Over the years Ashford have enjoyed plenty of notable cup successes in various competitions and there was another one on Wednesday evening, when a 3-2 victory at Ryman Premier side Leatherhead ensured a place in the quarter finals, the draw for which will be made sometime next week.
On an evil looking evening, weather wise, Leatherhead’s playing surface was a credit to their club and some of the early play was excellent with both teams looking to pass the ball around and keep it on the floor as much as possible, surely the right tactic in the difficult conditions. Ashford were missing Rob Curtis but both Jack Mulland and Mitchal Gough were back. Joe Green also started at right back after several weeks absence.
Compared to the determination on show from Enfield Town the previous week in the Charity Cup, Leatherhead did not look to have quite the same degree of persistence and Ashford found themselves able to express themselves far more when on the ball. Nevertheless Tyler Tobin was the busier keeper in the first half and his smartness, allied by a well drilled defence looked as if it would send the teams in level at half-time. It was disappointing for the visitors, therefore, to concede four minutes before the break when an excellent save from Tobin rebounded to a forward who would have struggled to miss from close range and he didn’t.
Ashford were then dealt a double blow at half-time with both strikers Mark Bitmead and Dan Fleming leaving the match, hopefully with minor knocks. That meant that the Tangerines, or rather the Azures, took the field for the second period with no recognised striker, although Max Webb, Jack Beadle and super-sub Samad Kazi pushed up as much as they could. A second goal from Leatherhead just three minutes in saw the odds on an Ashford win at Bet 365 out to 100-1, and we know of one lucky punter (not an official or player, we hasten to add) who laid out £20 and thus did rather well come the final reckoning.
On the terraces the feeling after the second goal was that, despite the fact that Ashford had actually played quite well, it would now be a case of keeping the score down more than anything else against their talented and pacey rivals.
The moment that changed the game though arrived just eight minutes later when Webb was bundled over in the box for a penalty. In the absence of Bitmead, up stepped the confident Mitchal Gough fresh from serving a most undeserved three match ban, and he scored past ex Staines keeper Louis Wells, to halve the arrears.
With the rain and wind behind them, even though it was swirling around a bit, Ashford suddenly sensed there might be something in the game for them and that became a reality just six minutes later when an uninterrupted run from the excellent Tommy Brunton saw Samad Kazi in and his cool finish gave Wells no chance.
Just two minutes later the comeback was complete as Jack Beadle scored the goal of the match, plucking a high cross out of the air with immaculate control and with no home defenders anywhere near him, he calmly shot past Wells who again had no chance.
That still left some 25 minutes to go and Leatherhead came close on a number of occasions, one block from Jack Mullan preventing a certain goal. Generally though, their attacks lacked conviction and Ashford could have scored again themselves, with Kazi hitting one narrowly wide and an audacious attempt from Gough, later honoured with the Ashford “man of the match” award, went just over.
Another cheering moment came some six minutes from the end when Ryan Dearden came on after several months out with a broken arm. Referee Creswick prolonged the agony for four long minutes but the final whistle eventually came, and Ashford were through to the last eight. A big thank you goes to Leatherhead whose officials, just like Woking’s, were superb after the match and their hospitality was second to none.
Ashford will now face one of: Tooting & Mitcham, Met Police, Colliers Wood United, Merstham, Westfield or Redhill, Molesey or Epsom & Ewell, or Corinthian-Casuals or Badshot Lea in the quarter final.