Ashford Town (Middlesex) 2

St Albans City 6

The FA Cup with Budweiser, Second Qualifying Round
Robert Parker Stadium
22nd September 2012

The FA Cup with BudweiserIt was in "If" that Rudyard Kipling wrote the following:

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
...
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

That epic poem came to mind after this FA Cup tie, in which Ashford were well beaten by their higher ranked opponents.  A week before this match, the Tangerines won 5-1 at Walton Casuals in the FA Trophy but, in the longer term, this defeat might prove more valuable as an education for Paul Burgess' young team.

Following the midweek defeat at home to Burnham, Paul Burgess was forced to shuffle his team after defender Bairoh Conteh was ruled out through injury.  Jack Mullan moved into defence, with Alex Duffy coming into the midfield.  St Albans City arrived at the Robert Parker Stadium fifth in the Premier Division of the Southern League and in good form, as well as boasting more experience than the young home side; the visitors including former Watford player Micah Hyde and being captained by former Staines Town skipper Danny Gordon.

The first half of this match was breathless stuff, both teams looking to attack in numbers and at pace.  The first two goals of the match were scored within a minute of each other, the visitors taking the lead in the seventh minute when a rapid break allowed Sean Shields to shoot across Paul McCarthy.  Almost immediately, the Ash Trees were level, Dan Brown winning the ball and finding Alex Duffy, whose cross was volleyed in off the far post by Mark Bitmead.

Both sides were threatening to add to the goal tally, with Bitmead firing a free-kick just wide and Kofi Lockhart-Adams forcing a fantastic save from Nick Jupp with a header.  From the rebound, a shot appeared to be blocked by the hand of a defender who was shielding his face, but the officials deemed that no infringement had taken place.  Shortly after that, Shields scored his - and the Saints - second goal, curling a 23rd minute shot through a crowd of players and inside McCarthy's far post.

Six minutes later, Shields completed his hat-trick, firing a vicious shot past the unsighted McCarthy.  In the 35th minute, Ashford went 4-1 down when a shot struck Russell Canderton's arm as he shielded his face.  Despite the apparent similarities between this incident and the one at the other end fifteen minutes before, the outcome was different, referee Jones pointing to the spot.  Micah Hyde's penalty was emphatic, sending McCarthy the wrong way.

Regular Ashford fans would have been forgiven for casting their minds back to the incredible comeback the team had constructed in last season's Middlesex Charity Cup Final, but any dreams of turning the tie around were dashed within three minutes of the second half starting.  The visitors once again swept forward and McCarthy made two fine saves but the ball wasn't cleared and Simon Martin was left with a simple finish.

Perhaps understandably, the second half was played at a slightly lower tempo, but Ashford continued to battle away in a bid to turn the match around.  Lockhart-Adams and substitute Perry Luckins both had half chances to reduce the defecit, while an Ed Thomas cross flashed across the face of the goal.  However, the Saints were not finished and added a sixth when substitute Chris Henry crashed in a spectacular goal from long-range.

To their credit, Ashford never stopped trying and did pull a goal back with twelve minutes remaining, substitute Samad Kazi turning in a low cross which Dan Brown and Kofi Lockhart-Adams both went for, Brown helping Lockhart-Adams to crash the ball home.

So, Ashford exit from The FA Cup, but there is no disgrace in losing to a side from a higher level and there is much to learn from this match.  It is important that the Tangerines do not lose heart and put this defeat behind them before the trip to Grays Athletic next weekend.              

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