Hollands & Blair 0-1 Ashford United - We've pushed a well paid side for 90 minutes, says Piggott

Saturday 01st March 2014

Kent Senior Trophy Sponsored by Spire Alexandra Hospital Semi-Final
Saturday 1st March 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Star Meadow

ASHFORD UNITED boss Paul Chambers says his side put in a professional performance after reaching the Kent Senior Trophy Final.

The Southern Counties East Football League leaders needed an early close-range finish from skipper Gary Clarke to knock out the Kent Invicta League leaders at Star Meadow.

Hollands & Blair, who stunned Sevenoaks Town to win the silverware for the first time in their history only two years’ ago, were to rue a missed first half penalty from Rob Denness, who signed for Ryman League club Ashford Town from Chatham Town as an eighteen-year old back in 2007.

Kent Invicta League side Fleet Leisure’s semi-final tie against Beckenham Town was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch at Rede Court Road and the new date has yet been set.  Ashford will play the winner in the showpiece final at Tonbridge Angels’ Longmead Stadium on Sunday 13 April.

“We’re in a Cup Final, that’s my thoughts,” said Chambers after he emerged from the new dressing room block.

“I thought we did alright to be fair.  Not a very nice place to come to. The pitch is not very good so I thought we done alright. I thought we dug in and done well really.

“We created chances.  The pitch ain’t all the best. The pitch is very bobbly and you saw players struggling to run with the ball so really we couldn’t play our game but we dug in.

“I thought we were very professional and I thought we got our just rewards so I thought we were decent and I thought we deserved to win to be honest.”

Hollands & Blair boss Paul Piggott was disappointed after his side’s impressive fifteen match unbeaten run came to an end and that his title-chasing side failed to book their place in this year’s final.

“We put so much into the game,” said Piggott.

“We’re disappointed that we haven’t got anything out of it. We’ve let in a sloppy goal and we’ve missed a penalty and we felt we should’ve got something out of the game, so we’re disappointed.

“No we don’t (lose very often) and we don’t like it either.  We don’t take it very well because we want to win things, that’s why we’re in the semi-final, that’s why we’re in other cups because we want to win things all the time. That’s why we’re here and we’re disappointed that we’ve lost the game.”

Ashford United were quickly on the front foot, in front of the largest crowd of the season at Darland Avenue.

Left-back Kieran Byrne whipped in a free-kick from the left where the unmarked Michael Smissen flicked his header wide of the far post from ten-yards inside the opening seven minutes.

Hollands & Blair’s first opening came within two minutes when Scotsman Bryan Greenfield swung in a corner from the right and following a punched clearance from visiting keeper Joe Mant, Denness escaped handball appeals to bring the ball under his spell before sweeping his shot past the foot of the near post from ten-yards.

But Ashford United scored an ugly winner as early as the 12th minute through Clarke’s seventh goal of the season.

Adam Cuthbert swung in an excellent free-kick from the left touchline towards the far post where Pat Kingwell knocked the ball down.  Goalkeeper James Smith failed to gather the ball on the line and Clarke had the simple task of poking the ball over the line from close range.

“I thought it was a good goal,” said Chambers.

“I thought it was a great delivery from Adam Cuthbert to be fair so I’m really pleased.  At the end of the day we kept a clean sheet. I thought we done really well.”

Piggott wasn’t happy with the manner his side were knocked out.

“It was a scrappy goal,” he said.

“I spoke to the players before the game. I thought free-kicks and corners were going to be a big part of the game today and balls into the box so we spoke about it and we haven’t dealt with it so that’s disappointing on our part.”

Ashford United, who were kicking down the slope, created a trio of chances during their dominant start to the game.

Ronnie Dolan was released down the left and the midfielder reached the penalty area before cutting the ball across the goal for striker Sam Conlon to slid in to blast his right-footed shot over the bar when he really should have tested Smith.

A hooked pass from former Hythe Town skipper Dave Cook released Luke Cuthbert down the right and the full-back was given time and space to whip in a cross and striker Michael Smissen’s shot was parried to safety by Smith, low to his right.

Adam Cuthbert rolled the resulting corner through Smissen’s legs and Conlon ghosted forward to blast his shot just wide.

But Hollands & Blair were to be given a lifeline when referee Jack Packman awarded them a 26th minute penalty.

Rob Denness dived to the deck after cutting inside Clarke, which convinced the Margate-based official to point to the spot.

Denness got up and hit a woeful low right-footed penalty, which Mant dived low to his right to hold onto to make a comfortable save, when in fact Denness should have scored his 21st goal of the season.

When asked about the decision to award the penalty in the first place, Piggott replied: “Well, if it was against me, I’ll be disappointed but because I’ve got it I was over the moon with it. It was one of those things.

“Rob is a very good player. He’s missed the penalty today. There’s no-one more disappointed than him but he’s scored a few goals and he’ll score a lot more goals.

“He’s a good player. I think him and Macca (James McDonald) are first and second leading goalscorers in the league. They’re up for every game. We give them good service and they work hard for us and more times than not they pay the rent by scoring the goals.”

Chambers added: “It was never a penalty! Let’s be fair he’s nowhere near him. It’s never a penalty!

“Joe was superb again today, so that’s all there was to it.

“The thing is at the end of the day give Joe credit. Everyone says it’s a bad penalty but if Joe had dived the other way everyone would say what a good penalty it was so Joe’s guessed the right way and he’s made a great save and he’s saved another penalty.”

Mant pumped the ball forward and Conlon pounced onto the ball after the ball bounced off Smith’s left shoulder after the keeper advanced outside the corner of his box.  Conlon went down under the goalkeeper’s challenge and was booked for diving, which angered Chambers.

Ashford attacked down the right and Luke Cuthbert played the ball inside to Cook who dinked a pass forward for Adam Cuthbert, who drilled his right-footed shot past the near post.

Hollands & Blair created a decent opening to equalise in the 32nd minute.

Greenfield clipped the ball from his left-back position, which was knocked down by Denness on the corner of the penalty area and Louis Valencia flashed his right-footed shot just past the left-hand post from eighteen-yards.

Greenfield was penalised for handball and Kieran Byrne floated his curling free-kick wide of the post before highly-rated Mant made another save for Ashford.

Right-back Steve Dampier played the ball inside to Tom Michelson and the central midfielder clipped the ball forward.  James McDonald was denied his 22nd goal of the season when Mant made a smart block at his near post after the striker tried to score with a left-footed shot from an acute angle.

Ashford United penetrated the Hollands & Blair defence when Byrne skipped past Tom Staff’s sliding tackle to release Smissen, whose angled drive from a tight angle was blocked by Smith.

And on the stroke of half-time Smith caught Byrne’s left-footed free-kick from the edge of the penalty area.

Chambers added: “It’s hard because we couldn’t get our passing game going and we couldn’t play. We’re not a side that just smashes it and runs after it unfortunately, which we probably would’ve been better off doing, but I thought we created some good chances on a bad pitch.”

However, both teams put in a flat performance during the early stages of the second half.

Greenfield cracked a speculative left-footed drive over the Ashford crossbar from 35-yards inside the opening eight minutes.

A better chance for the home side arrived on the hour-mark when Denness cut in from the left and played in Greenfield on the overlap but Michelson failed in his attempt to score with a header, which looped into Mant’s gloves for a comfortable catch.

At the other end, however, Adam Cuthbert drove forward before unleashing a right-footed drive from 35-yards which sailed just wide of the right-hand post.

Smissen then turned Blair defender Dampier and his left-footed shot bounced wide of the right-hand post.

It was then Dolan’s turn to drive forward but his right-footed effort from 30-yards deflected over, before Mant – who should be playing at a much higher level – produced another fine save with 20 minutes left.

The large travelling contingent chanted “England’s number one” from the opposite end of the ground after Mant dived to his left to push over Greenfield’s left-footed curling free-kick from 25-yards.

But Mant, who celebrates his 19th birthday tomorrow, was to make a brilliant save low to his left to deny Valencia scoring with a low right-footed curler, which somehow flashed across the goal line and past the foot of the far post for a corner.

Chambers said: “He’s just the best goalkeeper in the league by a long way. He’s brilliant. He’s the best goalkeeper in this league by a country mile!”

Piggott agreed by saying: “The keeper’s played well today. He’s made a save in the second half which is worthy of anyone getting to a final, down low, it was a great save. He’s seen it late. How he’s got down to that only he will know. He’s kept them in the game today.

“We didn’t have too many chances but what he had to do the young lad, he done well.”

Ashford United striker James Dryden came off the bench and was to be denied his sixth goal of the season with 12 minutes remaining.

He was released down the left channel before drilling a left-footed shot towards goal, which Smith palmed the ball away high to his left.

“He’s a great lad Jimmy and a great player,” said Chambers.

“He’d probably get into any side in the Kent League. Jimmy’s with us and he’s just a fantastic player but you can saw that of all of our subs really.  Gary Mickleborough, Tom Scorer was left out. We’ve still got Ben Jordan and Jordan Miller suspended today.”

Dryden then received the ball from Clarke before leaning back to send his left-footed shot ballooning over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.

Hollands & Blair threw the kitchen sink at their opponents late on but they couldn’t get past a defence well marshalled by Pat Kingwell, a recent signing from Hythe Town.

Chambers added: “Pat was superb at the back. He was absolutely brilliant to be fair. I thought the whole back four played really well to be honest.  Liam Whiting done well, Luke Cuthbert, Kieran Byrne superb, the whole four of them.”

Piggott, who finished the game with two substitute strikers on the pitch in the shape of Nick Smith and Ashley Doe, after bringing off McDonald and Denness, said: “We always go for it. We’ll never sit back. If we’re losing or drawing we’ll always go for the win no matter who it is and we’ll always make our attacking substitutions if we’re losing a game because that’s the kind of side we are.

“We’ll throw caution to the wind and we’ll always try to win a game.”

Hollands & Blair substitute Liam Stone whipped in a cross from the left-flank but skipper Stuart West looped his header into Mant’s gloves.

Dolan then released Dryden, whose left-footed drive was saved by Smith before Hollands & Blair missed a late chance when substitute Nick Smith set up Michelson, who couldn’t keep his shot down.

Chambers added: “They piled on the pressure but I thought we looked comfortable. 

“Joe made a couple of good saves but I thought we looked comfortable to be honest.”

Ashford United lost top spot in the league after Whyteleafe came away from Lordswood with an impressive 7-0 win to move one point clear, although Ashford have a game in hand on the Surrey side.

Ashford United remain title favourites with the calibre of players that are now at Homelands Stadium but Chambers insists his side can cope with their gruelling end to their campaign, which stands at seventeen league and one cup final in 56 days.

“I’m quite pleased were through to the final and that’s all there is to it,” said Chambers.

“We’ve still got a lot more things on our plate so we’re happy at the moment. That’s all we can say.”

Chambers has recently strengthened the squad in terms of numbers and quality with the addition of Cook, Kingwell and Dolan.

“Which is why we’ve got the players and we’ve got a big squad. That’s what we need. Hopefully we’ll be playing on better pitches when we can actually get our passing game and go from there.”

And when asked about the exciting two-horse title race, Chambers added: “We’ll take every game as it comes and we’ll do one at a time and go from there so we’ll just have to see what happens come the end of April.”

Piggott was gutted that his side fell at the last hurdle after knocking out Southern Counties East Football League sides Greenwich Borough and Corinthian and their only title challengers Lydd Town en-route to the last four.

“I can’t say we’ve lost too many at this club to be honest with you, but listen what we will do is we’ll take the positives out of this game.

“That’s a very experienced, well paid side in there and we’ve pushed them all the way for 90 minutes.

“They’re a very good side and I can see now why they’re top of their league. They’ve got good players, they’re a good side. They’re well organised but we’ll take the positives out of that.”

Piggott wants his side to claim the Kent Invicta League title by the end of the season, which he confirmed will be on Bank Holiday Monday, 5 May, which is the same day as the Kent Senior Cup Final down the road at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium.

Ebbsfleet United have already booked their place in that final and will play Dartford, Dover Athletic or Bromley.

“As I said to our lot, that’s where we’re striving to be, that’s where we want to be. We want to be top of the Kent League and I’ve looked at that side today and the players and I know and we know what we need. I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t think we’re too far off it.”

Hollands & Blair: James Smith, Steve Dampier, Bryan Greenfield, Sam Prescott, Billy Johnson (Liam Stone 75), Tom Staff, Stuart West, Tom Michelson, James McDonald (Nick Smith 67), Rob Denness (Ashley Doe 81), Louis Valencia.
Subs: Lewis Taylor, Darren Blackburn

Booked: Tom Michelson 11, Bryan Greenfield 45, Ashley Doe 89

Ashford United: Joe Mant, Liam Whiting, Kieran Byrne, Gary Clarke, Luke Cuthbert, Pat Kingwell, Dave Cook, Adam Cuthbert (Ollie Finch 66), Michael Smissen (James Dryden 74), Sam Conlon (Gary Mickleborough 85), Ronnie Dolan.
Subs: Sam Fisher, Jon Sparks

Goal: Gary Clarke 12

Booked: Gary Clarke 24, Sam Conlon 26

Attendance: 166
Referee: Mr Jack Packman (Margate)
Assistants: Mr Ben Wesley (Ramsgate) & Mr Ollie Woodrow (Maidstone)

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