Bully boys beaten at their own game

Surrey Herald/News - - FOOTBALL -

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.

Chris Whi­teoak

Jumping for joy: Mark Bit­mead cel­e­brates with boss Ben Mur­ray after putting Ash­ford 4-1 ahead at Cove.

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