Saturday, August 25th 2012
FA Cup Preliminary Round
In unbelievable conditions, these two sides battled out their Preliminary Round match, with the winners picking up a cheque for £1750 from the FA prize fund, and a step further into the greatest cup competition in the world. The rain was incredible, battering the ground incessantly in the build up to the game, so much so that I was fully expecting the match to get called off. But ahead it went, and there was no letup from the heavens for the entire first forty five. In fact, just down the road at Staines Town, the match was abandoned after just eight minutes!
In the treacherous, slippery conditions, it was the side from the Spartan South Midlands League that drew first blood, Connor Waite beating Ashford ‘keeper well from twenty yards. Mark Bitmead had a chance to level three minutes later when a cross from Alex Duffy was cleared to him, but he hit his shot wide from the edge of the box. Ashford then hit the post, before Tring skipper Graham Hall hit a dipping volley from twenty five yards over the bar.
Ashford were struggling to break down the massed ranks of the visitors’ defence, resorting to hopeful long range efforts that never troubled Athletic ‘keeper Mike Underwood. In the last proceedings of the first half, the home side had five successive corners, all of which caused havoc in the Tring defence. In fact, Ed Thomas’ delivery was superb for the whole afternoon. From one of these corners, defender Bairoh Conteh headed powerfully home, only to see his effort wrongly ruled out for a foul. Half Time: Ashford Town 0 Tring Athletic 1
The second half was brighter in more ways than one. The sun came out, at last, and Ashford equalised within 56 seconds of the restart, Mark Bitmead finishing well from the right corner of the penalty area. Sensing the tie was now in their favour, the home side poured forward looking for the vital second goal. Dan Brown just failed to get a touch on Bitmead’s low cross, and then Kofi Lockhart-Adams fired wide. Then, a great move from the home side saw Bitmead almost get in on goal, but he was denied by Underwood, who raced out to smother the ball.
The last fifteen minutes were the best of the match. Paul McCarthy, the Ashford goalie, flapped at a cross, but then redeemed himself with a stunning save from Hall’s piledriver, before Bitmead, Ashford’s standout player on the day, stung the palms of Underwood with a fierce left foot strike. Town substitute Scott Weight headed over from a corner, before the outstanding Tring frontman Reon Thomas lifted a shot just over the top under pressure form McCarthy and his defence. Thomas had worked his socks off in a lone role, and deserved a goal for his efforts. Into the last couple of minutes, and Ashford right back Harry Knock hit a spectacular thirty yard drive with his left foot that Underwood just managed to scramble wide.
The real drama of this match, though, came in stoppage time, and the Tring skipper was heavily involved. From a corner, Graham Hall scored what looked to be the upset-causing winning goal, flicking in at the near post. However, the home side were not finished, and a Bitmead free kick ended up being headed into his own net by the unfortunate Hall. It was the least Ashford deserved to be honest, as they were the better side and had the better goal efforts, but then that’s why we love the FA Cup isn’t it?
I should just take this opportunity to apologise for the tardiness of the report. I was hoping to make the replay, and do a double report. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t make the game in Hertfordshire, but Ashford prevailed, and won 2-0 thanks to goals from Dan Brown and Kofi Lockhart-Adams.