A six-goal thriller at Tonbridge Angels on Saturday in the FA Trophy enabled Ashford to come away with a 3-3 draw against their high flying Step 3 rivals, leaving the sides to resume battle at Short Lane in a replay on Tuesday evening, kick-off 7.45 p.m.  It was a bitter-sweet result for the Tangerines, who took a three goal lead early in the second half, only for Tonbridge to fight back hard to stay in the competition, achieving that with eight minutes, plus stoppage time, left on the clock.  Ashford would certainly have settled for a draw beforehand against a very good side but in the end it was inevitable that there was a tinge, but only a tinge, of disappointment that they had not been able to hold on for the win.  Over the 90 minutes though, the result was probably about right.

The afternoon did not get off to a great start, with a traffic accident on the M25 causing a major hold up, with the result that the kick-off was delayed by 25 minutes.  Our thanks go to Tonbridge for their forbearance but it does seem that someone up there doesn’t like us too much following the motorway closure on the way to Herne Bay in the FA Cup and the trials and tribulations of getting to Shortwood in an earlier round.  A home draw or two wouldn’t go amiss next season!

In front of a crowd of 381, Ashford did not seem to be affected by the delay and after early exchanges got their noses in front when the hard working Dan Fleming charged down a poor clearance to give his side the lead on 15 minutes.  There was a degree of quality about their play at this stage which possibly surprised their opponents, and although the visiting defence was kept busy with Kav Keadell in goal excelling again, it didn’t seem a major surprise when Ashford doubled the lead.  Again it arose from a mistake, that once again saw Fleming heavily involved.  He managed to secure possession on the left flank and a pin point cross enabled Mark Bitmead to dive forward and head into an empty net.

Ashford were less than impressed with some of the refereeing decisions and also had to re-adjust just before half-time when Joe Green at right back had to come off, feeling unwell.  Romario Jonas though was a more than adequate replacement.

Despite some close affairs, Ashford held on until half-time and just eight minutes into the second period, Kam English who had had a quiet match to that point burst forward into the penalty area with his accustomed pace and was brought down.  Bitmead made no mistake from the spot and Ashford were suddenly three up.

If they could then have held out for any length of time it may have been different but all credit to Tonbridge who were finally getting their game together and pulled one back within two minutes through Nick Wheeler.  Ashford were more than aware that they now had a fight on their hands, especially when the same player reduced the arrears further on just 68 minutes.

Although they still looked dangerous on the break, especially with Tonbridge throwing men forward, it was largely backs to the wall stuff now.  A possibly defining moment came when Max Webb was the victim of a late tackle by Tonbridge’s Jack Parter, who had already been cautioned and it looked a nailed on red card but referee Searle who had been very quick to caution others on both sides, backed away from the decision and administered no more than a talking to.  Webb, who had been immense for Ashford in midfield, and was rightly voted “Ashford man of the match” had to leave the field soon afterwards, and Tonbridge wisely substituted Parter.

Ashford continued to hold out but the pressure was ever-growing with Tonbridge hitting the woodwork on more than one occasion.  On 82 minutes though, it finally told as the experienced Nathan Elder equalised for his side and it could not be said to be undeserved.

Mr. Beale then decided that he needed to play a full six minutes of stoppage time but there were no further dramas and, as mentioned, the two sides will now replay on Tuesday evening at Short Lane, kick-off 7.45 p.m.

The view was expressed afterwards, not by anyone from the Tangerine camp it should be emphasised, that Ashford had blown their chance of a big upset and that Tonbridge would find matters more straightforward in the replay.  Time will tell!