Ashford United 1-1 Sittingbourne - The boys were fantastic in their efforts and desire and we would've taken a draw here, says Sittingbourne boss Aslan Odev

Tuesday 25th September 2018
Ashford United 1 – 1 Sittingbourne
Location Homelands Stadium, Ashford Road, Kingsnorth, Ashford, Kent TN26 1NJ
Kickoff 25/09/2018 19:45

Bostik South East Division
Tuesday 25 September 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Homelands Stadium

SITTINGB0URNE manager Aslan Odev says he would've taken a point before the game at Ashford United tonight.


The Brickies remain in fourth-place in the Bostik South East Division table with 13 points on the board from seven games, while Ashford United slip down a couple of places into eighth-place with 11 points from the same number of games.

Dead-ball specialists Sittingbourne took the lead through a stunning strike from midfielder Tommy Fagg, but having come back from Guernsey with a 2-1 win on Sunday, tiredness crept into the ranks and Ashford United dominated the rest of the game as soon as winger Ambrose Gnahore also scored from outside the box on the hour-mark.

“I thought we started strong. It’s hard for the boys to get energy levels high and to get the performance going early after the game on Sunday, which is a very, very quick turnaround but I thought the boys were fantastic in the first half and we managed to grind out a result and managed to hold on,” said Odev.

“Guernsey, it’s a long journey, it’s a long day, it’s a long, long day but I thought we managed it well from our visit there last year. We changed the procedure and the warm-ups and the nutrition and things like that and it paid dividends on the day and we managed to get the three points, which meant a lot to me after last season. 

“Today was another good result for us at a tough place to come to.”

Ashford United manager Gary Alexander said: “Obviously a little disappointed we couldn’t get the second goal and go on to win that game.

“Sittingbourne are good at what they do, they put the ball in good areas, they clear it, they’re hard to break down.  They got themselves in front so we gave ourselves a mountain to climb, probably with their only shot on goal tonight and the fellas hit a cracker.

“It’s going to be competitive. I thought we dominated the territory in the game, especially second half. We got our reward in terms of the equaliser but we need to stop going a goal behind! Every time we’ve gone in front this season we’ve gone on to win the game but at the moment we’re a little bit soft under belly after going a goal down but it just shows the boys have got character in the last two games to come out and dominate games and we’ve ended up with something.”

Ashford United, who came away from newly-promoted side Haywards Heath Town with a 1-1 draw at the weekend, created the first opening after only 83 seconds.

Jordan Johnson’s quickly-taken free-kick released Gnahore down the right and he skipped past Tom Loynes to reach the final third and his low cross was cut out by Patrick Lee, low to his right.

Both sets of fans gave this local derby a cracking atmosphere and Ashford United should have scored just after five minutes.

Sam Corne swung in a deep corner from the right and striker Harry Ottaway brought the ball under control with his chest before cracking a right-footed volley, which was plucked out of the air by Lee, moving to his right.

“It’s something we work on, it’s a routine we work on, it’s a chance,” said Alexander.

“Harry’s had a couple of them, he’s not connected with it but he’s got to keep working hard. At the moment Harry’s not getting the rub of the green but he’s working his socks off for the team, so he’s got to keep going and I’m sure it will turn.”

Odev added: “He’s been brilliant for us, Patrick Lee. He’s been one of our outstanding players all season. Unfortunately he may have made an error today but he’s a good boy. He’ll have loads of confidence going into the next game (at home to Ramsgate on Saturday) and he’ll know that’s one to forget about and keep moving forward.”

Sittingbourne then went close exactly 120 seconds later following their first corner of the night.  Both sides won four corners apiece.

Dan Parkinson drove in the ball from the right and Corne’s diving header got the ball away at the near post.  Sittingbourne right-back Chris Webber retrieved the loose ball and fed the ball back to Parkinson, who swung in a cross towards the near post for striker Mobolaji Dawodu to flick his header just over the top of the far post from 12-yards.

“It’s something that Bola’s very good at, his dynamic and good in the air so he’s always going to be a threat. Parkinson, the majority of the time, is going to deliver a good ball, so it’s always going to be a bit of a danger in and around the box,” added Odev.

Sittingbourne keeper Lee pulled off a flying save in the 15th minute to prevent Gnahore scoring from 40-yards.

Centre-halves Antonio Simeone and Josh Wisson played out from the back following a free-kick and fed the ball into Gnahore’s feet. He shifted the ball onto his left-foot and powerfully drilled a left-footed drive towards the top corner, forcing Lee to fly high to his left to push towards safety, before the keeper repeated the diving save to push out Ottaway’s right-wing cross.

“Ambrose has got a wonderful left peg and he’s very aggressive with the football when he gets it,” said Alexander. 

“If we can see more of that from Ambrose, we’re going to have one hell of a player on our hands. It’s a great strike and credit their keeper, it’s a great save.”

Odev added: “They’ve got players who are lethal and they’re going to attack the space and make sure they’re going to get themselves a goal. Patrick Lee, fortunately was equal to that one!”

Sittingbourne’s goal, however, came from open play, timed at 23 minutes and 3 seconds on the clock.

Lee launched a big kick straight down the middle and Fagg flicked his header on for Dawodu to rise to head the ball out to Loynes out on the left. Ashford had a couple of attempts to clear their lines following the low cross and when they did clear, Fagg drilled a beautiful right-footed drive into the top-left-hand corner and past the diving Sam Mott from 25-yards.

“He’s been doing that quite a bit in training so we’ve been waiting for him to do it in a match and today was the day for it to happen,” said Odev.

“We’ve got a fantastic bunch of lads and Tommie Fagg has been brilliant for us and he’s very important to what we do and our philosophy and how we play so it was really good to see him get on the scoresheet.”

Alexander added: “It’s a great strike and we can’t do nothing about that!

“You’re not going to tell me how many shots they’ve had on goal all night. We can probably count on one hand and it’s obviously disappointing. Fair play to the fella, we can do nothing about that, he’s put it into the top corner but we needed to defend better in terms of clearing our lines when we had the opportunities, instead of overplaying which I felt we did a little bit in the first half.”

Parkinson smacked his right-footed free-kick from 25-yards off the wall and the ball sailed just past the top of the far post in the 32nd minute, before Ashford United squandered a glorious chance to level.

Holding midfielder Jordan Johnson floated in a free-kick towards an unmarked Lee Dawson, who sent his header past the right-hand post from inside the six-yard box.

“To be fair, you’d have your house for Daws to score that but it came as a little bit of a surprise,” said Alexander.

“He arrived late and I don’t think he realised that he was going to have that opportunity. He’s got his head on it but we just need a little bit of luck. On another day it might go in the other corner but tonight it’s gone wide.”

Odev admitted it was a big miss from the former Cray Wanderers man.

“In that moment in the game they were building momentum. We were sort of fortunate I suppose he didn’t managed to steer it goalwards but these things happen and we had our chance as well.”

Lee’s kick was superbly trapped by Loynes, who fed left-back Josh Dorling in space down the left wing and after cutting inside and past Wisson, home keeper Mott got down low to his left at his near post to hold onto the ball.

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

Alexander said: “We needed to play higher up the pitch. The boys have got tremendous ability to play football. We saw passages of play again tonight and on Saturday but we need to do it in the right areas and not on the edge of our box. 

“We were the creator of our own problems tonight when we tried to play in and around our penalty area too much.  I’m not saying don’t pass the ball to get us out of trouble but when we play five, six, seven passes around our own penalty area we cause our own problems and that’s something we need to cut out and go and pick up second balls. That’s the level and we need to get used to that.”

Odev added: “Just stay disciplined, keep focused because it was always going to be mentally tough to come here after a short span of time from the Sunday and that was all it was, to stay focused and keep doing the right things and make sure that we defended together and attacked together and stay composed with the football.”

Odev lost left-winger Adebayo to a groin strain and neither Adebayo nor his replacement Harrison Hatful offered any threat down the line.

“We didn’t have too many options on the bench. He’s another one whose been fantastic for us in the absence of Ira Jackson and he’s trying to get his performance levels going to where he knows they can me.  One of my coaches, Nathan Elder, has been working very closely with him to sort of raise his game and he’s getting there slowly but surely.  We’re hoping he’ll be fighting fit for Saturday. He’s hurt the inside of his groin I believe it is. His limping at the moment but fingers crossed he should be fine for Saturday.”

Alexander brought on Siao Blackwood at the interval but he was soon slotting into the right-back position after Simone was forced off six minutes in with a groin strain and Matthew Day supported Ottaway in the final third.

“I think Antonio tweaked his groin as he turned so he’ll be assessed,” said Alexander.

“Siao didn’t play on Saturday, he hasn’t once moaned. He’s come on and within two minutes he was having an effect on the game in the second half.  He made a run forward, which set the tempo almost for the second half with our performance.”

Sittingbourne’s set-piece threat was evident again when after 145 seconds Parkinson’s corner came in from the right and Dawodu found a pocket of space at the near post to send his header sailing across the keeper and past the far post from eight-yards.

“We had our chances and maybe we could’ve got a little bit more from the game if we scored a few more obviously but these things happen and we’re hoping to sort of build from that on Saturday,” added Odev.

Alexander added: “You saw they played for long throws. They play for set-pieces. They’re a big side, they’re well-drilled in terms of set-pieces so they’re going to cause problems at set-pieces, not just for my team but for any team in this league so they’re well-drilled for that and that’s what they play for, so fair play.”

Ashford United grabbed an equaliser with 14 minutes and 21 seconds on the clock and were the more dominant force for the rest of the game.

Corne played the ball inside to Gnahore, who took a touch past his man before drilling a low left-footed drive from 30-yards, which flashed underneath the keeper and nestled into the back of the net.

“Corney picked up the second ball, slipped Ambrose and he showed a good turn of pace and a good strike and luckily for us it’s gone in,” said Alexander.

“It’s gone through the keeper but if you don’t shoot, you don’t score! We had a few opportunities in the first half when we turned and played a pass. I’d rather hit it over the bar than not have a shot.”

Odev added: “His first touch was very, very good, it took him away from the defender straight away and gave him an opportunity to get a good strike at goal but Patrick Lee will know more that he should’ve done more with that. Unfortunately, it’s gone in, but these things happen.”

Ashford United should have taken the lead just 68 seconds later when Day cut the ball back to Ollie Rowe, who fed Corne, who played in Day but he lashed his shot over the crossbar from inside the Sittingbourne penalty area.

Alexander said:  “The momentum was with us at that time.  We asked Matty to get close to Harry and he came on and did that. Matty is a young lad, he’s a young forward and he’s learning his trade at the moment. He came on and he didn’t do himself any harm tonight. He made some good runs and worked his socks off.  The fitter Matty becomes and the more games he plays at this level, the better he’ll become.”

Ashford United increased the tempo following their equaliser and Ottaway drove at the Sittingbourne defence before hitting a low drive from 25-yards, which was initially spilt by Lee, but he gathered at the second attempt.

Ashford United kept knocking on the door but Sittingbourne almost grabbed the winner in the 66th minute – from another set-piece.

Loynes sprinted down the left before he was taken out by Blackwood and Parkinson swung in the resulting free-kick and Ben Fitchett came up from the back to flick his header across the keeper and the ball bounced agonisingly against the base of the far post.

“I thought it was in, I thought it was in, we all did and you’ve seen it strike of the post,” said Odev.

“I thought the second half was mostly in Ashford’s favour but the first half was ours so it was quite an even game. I thought it was quite an even result.”

Alexander added: “It hit the post and the lino gave offside probably for the reaction.

“Sittingbourne are good at what they do. They set-up their long-throws and they set-up their set-pieces and they’re good at what they do and that’s how they play so you have to be prepared for that and I felt second half if you limit teams to set-pieces, you’ve dominated the game and that’s pretty much what we did in the second half.”

Sittingbourne lost left-winger Izzy Adebayo to a groin injury inside the final 20 minutes so Odev decided to change formation to 4-5-1, putting Dawodu on the right wing and leaving substitute striker Johan Caney-Bryan up front on his own.

Ashford United wasted a decent chance when Gnahore hung over a cross from the right and Ottaway rose in the six-yard box to guide his header straight into Lee’s hands.

“That’s Harry’s luck at the moment. Either side of the keeper he’ll probably score, the same thing as Saturday,” Alexander said of his striker who has scored once this season.

“He’s just not getting the rub of the green, but listen he’s working his socks off for the team. He’s a team player and if you keep working that hard you can’t not get rewards so eventually it will turn and Harry will get on a run.”

Gnahore went close when his left-footed free-kick from 35-yards had Lee scrambling to his left, only for the kick to whistle past the foot of the near post.

Corne put the ball on a plate with a deep cross from the right but Day lacked composure when left unmarked at the far post as his header landed in the Sittingbourne keeper’s midriff.

Alexander said: “A little bit of composure there, Matty could’ve taken that on his chest and had a little bit more time with a strike but he’s young, he’s learning.”

Lewis Chambers hurled three long throws into the Ashford box late on and they almost completed a smash-and-grab raid at the death.  Loynes drove his corner in from the right towards the edge of the penalty area for central midfielder Chambers to roll a weak shot into Mott’s hands for a comfortable injury-time save.

Ashford United have now extended their run to five games without a win and host Haywards Heath Town in The Buildbase FA Trophy Extra Preliminary Round on Saturday.

“It’s fine margins that win games at the moment, those margins are a little bit off at the moment. We’re not getting the results we should be for our dominance of football matches but we’ll keep working hard and that will turn,” said Alexander, whose side will be 10 points adrift of unbeaten leaders Cray Wanderers should they beat Whyteleafe at Hayes Lane on Wednesday night.

“We’re not far away. They’ll probably be more happy with a point tonight when they go over the game and have a look at it. They’ll be pleased with that point but we’re not far away.

“We know what we’re good at. We have to get better and we’re getting there. When we get that little bit of luck and we can get our noses in front, we’re going to be a hard side to stop.”

Ramsgate visit Woodstock Park with two league wins out of six and in 12th place.

“I thought it was a fair result to be honest. The boys were fantastic in their efforts and in their desire to stay in the game and try to get something out of it,” said Odev.

“I can’t fault their work-ethic at all, it’s fantastic to see.  I thought we could’ve been a little bit better on the ball in the second half especially, a little bit more composed and move the ball quickly.

“If someone would’ve told me we would’ve taken a draw here, I would’ve maybe taken it. It was a good result, I’m happy with it and the boys now have a rest and focus on Saturday.”

Ashford United: Sam Mott, Ollie Rowe, Tom Carlse, Jordan Johnson (Siao Blackwood 46), Antonio Simeone (Matthew Day 51), Josh Wisson, Ambrose Gnahore (Lanree Azeez 83), Lea Dawson, Harry Ottaway, Sam Corne, Fidan Fejzi.
Subs: Clark Woodcock, Brandon Williams

Goal: Ambrose Gnahore 60

Booked: Sam Corne 57, Siao Blackwood 66, Sam Corne 57

Sittingbourne: Patrick Lee, Chris Webber, Josh Dorling, Dan Parkinson (Johan Caney Bryan 71), Lex Allan, Ben Fitchett, Izzy Adebayo (Harrison Hatfull 38), Lewis Chambers, Mobolaji Dawodu, Tommie Fagg, Tom Loynes.
Subs: Reiss Crimmen, Joe Denny, Harry Brooks

Goal: Tommie Fagg 24

Booked: Tommie Fagg 5, Lewis Chambers 75

Attendance: 246
Referee: Mr James Hurst (East Dulwich, London SE22)
Assistants: Mr Joseph McKay (Maidstone) & Mr Harry Wager (Tunbridge Wells)