Hastings United 2-3 Ashford United - The annoying thing is we can still go there on Friday and win and not go up, warns Ashford United boss Tommy Warrilow

Monday 29th April 2019
Hastings United 2 – 3 Ashford United
Location The Pilot Field, Elphinstone Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 2AX
Kickoff 29/04/2019 19:45

(after extra time)
Bostik South East Division Play-Off Semi-Final
Monday 29 April 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from The Pilot Field

ASHFORD UNITED manager Tommy Warrilow says the most important thing was to get through to the Bostik South East Division play-off final.

Ashford United now travel down to Lancing to play Horsham on Friday 3 May (19:30) after beating Hastings United 3-2, in front of 1,123 at The Pilot Field.

Cray Wanderers claimed the league title by banking 82 points from their 36 games and will be playing Bostik Premier Division football in August.

Horsham finished runners-up on 74 points; Hastings United were third on 70 points; Ashford United were fourth on 58 points, while Haywards Heath Town finished their debut season at this level in fifth-place on 63 points.

Horsham defeated Haywards Heath Town 3-0 in the other semi-final tonight.

Both sides cancelled each other out during the first half but Chris Agutter’s side smashed the deadlock by taking the lead just 106 seconds into the second half through lone striker Davide Rodari’s swept finish.

Ashford United showed great character to bounce back and target-man Jay May equalised just 177 seconds later.

Hastings United midfielder Jack Dixon tapped in his sixteenth goal of the season to give his side the lead, before Sam Corne planted home a headed equaliser, which took the game to extra-time.

Hastings United centre-half Gary Elphick, 33 – who played for Warrilow at Tonbridge Angels – gave away a penalty, which Corne kept composed to slot home to score the winning goal with just 96 seconds of extra-time remaining to score his 20th goal of the season.

“We were out on our feet, we haven’t got a massive squad but I thought we deserved it to be honest,” said Warrilow, who has won 16 of his 24 games in charge of the club.

“We’ve given them their goals, the second one especially, no talking and I thought our goals were decent goals.

“We left Jay May on for as long as we could but we know with Trey (Williams) and Danny (Parish) would give us a different dimension so we were trying to go a little bit more direct and get in behind and it’s obviously come up trumps with them causing problems at the death there.

“I’m really pleased because it’s been a long season. It’s been a difficult season, look where I started (at now defunct Thamesmead Town) and now we’re all here looking for a play-off final spot.

“I didn’t want it to end tonight because I’ve had this feeling when we’ve lost (play-off games whilst I was managing) at Tonbridge. When you lose it’s horrible because you’re done now - and now we’ve got a final on Friday.

“I’m just really happy for all the fans who came down here tonight. The fans’ have been brilliant since we’ve come in.

“The lads deserve it. I’m just pleased for them because I thought tonight they deserved to get something out of the game.”

Hastings United had plenty of possession with the ball during the game but Ashford United were trying to play their striker Danny Parish in behind with balls over the top during the early exchanges.

Hastings United created the first opening in the 15th minute when a poor clearance from the left-back position by Ashford United’s left-winger Toby Ajala saw Adam Lovatt feed the ball into an unmarked Bradley Stevenson, who took a touch before flashing a right-footed drive just past the foot of the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Both sides appeared to be nervous and Ashford created a decent chance in the 24th minute after May’s threaded the ball through to Corne, who was tripped by Elphick and the referee George Warren awarded Ashford a free-kick 23-yards from goal.

Parish curled his right-footed free-kick just past the top of the left-hand post, with goalkeeper Charlie Horlock rooted to the spot.

“I thought everyone was (nervous), not trying to cancel each other out but it was a bit cagey,” said Warrilow.

“He’s got to hit the target! That’s all we ask for from free-kicks and set-pieces.”

Ashford United switched off following a throw-in from Hastings left-back Sam Beale and striker Rodari turned Afolabi (John) Coker and lashed his shot over the crossbar from 10-yards.

Hastings were inches away from taking the lead when Sam Adams’ quickly taken free-kick released Beale in behind the Ashford defence and his low centre was destined for Rodari, who failed to get a decent touch to the ball as it flashed across the face of goal.

Hastings United’s right-back Jamie Fielding was keen to get forward during the first half but both defences came out on top during a first half stalemate.

Hastings United went close to scoring in the 44th minute.

Fielding played the ball inside to Azeez, who shrugged off the attentions of Corne inside the final third and threaded the ball through to Rodari, whose left-footed drive from the edge of the penalty area flashed just past the foot of the right-hand post, despite Mott diving that way in an attempt to flick the shot behind.

Warrilow asked his players to up their tempo during the interval, after coming away from here with a 2-2 draw on Easter Monday.

“Just to step it up! We came here on the Monday and we were stronger on the Monday and we finished the game stronger and our fitness levels were unbelievable, considering we haven’t got a massive squad and rotation.

“We got ourselves organised and pressed better and kept the ball a little bit better, we knew we pick up momentum.”

Hastings United opened the scoring just one minute and 46 seconds in, courtesy of a great 50-yard run from Azeez.

The right-winger Azeez picked the ball up close to the half-way line and he sprinted down the line to reach the by-line. He then cut along the by-line and danced past Mohammed Kamara and put it on a plate for Rodari, who took a touch before sweeping his shot into the bottom right-hand corner from 10-yards.

“We gave the ball away across the pitch, Bode with a crossfield ball and again we got punished for it, so it’s disappointing but we were not going to roll down,” insisted Warrilow.

Mott was called into action when he flew to his left to palm away Dixon’s 25-yard angled drive, which proved to be a vital save because Ashford United snatched an equaliser, which was timed at four minutes and 43 seconds on the clock.

Parish was played in behind Beale down the right and he whipped in a great cross which was met by May’s trademark header, just six-yards from goal, which he planted straight at goalkeeper Horlock.  May pounced on the rebound to tap the ball into the bottom right-hand corner to score his fifth goal for the club.

Warrilow said: “It was a great ball from Danny. He spun, done well, great cross in and I’m pleased for Jay because the first header, I think he’ll be gutted he didn’t bury, but he’s pounced on the rebound, so a great goal.”

Both sides were clinical in front of goal as neither keeper was really called into making too many saves.

Hastings United produced a fine move to take the lead for a second time on the night, the goal coming with 16 minutes and 36 seconds.

Stevenson released Beale, who took the pass in his stride, before running into the penalty area and cutting the ball back for Dixon at the near post, who swept his shot towards goal. The shot was blocked by Coker and Azeez put the ball back in from the right and the Ashford defence left Dixon unmarked at the far post and he couldn’t miss from a couple of yards out, tapping the ball into an empty goal.

“That’s our fault, there was no communication,” complained Warrilow.

“The cross has come in, Motty and I don’t know what defender it was, but shall I, shall you and Dixon’s nipped in, so again it’s a disappointing goal.”

Hastings’ lead didn’t last long, however, as Warrilow’s men levelled for the second time, the goal timed at 20 minutes and 5 seconds.

Centre-half Coker collected the ball inside the Hastings half and he played the ball across to his defensive partner Kamara, who switched the ball out to the left to Mendy, who floated in a cross towards the near post for Corne to bury his downward header into the bottom left-hand corner from eight-yards.

“But again, we dust ourselves down, great play from Laurent Mendy and Corney arrives with a trademark header, so again it gives us another lift and we go again,” added Warrilow.

Ashford United pushed three men up top, while Agutter kept faith with a lone striker.  However, the introduction of pacey Daniel Ajakaiye proved to be a new threat from the home side when he entered the pitch with 21 minutes of normal time remaining.

Mendy was putting some great balls into the box but holding midfielder Josh Wisson failed to get his header on target and despite Ashford United pressing for the winning goal, the game went into extra-time.

“I thought we were going to get stronger.  Listen, we’re going to tire, they’re very athletic up with just the one lad up there. We were making sure our full-backs were pushed on tight and we left a two-on-one situation quite a lot, which to be fair I don’t really think caused any problems.”

Hastings United created the first chance in extra-time, just 44 seconds in, when Dixon cracked a fierce right-footed drive from 30-yards, which was pushed up in the air by Mott, before the keeper stepped to his left to catch the ball as it dropped.

Fielding released Azeez down the right channel and the winger ignored Dixon on the overlap, turned his man to put in a cross, which took a deflection, looping up and was plucked out of the air by Mott.

A poor back-pass from Kamara put Mott in trouble and his clearance was charged down by a pressing Azzez, whose low drive bounced off Kamara, who put in a very impressive performance at the heart of the Ashford defence.

That was the last chance for a dominant Hastings United during the first period but Ashford United wasted a couple of glorious chances in the second period.

The impressive Mendy played the ball into Anidugbe, who controlled the ball and should have shot with his next touch before he had to dig the ball out from under his feet and Hastings got men back to shut the door in his face.

However, the talented former Thamesmead Town man kept composed and lofted the ball towards the far post for Parish to plant his header over the bar from four-yards.

“I felt when Bode didn’t have his shot off and Dan had a header on the rise that I thought we might’ve had run out of time,” added Warrilow.

And with 11:20 on the clock, Toby Ajala swung in a delicious corner from the left and Wisson smacked a volley high over the crossbar from 10-yards out.

“He’s got to hit the target but again it doesn’t matter now because we’ve won but at the time I think he’s got to do a little bit better than that,” admitted Warrilow.

With penalties looming, Ashford United became only the sixth side to win at The Pilot Field this season, by snatching the winner with 13:24 on the clock.

Other sides to win here were Whyteleafe (4-2, FA Cup); Merstham (2-1, Velocity Trophy); East Grinstead Town (3-2); Brighton & Hove Albion (4-0, Sussex Senior Cup) and Haywards Heath Town (4-2).

Parish was released on the counter-attack and he was brought down by Elphick, who was booked and Corne held his nerve by slotting his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner to send the travelling fans into raptures.

“But with the final ball with a minute to go, Dan’s obviously chased onto it and he’s done a great bit of skill as well for one of the goals. The feeling is just pleasing.

“Corney, all day long, the boys full of confidence. He’s come back in with two goals today and we’ve missed him for the last two games so credit to the lads.

“I thought Gary Elphick had a great game tonight.  As an ex-defender it’s just one of those things. He’s got a little nippy lad and he’s caught him so I feel for Gary but at the same time like I said to Dan that’s why we hate marking him, things like his movement.”

Kamara capped off an excellent performance by preventing more penalty drama when Stevenson’s late effort appeared to be curling into the top far corner, only for the Ashford defender to nip in to head the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

Warrilow wants his side to complete the job against Horsham on Friday night – but points-per-game will settle who goes up from this level as two sides across the country will not win promotion as play-off winners.

“We’re going to go there positive.  I said from day one nobody will want to play us and you’ve seen the reasons why tonight,” said Warrilow.

“If we go one down, two down or whatever, we’ll just keep carrying on and we know we’ll have chances to get back in games.

“The annoying thing is we can still go there on Friday and win and not go up! That’s the more annoying thing but from our point of view as a club all we can do is do what we can do and if we don’t go up through winning a play-off the embarrassment should be with the league, whoever organised this, what ever it is this year.

“But I will just concentrate on winning it first because what can you do? You can’t do no more than that.  I heard about it but I didn’t take much notice of it to start with.  I thought lets just get there and then see what happens but it is, I don’t know, nothing surprises me anymore in football but how can you go through a whole season and win a play-off place and not get it because of 1.889 points per game. It’s just ridiculous!

“Listen, the most important thing was to get to the final, now we’re there we’ve got to go there and win and see what happens.

“But if we don’t, we’ve had a fantastic base to build on.”

Warrilow thanked their “brilliant” fans for making the trip tonight, adding, “Fantastic to come here on a Monday night like that. I’m really pleased for them as well and hopefully we can do the same for them again on Friday.”

Hastings United: Charlie Horlock, Jamie Fielding, Sam Beale (Jordy Mongoy 120), Adam Lovatt, Gary Elphick, Jack Tucker, Lanre Azeez, Jack Dixon, Davide Rodari (Daniel Ajakaiye 69), Sam Adams (Sam Cruttwell 79), Bradley Stevenson.
Subs: Ollie Black, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle

Goals: Davide Rodari 47, Jack Dixon 62

Booked: Sam Cruttwell 90, Gary Elphick 118

Ashford United: Sam Mott, Jerald Abogye (Jake McIntyre 115), Laurent Mendy, Josh Wisson, Afolabi (John) Coker, Mohammed Kamara, Bode Anidugbe, Sam Corne, Danny Parish, Jay May (Trey Williams 83), Toby Ajala.
Subs: Lee Hook, Kundai Munyama, Clark Woodcock

Goals: Jay May 50, Sam Corne 66, 119 (penalty)

Attendance: 1,123
Referee: Mr George Warren (Wandsworth, London SW18)
Assistants: Mr Lawrence Torz-Brown (Wandsworth, London SW15) & Mr Thomas Price (Blackstone, West Sussex)
Fourth Official: Mr Isaac Searle (Dover)