Bully boys beaten at their own game
THERE’S nothing more satisfying than giving a bully a taste of their own medicine and Ben Murray will be proud of the way his Ashford side stood up to intimidatory tactics in this top-two collision, writes Clive Youlton. Known more for their battering-ram approach using long throws and long balls forward while questioning the referee at every turn, Cove came a cropper against a side who tried to play their football on an awful surface but ultimately won the clash with a routeone ploy taken right out of their hosts’ text book. After three league defeats in their past four matches, the accusation bound to be thrown at Murray’s men is that, rather like most of us after our Christmas meal, they have a soft underbelly. They can’t mix it. Good footballers but unable to scrap. In fact Cove were banking on it but that notion was quickly dispensed with at the final whistle – Ashford prevailing but being given a scare after leading 4-1 three minutes after half time. “It was a great performance from the lads and I’m really pleased with the reaction after the last two games,” said Murray, whose previous outing was a 3-0 league cup defeat at Camberley Town. Ashford got off to the perfect start on six minutes when Mark Bitmead, now back from injury and match-fit again, scampered down the right before centring to the far post. Jack Beadle controlled, looked to have messed up, but gathered himself to put the visitors 1-0 up. As if that wasn’t a dent in Cove’s armour, a terrible error from left-back Sam Boultwood after 14 minutes, when he passed the ball straight to Bitmead while clearing, meant his keeper Sam Johnson-Freeman having to turn aside the resultant fiercely-hit shot for a corner. And from that dead ball, Alex Fisher’s cross from the right saw Johnson-Freeman flap at it, the ball falling to the excellent Max Webb who controlled and smashed home. Cove retaliated and when Tyler Tobin saved from Marlow loanee Leius Sinclair, Paul Coventry cracked the rebound wide but Adam Everiss’s deflected free kick on 27 minutes gave Cove a foothold. That lasted just two minutes though as Johnson-Freeman was again exposed when he came out to head clear Beadle’s hoof forward. The keeper back-headed under pressure and when the ball was only halfcleared to Bitmead, the wide man sized up the chance and expertly lobbed into an empty net from 25 yards for 3-1. That two-goal cushion became three, three minutes after half time. Tommy Brunton’s back pass received a huge welly from Tobin, Bitmead first to react as he scuttled clear again in the inside right position before brilliantly finding the net with a shot across Johnson-Freeman’s bows. Cove then began to do what they do best. Their second goal on 65 minutes came from a free kick by Aaron Parfitt – the skipper’s right boot and long throws used as the launchpad for many a Cove assault. Julian Sills headed across goal and Coventry turned in from close range. Ashford were denied a penalty by weak officiating as Dan Fleming was blatantly tripped in the penalty area by Sills, only for the referee to embarrassingly book Fleming for diving. Gary Cahill’s dying swan act this was not. In the melee that followed, Johnson-Freeman was sent off for throwing the ball in Brunton’s face, Stuart Harris taking over in Cove’s goal. Mysteriously, Ashford new boy Mitchell Gough saw red too five minutes later, possibly for verbals, as the numbers were evened up with 15 to go. When Sinclair turned in a cross in the 83rd minute, Ashford might have stumbled but thanks to Tobin and his heroic defenders, the visitors clinched three massive points. “You can play, you can set up, you can go and watch the opposition but the problem is when you give away four poor individual goals, what chance do you really have?” groaned Cove boss Anthony Millerick. “We said at half time, individual errors cost us and if we cut those out, we always felt we would have chances to get back in the game. “With better personal decisions going in the other direction perhaps we would of. Fair play to Ashford, they were by far the better team in the first half and we were the better team second half. Unfortunately we left ourselves too much of a mountain to climb. “I said beforehand the team who end up top will not be decided by the outcome here but we could have dished out a major blow to them. It’s a blow for us but we will come again.”
In the CCL Premier Spelthorne Sports v Hartley Wintney was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch while in the Evo-Stik Division One Central, Egham’s clash at North Greenford was called off because of a frozen surface.
Jumping for joy: Mark Bitmead celebrates with boss Ben Murray after putting Ashford 4-1 ahead at Cove.