Ashford came very close on Saturday to completing a league double over Camberley, leading by the only goal of the game right through until the 2nd minutes of stoppage time, when the home side finally forced an equaliser. The result has opened up the championship race, with Camberley now six points ahead of Molesey, with two matches left, whereas Molesey have two games in hand. On top of that, the two sides meet next Saturday at Molesey and that is not likely to be one for the faint hearted.
Back to yesterday and there was some concern amongst the sizeable Ashford contingent of supporters when they realised just how many regulars were missing. At the back, Bobby Dormer was suspended, skipper Russell Canderton was missing after a freak eye injury at work whilst Alex Fisher was sitting in a hotel somewhere waiting for Middx County FA to play their County Youth Final today (Sunday).
Others missing were Rob Curtis (injured), Ryan Dearden (injured) and Mark Bitmead (lured away to Kingstonian at the most inconvenient moment, and no doubt also putting his feet up, with them also not playing until today). In saying that, the Club would wish Mark and any player who can make it at a higher level the very best of luck. Let’s just hope they play him today and not leave him warming the bench though.
It was, therefore, an unfamiliar Ashford line-up, which included 17year old Ilia Petrovic, making his first 1st team start after a few cameos from the bench. In central defence we had Mitchal Gough and Max Webb, the latter usually in midfield. Just in front of them sat the returning Elliott Jones, whilst Sam Balfour came back to occupy the right flank, after missing the last two months. The full backs were Joe Green and Samad Kazi.
Despite the apparent hotch-potch, the whole side gave it their all and in an intense encounter against a Camberley side hell bent upon winning the league, did more than enough to earn a draw and almost made it three.
The opening exchanges were fierce and Camberley’s main striker Perry Coles could possibly consider himself fortunate to get away with two late tackles that angered the Ashford bench. After being cautioned for the first one, he escaped with a telling off for the second. The incidents though raised the temperature and Ashford, playing down the slope, were in no mood to give way to their generally more powerful opponents, taking the lead on 35 minutes when Jack Beadle exchanged a one-two with Dan Fleming and after dribbling into the penalty area hit an unstoppable shot past Craig Bradshaw in the home goal.
The second half saw Camberley playing down the slope and the anticipated onslaught with just about every ball being launched forward from distance certainly materialised. Most though were defended well although it has to be said that Camberley seemed to be lacking their usual killer instinct. Nevertheless the pressure was intense at times and was not greatly relieved when Coles finally got what some saw as his comeuppance, committing one foul too many and receiving his marching orders, although this particular tackle did not look unduly nasty.
Despite the Camberley pressure, Ashford arguably had the best two chances of scoring. The first came when Dan Fleming was sent clear through on goal but he hit his fierce effort a yard over the crossbar as Bradshaw came racing out. The second came when Tommy Brunton was unceremoniously hacked down in the area for the clearest possible penalty unless, of course, you were the referee who, much to the ire and incredulity of the Ashford supporters waived play on. Fleming also went down under a challenge soon afterwards but this time the referee was probably right in not awarding a spot kick.
Do referees look to even things up after a player has been sent off for one side? None will admit to it but with the home side braying at Mr. Edwards (just as, and let’s be honest, Ashford would have done) every time a foul was committed, it became almost inevitable that Ashford would also go down to ten and the unlucky man was Samad Kazi, whose two alleged tackles were barely fouls let along worthy of any disciplinary action.
Camberley intensified their attacking movements but seemed to have no plan B other than the long ball and Ashford continued to hold out until deep into stoppage time. Finally though a fairly innocuous shot from Nick Sowden beat the excellent Tyler Tobin in Ashford’s goal, taking what looked like an unexpected bounce into the corner of the net. It was a shame for Tobin and for Ashford in general but it made for probably the fairest result, although another excellent stop from the young Ashford keeper was needed to prevent the home side taking all three points right at the death
It is difficult to mention everyone in the Ashford ranks as absolutely everyone gave of their best. Petrovic looks a good prospect and did well, after a nervous start. Every member of the defence stuck to their task magnificently against no mean opposition but Mitchal Gough stood out and, not for the first time, was voted Ashford’s “man of the match”. Up front Dan Fleming never flagged despite missing his usual strike parrtner, whilst Balfour certainly did not look like a player playing his first match for several weeks. Elliott Jones was a colossus in midfield for the Tangerines as well but well done everyone.
There are now just two matches left, and on Tuesday the Tangerines travel to Farnham Town. There is still 3rd place to be fought over with Cove, who scored two injury time goals on Saturday at Mole Valley to rescue a point and the good news is that Ashford should have some if not all their missing players back, although it would actually be quite difficult to leave anyone out.
In the tightest run-in for many years in the CCL, either Camberley or Molesey will be crowned champions and whoever wins it in the end will have done it the hard way with any number of recent results showing that on their day the clubs lower in the table can beat those above them. In a very tough competition it will be the most consistent club in the end that wins through but Ashford send their best wishes to both Molesey and Camberley, both of whom should be well equipped to do well at the next level.