Ashford Still On Course For Title

SCEFL Premier Division
Tuesday April 4 2017 19.45

Ashford United moved six points clear at the top of the league with a win at the Belmont. Whitstable started well and the big Ashford goalkeeper George Kamurasi had to make two smart saves from Frankie Sawyer. A controversial free kick awarded to Ashford was headed past Dan Eason by Shaun Welford on 14 minutes to give the visitors the lead. Whitstable continued to create a few chances, but could not find a way through and, after a quiet spell, a long ball caught out the home defence and Matt Day made it 2-0 with a good finish as half time approached. The second half was notable more for a series of cards than any good football, with James Morrish and Charlie Smith both being sent off for Whitstable, although Eason had to make a couple of great saves to prevent Ashford scoring again. The introduction of Jack Mahoney and Seb Rowland seemed to inject more variety into the Whitstable game plan and despite having only nine men on the pitch, the home side had a few good chances in the closing stages, but there was to be no way back.

For Whitstable, Aaron Quain and Bola Dawodu returned to the starting eleven, but there were still several regular defenders unavailable as they took on an Ashford team looking to win their remaining five fixtures to clinch the title. In front of a good midweek crowd, Whitstable had the better of the opening minutes and might well have taken the lead. Good play by Dawodu on the right created an early chance for Sawyer, who turned and shot low across goal, only to be denied by the diving Kamurasi. On 10 minutes the Ashford keeper had to come out to head a through ball clear, but the home side continued to press and eventually Kane Rowland sent a left footed volley over the bar. Craig Thompson then played a clever pass to send Sawyer clear again, but this time he was denied by the legs of Kamurasi with the ball rebounding into the path of Thompson whose shot was too high.

George Kamurasi gets down to save from Frankie Sawyer
Kamurasi denies Sawyer again

The complexion of the game changed shortly afterwards however as Dawodu appeared to win the ball cleanly as Ashford tried to break down the right, but the referee awarded a free kick. After the Whitstable protests had subsided, David Botterill whipped the ball into the box where Welford rose to glance the ball into the net.

Shaun Welford puts Ashford in front

Back at the other end a good low cross from Aaron Quain was pushed away by Kamurasi, before Dawodu shot over from just outside the box and then the same player headed a Quain free kick straight at the goalkeeper. The game then went through a quiet spell with both sides doing their best to keep the ball in the air as it was lifted aimlessly backwards and forwards more often than not. On 35 minutes Rory Hill, despite losing a boot, was brought down as he tried to break into the box, earning a booking for Dawodu. The resulting free kick was tipped over the bar by Eason and from the corner that followed, the ball bobbled around a bit in the box before falling to Welford, who stabbed it wide of the post. A few minutes later though the home defence failed to deal properly with a ball forward that was helped on by Welford into the path of Day, who found himself in space and struck a nice half volley past Eason into the far corner. As half time approached, some further Ashford pressure threatened a third goal, but Welford glanced a header wide from a corner and Eason saved from Day as Whitstable struggled to clear.

Coming out for the second half with a two goal deficit, Whitstable never seriously looked like turning things around and the game became quite scrappy. The ball went across the Whitstable goal several times in an early Ashford attack, but the ball ended safely in the hands of Eason. On 53 minutes there was a bit of a scuffle in midfield involving a number of players and three ended up in the book as a result. Welford was then late with a challenge on Bryant as he cleared the ball, but escaped a booking. Mahoney came on in place of Thompson for Whitstable and Adrian Stone replaced Day for the visitors. Just before the hour mark, a Whitstable free kick was cleared and as Ashford tried to break Morrish pulled back his opponent on the halfway line. The reaction of the Ashford player was not the best, but Morrish then went in with his head and was deservedly shown a red card. Hill struck a free kick wide of the home goal before being substituted by Ryan Palmer on 68 minutes. A great cross from the left by Welford found Danny Stubbs unmarked in front of goal, but his close range header was very well saved by Eason.

Sawyer made a good run down the right for Whitstable, but the shot went wide of the far post. Ashford then made their final substitution as Joe Vines took the place of Richard Avery. On 77 minutes Whitstable were down to nine as Smith, already on a yellow card, made an unnecessary challenge near the halfway line and walked off before the referee had a chance to get his cards out. Welford headed the ball back across the goal to Stubbs, who in turn headed it over the bar. A Palmer cross was then headed towards goal by Stone, but Eason pulled off another good save. Seb Rowland replaced Sawyer and Quain pushed further forward for Whitstable, who then perhaps surprisingly started to cause more problems for the relatively untroubled Ashford defence as they started to make some threatening runs. Quain beat several players and sent over a good cross, but there was no one on the end of it. He then received a misplaced Ashford pass that left him through on goal, but as he took time to work it on to his left foot, he eventually rounded the keeper but a defender got back to deflect his shot for a corner.

Aaron Quain sees his shot deflected past the post

A push in the back sent Quain over the touchline, but the officials failed to spot it and Quain was booked for his reaction, much to the amusement of the players and others around the ground. Ashford won three successive late corners that came to nothing, before a great run by Seb Rowland ended with a foul on the edge of the box and a booking for the visitors. Quain sent the free kick into the side netting and the match ended a couple of minutes later.

Ashford therefore remain in pole position to win the league title and possible promotion, although nothing is certain at this stage. Whitstable started and ended the game positively, but both teams played a similar route one style for most of the game and Ashford were better at it than the hosts, who must also reflect on a couple of moments of unnecessary indiscipline.

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, Charlie Smith, Aaron Quain, Tom Bryant (c), Calvin Sedenu, Ollie Lee, Bola Dawodu, James Morrish, Craig Thompson (Jack Mahoney 57), Frankie Sawyer (Seb Rowland 79), Kane Rowland.
Subs (unused): Harry Brown, Brendon Cass, Harry Brooks.
Yellow cards: Bola Dawodu 35, Charlie Smith 53, 77, Craig Thompson 53, Aaron Quain 85.
Red cards: James Morrish 60, Charlie Smith (two yellows) 77.

Ashford United
George Kamurasi, Stuart West (c), Fraser Walker, David Botterill, Richard Avery (Joe Vines 72), Pat Kingwell, Danny Stubbs, Jason Goodchild, Shaun Welford, Matt Day (Adrian Stone 58), Rory Hill (Ryan Palmer 68).
Subs (unused): Luke Eldridge, George Savage.
Goals: Shaun Welford 14, Matt Day 40.
Yellow cards: Rory Hill 53, Jason Goodchild 60, David Botterill 90+1.

Attendance: 201
Referee: Richard Joss
Assistants: Ryan Chantril-Smith & Mark Cheeseman