Haywards Heath Town 3-0 Ashford United - It's never easy to lose but I've let the lads down, admits sent-off Ashford United player-boss Gary Alexander

Tuesday 02nd October 2018
Haywards Heath Town 3 – 0 Ashford United
Location Hanbury Stadium, Allen Road, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH16 3PT
Kickoff 02/10/2018 19:45

The Buildbase FA Trophy Extra Preliminary Round Replay
Tuesday 2 October 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Hanbury Stadium

ASHFORD UNITED player-manager Gary Alexander says he apologised to his players after being sent-off during their early FA Trophy exit at the hands of Haywards Heath Town.

This was the third meeting between the two sides in 10 days.  Ashford United came away from Hanbury Stadium with a 1-1 draw in the Bostik South East Division on Saturday 22 September, while there was an exciting 4-4 draw at Homelands Stadium in The FA Trophy Extra Preliminary Round on Saturday to set up tonight’s replay back in West Sussex.

Ashford United were without centre halves Luis Morrison (quad) and Antonio Simeone (groin); left-back Tom Carlse (neck) and Brandon Williams sustained a neck injury in a recent car crash.

Alexander, 39, was forced to don the boots and played in a holding midfield role, while centre-half Lea Dawson slotted in beside Josh Wisson at the heart of defence.

With the score at 0-0, Alexander dived to his left to save the ball on the line and was promptly red-carded by referee Steven Scott and Callum Saunders tucked home the resulting penalty.

Ashford United were given a lifeline when Haywards Heath Town’s then left-back Ibrahim Fofane picked up his second yellow-card in the 56th minute but Ashford winger Ambrose Gnahore smacked the resulting penalty against the crossbar.

It proved to be a massive miss as Haywards Heath notched their second penalty of the night just 152 seconds later, winger Saunders making no mistake to score his sixth goal of the season.

Haywards Heath Town scored a third through midfielder Karl Akehurst to set up a home tie against unbeaten Bostik South Central leaders Bracknell Town on 12 October.

“It’s never easy to lose – I’ve let the lads down – I’ve been sent-off for clearing the ball off the line.  Questions was it a foul on the goalkeeper? We didn’t get it and it’s another turning point, which has cost us,” admitted Alexander.

“It changed the game. I thought we were coping ok. The big fella’s obviously a big problem up top.  The way they play, they hit him and he wins his headers. We were coping but we were growing into the game and it happened at a crucial stage nine minutes before half-time.

“I’ve been forced to play because if you look at our bench we had three forward attacking players and none of them had to fall in there.  Lea Dawson had to go in at centre-half. We’re lacking a midfielder with one leaving during the week. We couldn’t get anyone in for tonight anyway because it’s the cup.”

Shaun Saunders side went into the game on a run of six games without a win and were in 12th place in the table with nine points from seven games, while Ashford United extended their winless run to seven games after tonight’s game and in ninth-place in the table with 11 points from the same number of outings.

Ashford United shaded the opening exchanges with Haywards Heath Town hitting frequent long balls out of defence up to big target man Melford Simpson with Alexander pointing and screaming at his players as he sat in front of his back four.

Ashford United took 16 minutes to create their first opening.  Sam Corne swept the ball up field, despite being on the end of a heavy challenge and this released winger Gnahore, who drove forward before playing the ball inside to Lanre Azeez, who drilled his left-footed shot screaming past the top of the right-hand post from 20-yards.

An even better chance fell to Ashford just 53 seconds later.

Goalkeeper Sam Mott launched a big kick towards the left-touchline, the ball was flicked on by full-back Ollie Rowe inside the Haywards Heath half and Harry Ottaway cut into the centre of the pitch on a 20-yard run before hitting a low right-footed drive from 30-yards, which was gobbled up by keeper Josh Heyburn, low down on his knees.

Alexander said:  “We’ve played each other three times in the last week or so, so it’s always going to be a tight affair but personnel dictated to us the shapes we had to play so it became difficult but take nothing away from Haywards Heath, they worked hard and got their win.

“We created chances first half but we haven’t taken one again.  We scored four against them on Saturday but we haven’t scored a goal tonight. We need to make sure we put that ball in the net because they change games.”

Haywards Heath Town should have buried their first chance when it came from a corner in the 23rd minute.

Saunders’ right-footed inswinging corner from the left was inch-perfect for centre-half Nathan Cooper to find a pocket of space at the far post but he planted his header just over the crossbar from four-yards.

“We said they’re a threat, they’re a big strong side and the fella will be disappointed he didn’t score. He should’ve scored but from our point of view we’ll have to have a look at it how he’s got in that area and he should’ve scored,” admitted Alexander.

Fidan Fejzi played the ball out to Ottaway, who was out wide on the right and he floated in a cross which was met by Gnahore’s rising header, towering over Akehurst, which cleared the crossbar from 12-yards.

Heyburn launched the resulting goal-kick upfield, the ball was flicked on by towering target-man Simpson and dropped nicely for Max Miller inside the box but the winger leaned back and his shot ballooned over the bar.

The home side lost left-back George Fenton to an early injury so Fofane switched from right-back to left-back and Kieron Rowe came off the bench to take his place.

Kieron Rowe hooked in a speculative cross-come-shot from the right, which was plucked out of the air by Mott at his near post.

Kane Louis won Haywards Heath Town a free-kick, which Akehurst ran up to power his right-footed shot past the left-hand post from 35-yards, as the home side looked like scoring from a set-piece than from open play.

“That was always going to be a problem tonight because they’re a big, strong side and they’re good at what they do,” added Alexander, on the home side’s dead-ball threat.

“They play their way into the big man, they target him on set-pieces, they’ve got two big centre halves (Cooper and Josh Spinks) and you saw our back four tonight, it was made up of three midfielders and a right-back playing left-back so it’s not easy.

“It was never going to be easy but I can’t knock the lads, they’ve given it their best shot over the two legs because that was a similar squad to what we had on Saturday and I can only credit the lads because we should’ve got ourselves back in the game.”

The game turned in Haywards Heath’s favour when Alexander felt his keeper Mott was fouled by Simpson on the edge of the penalty area and Louis’ swept his shot over the keepers head and towards the top right-hand corner from the edge of the box.

Alexander reacted by diving to his left to save the ball on the line and referee Steven Scott pulled out a red-card and awarded the home side a penalty.

Saunders drilled his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner to give Haywards Heath Town the lead with 36 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock.

“We watch football every week now and any contact on the goalie is given as a foul isn’t it and Motty had it in his hands, the big fella obviously had contact with Motty and he’s dropped the ball and the ref made the decision to play on,” explained Alexander.

“Look, it’s instinct for myself to dive and save it. It’s hard to let a ball just go over your head and fall in the back of your net. 

“It is what it is, I’ve obviously let the boys down there but there’s nothing I can do. On another day we might’ve got a foul but it didn’t happen and it cost us. 

“He’s slotted in the penalty and it’s given them the ascendancy going into half-time.”

Haywards Heath threw the bodies in the way of the ball as Ashford tried to swiftly force their way back into the game.

Inside stoppage time, Akehurst played a long ball up to Simpson, who laid the ball off to Miller, who held the ball up in the left-channel before cutting the ball back for Akehurst to float his right-footed shot inches over the crossbar from 22-yards.

Azeez sprayed the ball out to Ashford left-back Ollie Rowe, whose long-range drive was caught by the keeper while on his knees.

Alexander sat beside Jason Whitmore in the red seats in the directors box during the second half and left his assistant manager John Mackie to do the coaching in the technical area on the other side of the stadium.

“Look, we felt the boys, they scored the penalty, we didn’t drop our heads and they carried on playing and we created one or two chances before half-time didn’t we, getting in some good areas,” said Alexander.

“It was a case of doing what we was doing. We felt after the penalty we created a few chances, the wide boys were showing their pace and causing problems and Harry Ottaway worked his socks off again. 

“I said to go out there and give it your best shot. It’s 11-v-10 and that turned early in the second half but we didn’t capitalise.”

Saunders had a glorious opportunity to test Mott from 26-yards but his right-footed free-kick sailed high over the crossbar and landed inside someone’s balcony on the towering housing immediately behind the goal.

Fofane launched the third and final long throw into the Ashford box, which wasn’t cleared and Saunders had a glorious headed chance but he put the ball straight into Mott’s hands for a comfortable catch.

Ashford United found a way of getting back into the game when Josh Wisson hit a ball over the top from inside his own half and Gnahore turned Fofane, before he was tripped by the full-back.

fofane was already on a yellow, the referee pulled out a yellow and then a red-card and both teams were now at 10 men apiece after 56 minutes.

There’s something about left-footed penalty takers – they tend to miss – and Gnahore tried to aim for the top right-hand corner but smacked his penalty against the crossbar instead.

“Ambrose has won the penalty and he was feeling confident at that stage,” said Alexander.

“He’s gone high but you obviously run the risk that chance of missing if you go high so it was disappointing.

“It is small margins we keep speaking about, these small margins and they go up the other and again we talk about communication in amongst our ranks and a miss-understanding leads to another penalty.”

It was a massive miss as Haywards Heath immediately went up the other end and Miller turned Ashford right-back Siao Blackwood and was tripped and the referee pointed to the spot and then booked Dawson.

Saunders stepped up and slotted home his right-footed penalty past Mott, who moved to his right and the ball went the opposite direction to give Haywards Heath a two-goal lead with 13 minutes and 35 seconds on the clock.

Alexander added: “Football’s small margins and at the moment they’re going the other way to us, they’re not going the right way and only we can change that as a group of lads. They’re an honest bunch in there, they didn’t give in.

“Was it a 3-0 scoreline? Not sure, two penalties but we have to credit Haywards Heath they’ve done a job on us and they’re through.”

Ashford United should have been level but they found themselves on the verge of another first hurdle exit in a FA competition, having been dumped out of The FA Cup by Southern Combination Premier Division side Horsham YMCA.

“One minute were taking it, thinking we’re back in this game and it’s 10-v-10 and we’re on level terms, two minutes later we’re 2-0 down and giving ourselves a mountain to climb,” added Alexander.

“They’re playing for pride after that aren’t they? It’s 2-0, it’s 10-v-10 and trying to nick a goal. We take the game, we kept trying and we put good balls in the box and it just didn’t happen for us tonight. We couldn’t get that goal which might’ve got us back in the game.”

Haywards Heath moved central midfielder Byron Napper into right-back before later introducing two new wingers in the shape of Patrick Akwasi-Bronyan (right) and Luke Robinson (left).

Haywards Heath Town wrapped up the victory with a third goal, timed at 20 minutes and 17 seconds on the clock.

Akehurst skipped past Fejzi in midfield before playing the ball out to Saunders on the right.  He whipped in a cross which was knocked down by Miller inside the box and Akehurst threw himself at the ball, placing his diving header into the bottom right-hand corner.

“They hit us on the break. We’ve got to push numbers forward. I can’t see the goal, it came from a counter. We’re pushing bodies forward trying to get that goal. That’s always a possibility when you’re chasing a cup game. It’s a cup game so you’ve got to go for it and that’s what we done,” said Alexander.

Now dead and buried, Ashford United finished the final 22 minutes on the front foot and showed character with Stefan Cox impressing when he came on down the right flank to give Kieron Rowe a torrid time with his pace and trickery.

Azeez wriggled his way past a couple of defenders but the angle was too tight for him to beat Heyburn at his near post, who made a block as he stood tall.

Blackwood fed the ball along the deck into Cox, but his low right-footed drive from 16-yards was too straight and lacked curl and flashed across the keeper and past the far post by some distance.

Haywards Heath should have scored a fourth goal on the break in the 75th minute when Akehurst swept the ball down the left channel to put Robinson through on goal but he dragged his shot across the keeper and past the far post when he only had Mott to beat.

Cox made progress down the right and played in a low cross into the penalty area.  Ottaway, with his back to goal, held the ball up and after digging the ball out from under his feet, put a chance on a plate for Dawson, who drilled his right-footed shot over the crossbar from 15-yards.

By this time Fejzi was pushed further forward to support the Ashford front men, while Haywards Heath were dangerous on the counter-attack.

Cooper was penalised for handball inside the channel and Corne played a low free-kick towards the near post but Dawson flicked his shot wide.

Local residents will find a yellow Bostik League football bouncing around in the morning.

Kieron Rowe released Robinson down the left and his low cross found Simpson on the edge of the box and he lacked the confidence and composure to have a go himself so he put it on the plate for Akwasi-Bronyan, who was left unmarked and drilled his shot over the crossbar, over the netting and over the towering houses and onto the roof.

Cox cut inside from the right and hit a right-footed angled drive towards the bottom far corner, which forced Heyburn to dive to his right to tip around the post for a corner.

Alexander said: “We missed Coxey.  He did what he did and got sent-off for it and served his ban and he was brilliant for us during the game he got sent-off. He was doing well and he’s a top player so hopefully he can curb his little bit of a temper – shall we call it – and he can go on and be a top player for us because he’s a game changer, he’s a match winner.

“He creates those chances. You saw his pace, you saw his skill, he’s a match-winner. We missed him over the last three games but he’s got himself half-an-hour tonight and hopefully he can get him more minutes and he can help us turn this corner together.”

Shortly afterwards, the impressive Cox floated in a cross towards the far post for Ottaway to send his downward header past the left-hand post from inside the six-yard box.

Haywards Heath wasted another opportunity when Robinson’s pace scared Blackwood again and he put the chance on a plate for Simpson again, but his finishing was woeful as he clipped his poor shot across Mott and the ball was put behind for a corner.

Ashford United welcome second-from-bottom side Three Bridges (four points from eight games) to Homelands Stadium on Saturday and Alexander revealed he is speaking to players to bring in fresh faces.

“It’s never ending, at one point you’re praying you don’t get any more injuries because we’re not the biggest squad and (injuries) are crippling us at the moment but there’s no excuses,” said Alexander.

“We need to pull through as a group.  It’s difficult because we have to work within a budget and I’ve got to assess the boys that are coming in. There’s possibilities of a couple coming in this week. We have to work on that and see what we can do. I’ve been on the phone constantly having chats so fingers crossed we can get a few bodies in and make us that little bit stronger.”

Haywards Heath Town: Josh Heyburn, Ibrahim Fofane, George Fenton (Kieron Rowe 19), Karl Akehurst, Nathan Cooper, Josh Spinks, Callum Saunders (Patrick Akwasi-Bronyan 68), Byron Napper, Melford Simpson, Kane Louis, Max Miller (Luke Robinson 73).

Goals: Callum Saunders 37 (penalty), 59 (penalty), Karl Akehurst 66

Booked: Ibrahim Fofane 45

Sent Off: Ibrahim Fofane 56

Ashford United: Sam Mott, Siao Blackwood, Ollie Rowe, Gary Alexander, Lea Dawson, Josh Wisson, Ambrose Gnahore (Stefan Cox 67), Sam Corne, Harry Ottaway, Fidan Fejzi (Matthew Day 74), Lanre Azeez (Clark Woodcock 79).
Sub: Charlie Wealands

Booked: Lea Dawson 58, Stefan Cox 82, Sam Corne 90

Sent Off: Gary Alexander 36

Attendance: 78
Referee: Mr Steven Scott (Balham, London SW12)
Assistants: Mr Luis Nunes (Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey) & Mr Peter Georgiou (Wandsworth, London SW17)