mitcham United sandwiched in between.