Evo-Stik League Southern Division One Central,
Emotions ran high at the Robert Parker Stadium as an afternoon that began with the ground falling silent in honour of Ashford Town’s late President Ernie Britzman ended with the home support offering vocal feedback to referee John Taafe on his performance after Woodford United completed a “smash and grab” away win.
While the match was not an easy one to control, there were certain inconsistencies in the officials’ decision-making that angered players and supporters alike, but that is not the reason the Ash Trees lost this game. Paul Burgess’ side had more than enough chances to have won the match but were wasteful in front of goal and that was their undoing.
To be fair to the visitors, they came to Middlesex with a game plan and executed it superbly and were a well-organised and hard-working outfit. This match was a clash of styles, with Ashford playing some good football in parts, while the visitors were robust and direct and had no qualms about imposing themselves on the match.
Ashford began the game passing superbly and Pietro Palladino caused problems for the Woodford defence right from the kick-off. However, the visitors looked dangerous on the counter-attack and appealed strongly for a penalty after home ‘keeper Paul McCarthy rushed from his goal and looked to have caught the onrushing forward. Mr Taafe adjudged McCarthy had played the ball and awarded a corner, from which Nat Liburd’s header forced a reflex save.
In the 15th minute, Ed Thomas hit a shot straight at visiting stopper Matt Finlay, before Palladino ghosted past three defenders and fired across Finlay’s goal. The diminutive striker also shot straight at Finlay from a long throw by Jim Mann.
However, Ashford switched off briefly in the 29th minute and Paul McCarthy had to work hard to keep the ball out, conceding a corner from which Woodford captain Chris Jackson headed into the net.
The home side continued to push forward, and were convinced they would be awarded a 39th minute penalty for handball, but referee Taafe turned down the appeals. Shortly afterwards, United defender Ben Milner elbowed Palladino in the head, but was not penalised for what would have been a sending-off offence had it been spotted.
The Tangerines started the second half superbly, and Woodford United had to defend desperately to preserve their lead, although only Ed Thomas and Jack Mullan actually forced saves during their team’s purple patch at the start of the second half, although Ashford’s Dan Brown hit a shot from the edge of the box that was spilled by Finlay just after the hour.
In the 66th minute, Ashford were caught cold by their visitors, who hit them on the break and scored a fine goal. Liburd’s run allowed him to put in a fine cross, which was half-cleared to Wes Emery, who drilled home a venomous shot from 20 yards.
Ashford were now chasing the game, which took an unsavoury turn twelve minutes from time when Finlay raced from his goal to put the ball out for a throw under pressure from Palladino. As the striker attempted to take a quick throw, he was grabbed around the waist by the goalkeeper, who slammed his opponent into the pitch. Palladino leapt to his feet and was barged into the pitch perimeter fence for his trouble. Both players were booked, Mr Taafe being kind enough to explain after the game that he felt Finlay was trying to slow the game down as opposed to committing violent conduct, while Palladino’s reaction was what earned him a booking.
There was a further contretemps involving players in midfield after that and Jim Mann headed over the bar from a corner before Ashford had two further penalty appeals for handball waved away. United closed out the game after that, and celebrated three hard-earned points.