Ash­ford make a per­fect start

HIS­TORIC VICTORY: Men be­gin life in South­ern Premier Divi­sion with bat­tling win against tough Pur­ley side

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Classified -

THE WAIT­ING is over and a his­toric day at Ash­ford Hockey Club’s Ball Lane ground rounded off a spec­tac­u­lar de­but in the South­ern Premier Divi­sion, as Ash­ford held on for a mas­sive moral-boost­ing victory.

Fac­ing the Lon­don out­fit who were rel­e­gated from the divi­sion above, this was a re­ally tough open­ing game for Jen Wil­son’s squad.

A mid­week blow was news that star striker Mike Wood may miss a chunk of the league sea­son due to knee prob­lems.

Wood has car­ried the at­tack for­ward for many years, but he is a big char­ac­ter and is sure to come back and play a ma­jor part in this cru­cial first sea­son for Ash­ford in the top flight.

The home fans, as usual, of­fered great sup­port and Ash­ford clicked into top gear al­most im­me­di­ately as Smith fed the right side of mid­field, Cheap did well to elim­i­nate a player or two be­fore he found Han­d­ley in space, Han­d­ley’s quick vi­sion found Hill in the area, and Andy Hill’s clever first-time touch guided the ball past the keeper on 55 sec­onds.

The stunned vis­i­tors re­alised then that Ash­ford were de­ter­mined not to just make up the num­bers.

The first half was dom­i­nated by a home side burst­ing with con­fi­dence and the en­ergy and unity shocked Pur­ley.

Be­fore they could find their feet Sam Han­d­ley had run onto a through ball, turned quickly and chipped the ball over the ad­vanc­ing goal­keeper for 2-0.

Chris Smith found the sort of range with his pass­ing that dev­as­tated the Re­gional League last year and the newly reshuf­fled for­ward line of Cheap, Hill and Han­d­ley looked a real hand­ful.

Han­d­ley, at cen­tre for­ward, has im­proved tremen­dously and took on the man­tle of lead­ing the line.

Pur­ley found their feet 20 min­utes in but squan­dered good op­por­tu­ni­ties and Keir Star­ley saved from close range and Pur­ley failed to con­vert as the ball ran across the face of goal.

On half time the vis­i­tors pulled one back with a short cor­ner de­flected and just creep­ing in.

This was a game of two halves where, in the first, Ash­ford’s en­ergy and slick at­tack had given Pur­ley lit­tle room to get into the con­test, but Ash­ford found them­selves up against a very ver­bal and fired up Pur­ley team, soon re­duced to 10 men for dis­sent. The game opened up when Han­d­ley burst through and the fab­u­lous com­bi­na­tion with Hill ran the Pur­ley cen­tre backs ragged. The same pair then com­bined down the left and Han­d­ley swiv­elled and smashed home the third, send­ing Ash­ford into dream­land for a sec­ond, but re­al­ity was soon upon them as Pur­ley were re­stored to a full com­ple­ment.

They built wave af­ter wave of at­tacks, forc­ing a dou­ble save from Star­ley and some pretty brave de­fend­ing from Os­car Hum­mer­stone, who had his best game in an Ash­ford shirt since sign­ing from Can­ter­bury, and Toby Clifton Holt grew into the role at cen­tre back, dom­i­nat­ing and mar­shalling the back line and lead­ing by ex­am­ple.

The match turned when Pur­ley scored a sec­ond af­ter four suc­ces­sive short cor­ners, Star­ley beaten low to his right.

Ash­ford then saw Dan Wells harshly sin-binned for a fifty/ fifty chal­lenge that ended in a col­li­sion and Pur­ley had a very fast de­flec­tion tipped onto the post by Star­ley.

Ash­ford held on to take the win and there were many fine per­for­mances over the field with skip­per Chris Smith in­spi­ra­tional in the mid­dle , Han­d­ley was men­ac­ing and clin­i­cal, Hill creative, Hum­mer­stone com­mit­ted and bril­liantly ef­fi­cient while Star­ley made big saves at the death.

New­comer Paul Cheap also looks to be bedding in nicely since his trans­fer from ri­vals Folke­stone.

Credit must go to the team’s dou­ble Olympian South African Jen Wil­son whose prepa­ra­tion and her abil­ity to in­stil be­lief went a long way on the day.

Ash­ford look to avenge their play-off de­feat of two years ago with their trip to Lon­don Way­far­ers on Satur­day.

Pic­ture: DAVE PAR­SONS

Danny Wells drives in to get in his chal­lenge against Pur­ley on Satur­day

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