Hollands & Blair 4-0 Ashford United - Of course, we had one eye on Newport, admits Ashford United player-boss Danny Lye

Wednesday 13th January 2016
Hollands & Blair 4 – 0 Ashford United
Location Star Meadow, Darland Avenue, Gillingham, Kent ME7 3AN
Kickoff 13/01/2016 19:45

Macron Southern Counties East Football League Challenge Cup Quarter-Final
Wednesday 13th January 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Darland Avenue

HOLLANDS & BLAIR manager Paul Piggott says his side have made a statement in the title race after thrashing Ashford United to become the first team to book their place in the Macron Southern Counties Football League Challenge Cup Semi-Finals.

The Gillingham based side are five points clear of Greenwich Borough at the top of the table on 51 points from 21 games and they put third-placed Ashford United (38 points from 20) to the sword.

Ashford United had three players serving suspensions but Hollands & Blair proved tonight that they are making a serious bid to clinch promotion into the Ryman League at the end of the season – only six years after winning the Rochester & District League.

James McDonald headed in his 26th goal of the season, before left-back Bryan Greenfield emphatically converted a penalty to give Hollands & Blair a commanding lead going into half-time.

Stuart West popped up from central defence to score two goals inside ten minutes just before the hour-mark to kill the game off as a contest, to end Ashford United’s 14-match unbeaten run.

“Good first half performance, I thought we done enough in that half really to justify our win tonight,” said Piggott.

“I just said to the players even though they’ve got bigger fish to fry on Saturday, I know they’ve got a Vase game and they’ve got one or two personnel missing tonight, but that’s not our problem. We’ve done our job tonight and we’re pleased with our win.

“Thirteen games unbeaten is good, that’s why we’re top of the league because we’re putting runs like that together and we need to put another run like that again if we want to do what we want to do this year.”

Ashford United’s player-manager Danny Lye, meanwhile, admitted one eye was firmly on Saturday’s FA Vase Fourth Round tie at Newport IOW.

“Yes, it’s one of them really. We’re bare bones to be honest, ready for Saturday,” said Lye.

“We’ve got three suspended players so it’s damage limitation really but we wanted to win the game.

“But they worked harder than us, they had more heart and desire and our boys didn’t match that.

“We’ve got big George Kamusari suspended, Dan Stubs, Nick Humphries, Pat Kingwell couldn’t make it tonight so we had a few out but that’s not an excuse really.”

Lye admitted his players are keeping one eye on Newport. 

“Of course they are, yes,” he said.

“We were trying to get a couple of players in for tonight but couldn’t get them signed in time. Literally we only had two on the bench today, so I had to play at the last minute. I done my hammy after about five minutes.  After that third went in we swapped it around, we put Shaun Welford and Michael Phillips off and looked after them ready for Saturday.”

But it could have been a different story had Ashford United taken the lead after only 158 seconds.

Impressive attacking pair Seb Schoburgh hooked pass released winger Ryan Palmer through on goal but he dragged his shot across goal and past the far post from 22-yards.

“I said in the changing room before the game to the boys they’ll work hard, they’ll have heart and they’re a good side on their own place and our boys didn’t match it,” admitted Lye.

“We didn’t have anything to change the game with because of the situation with the suspensions so we saved ourselves for Saturday. We wanted to come here and win the game.”

Hollands & Blair then enjoyed a serious spell of dominance and created some chances too.

Greenfield’s left-footed free-kick dipped over the crossbar from 35-yards shortly afterwards, before striker Rob Denness had a couple of chances.

McDonald played the ball into Denness who turned and steered his right-footed shot just past the left-hand post from 22-yards.

Piggott then felt Denness should have tested goalkeeper Nic Luen instead of drilling a shot into the foot of the side netting after being put through on goal by right-winger Justin Ascheri.

He said: “We haven’t played since Boxing Day and the boys are hungry. They’ve done a fair bit of training since Boxing Day so they were hungry to actually go out there and play some football and I think that showed in the first 10-15 minutes.

“We asked for a bit of tempo tonight and I think we got that and we put a good statement out in the first 10 minutes of our work ethic.”

The pressure told, however, as Hollands & Blair opened the scoring with 09:29 on the clock.

Denness shrugged off the attentions of Josh Woolley on the right-hand side of the penalty area before he cut the ball back for Ascheri to whip in a first time cross.

Tom Michelson made a run from central midfield towards the near post to flick the ball on and McDonald nodded the ball into the left-hand corner from eight-yards.

“Everything was perfect with that goal,” said Piggott.

“The cross from Justin, the run from Tom Michelson, he makes his lung busting runs from centre midfield and they’re unmarkable and he’s getting better at that with his timing of his runs and then he’s got a flick on and Macca being Macca and the poacher he is was able to latch onto his flick on.”

Lye was at fault for not picking up Michelson at the near post, so didn’t speak much about the opening goal.

“I can’t remember, you make notes of it,” came his reply.

The game settled down after the goal and Ashford United created a chance after 20 minutes.

Michael Phillips swept a free-kick into the penalty area and Lye rose to loop his header over the crossbar from 12-yards.

Dan Ellis played a goal-kick to his right-back Sam Welch, who released Ascheri down the right, who made a 40-yard run before cutting inside and stroking his right-footed angled drive which was spilt by Luen at his near post before the second-choice keeper had time to pounce on the loose ball.

Ashford United created a great chance to equalise just past the half-way mark.

Good wing play by Schoburg saw him cut into the box before cutting the ball back towards the edge of the penalty area towards an unmarked Shaun Welford, who clipped his right-footed shot towards goal, which was palmed up by Ellis before being cleared towards safety.

“We didn’t get tight enough in the first place,” added Piggott.

“We allowed him a little bit too much space there, which is not like us.  There’s one or two things we need to work on and possibly that’s one of them, just giving centre forwards a little bit too much room.”

Hollands & Blair impressed down the right with Welch and Ascheri linking up well and McDonald was almost rewarded, but his curling shot sailed past the far post from 16-yards.

But Welford gifted Hollands & Blair a second goal, by committing a handball inside his six-yard box following the home side’s first corner of the game.

Ascheri swung in the ball from the left and referee Craig Burton spotted Welford had used his hand as he attempted to clear the ball off the line and pointed to the spot.

Set-piece specialist Greenfield stepped up and placed his left-footed penalty into the top left-hand corner to score on his 302nd appearance for the club.

“We know he’s got that in his locker,” said Piggott.

“Everyone who watches him play knows he’s got that in his locker.”

Lye admitted: “He lost his man, another night he would’ve got sent off for it!”

Ashford United were to be denied on the stroke of half-time by a smart low save from ever-present Ellis.

Ashford won a free-kick just outside the right-hand corner of the penalty area and Phillips floated the ball in towards the far post onto Welford’s head, who directed his downward header towards the bottom near corner, which forced Ellis to get down low to his right to push the ball away.

Lye said: “The keeper pulled off a good save to be fair, bottom corner.”

Piggott added: “We talk about Ashford here. We’re talking about a side of good pedigree, a good club with good players so they’re going to have chances against us.

“They’re going to open us up from time to time and we just had to dig deep and I think getting that clean sheet today proved that we did that against some good players.”

Both managers were asked what they told their players inside the warmth of a dressing room. It was a bitterly cold night in Gillingham for the 88 supporters.

Piggott said: “Pretty much the same, what we were first half. I think our work rate and our work ethic was brilliant, all the things we talked about throughout the season, they all went out and did it right from the start so we wanted the same again.

“To be fair I didn’t think the tempo was as much in the second half but the scoreline probably dictated that – but it was pretty much the same what went on in the first half.”

Lye revealed: “I said to them they need to work harder and I said prove me right!

“The boys didn’t work hard enough. If you don’t work hard enough when you come to these places and play in mud you don’t get anything out of the game.”

Hollands & Blair killed off Ashford United with their third goal only 178 seconds into the second half.

Greenfield whipped in quality curling free-kick into the box with his left-foot some 40-yards out and West showed enough desire to plant his diving header across a crowd of players into the far corner from 10-yards.

Piggott said: “He pulled off the full-back, the full-back was marking Westy. Westy for me is the best header of the ball in the league so a good bit of movement there and he’s found himself with a battle he should be winning at the back post.”

Lye added: “He just caught Adam Cuthbert’s boot as he headed it and it was a good header.

“Once it was 3-0 that was it. Done for us really. I swapped it around. I got Shaun straight off, put Booth on and gave him a little run and pulled Michael off, looking after them for Saturday because we’re short on Saturday.

“It’s hard to get players in because it’s January and everyone’s played in these cups so everyone’s cup-tied.  You can’t get loan players in for The Vase so we’ve got to go with what we’ve got at the minute and we’re a bit thin, we’ve got a few injuries.”

Ashford United were to be denied by the crossbar when Ellis Green got his left-footed free-kick from inches outside the penalty area over the four-man wall but the ball crashed against the woodwork with keeper Ellis beaten.

Piggott added: “Great free-kick. There’s quality in the side and they will do that to you!”

Hollands & Blair completed their scoring as early as the 58th minute when West popped up to score his 14th goal of the season.

Greenfield swung in their fourth corner from the right and Ascheri’s initial shot was blocked and a game of pin-ball occurred inside the six-yard box with a couple of shots being blocked before the ball fell at West’s feet and he steered his shot into the bottom right-hand corner from six-yards.

Piggott said: “We showed a bit of desire in there when the ball was pinging around. We always wanted to react to that, getting a shot away at some stage that was just desire, Westy getting his goal there.

“Westy’s one of the leading goalscorers in the league. He’s a threat in anyone’s box. He can play centre forward so he knows where the back of the net is so when that ball is in and around the opponents box he’s always hungry to get on the end of it.”

Lye added: “That’s the pinball. When you’re on top of the league and you’re playing well and you’re going to have a little knock down and he finished it.

“Again, he wanted to score more than we wanted to stop it.”

With the scoring completed, central defender Lye, who revealed he played a large majority of the game with a hamstring injury, hauled off Welford and Phillips to rest them for Saturday’s FA Vase tie at Newport IOW.

Hollands & Blair nearly scored a controversial fifth inside the final 18 minutes.

Mikey Dalton went down injured on halfway after being challenged for the ball by Brett Ince and play continued .  Ascheri centred from the right and Denness’ low drive was saved at his near post by Luen.

“Justin’s on fire at the moment, he’s looking sharp and he’s looking fit and all the time we’ve got the movement we have up top it makes our midfield jobs a little bit easier to pick them out. The two of them linked up well today,” praised Piggott.

Ashford United created the last chance of the game at the death.

Schoburgh came back to life when he played a one-two with substitute Tom Fagg before hitting a right-footed shot from 20-yards, which was palmed over by Ellis to secure his eighth clean sheet of the season.

Lye said: “Well sums us up doesn’t it tonight! We just hit it straight at the keeper! Hit it in the corner, you score.  It’s one of those games really, get the game out of the way, roll on (Newport).

Piggott added: “That shows the desire the team has got, even though at a late stage of the game, 4-0 up at the time we wanted a clean sheet.”

Hollands & Blair are the first team to reach the semi-finals and Croydon or Greenwich Borough, Corinthian or Erith & Belvedere and Cray Valley or Deal Town will be looking to join them.

The Blair boss said: “We were knocked out of the other two cups in the first round so we were disappointed with our cup runs this year so this is one we want to compete in and we want to do well in so we’re pleased to be in the semi.”

Lye was asked whether this game came at the wrong time for the club.

“It came at the right time and at the wrong time,” came his reply.

“We had three suspensions that are now cleared up. We’ll get George back in goal because we missed him and Dan Stubbs gives us energy as well so we’ve got two decent players back but we picked up a couple of knocks as well so the timing on a Wednesday, we haven’t got recovery for the Saturday and we’ve got a few of the older lads. They can’t play for the full 90 and play on the Saturday with the same energy.”

Hollands & Blair: Dan Ellis, Sam Welch, Bryan Greenfield, Sam Prescott, Steve Dampier, Stuart West, Justin Ascheri, Tom Michelson (Louis Valencia 73), James McDonald (Brett Ince 65), Rob Denness, Jordan Gallagher.
Subs: Lewis Taylor, George Blake, Sam Gutridge

Goals: James McDonald 10, Bryan Greenfield 32 (penalty), Stuart West 48, 58

Booked: Stuart West 45

Ashford United: Nick Luen, Adam Cuthbert, Josh Woolley, Mikey Dalton, Danny Lye, Luke Cuthbert, Ryan Palmer, Michael Phillips (Tom Fagg 61), Shaun Welford (Paul Booth 57), Seb Schoburgh, Ellis Green.
Subs: Pat Kingwell, Charlie Dickens, Tom Scorer

Attendance: 88
Referee: Mr Craig Burton (Rochester)
Assistants: Mr Michael Begley (Battersea, London SW6) & Mr Graham Scott (Gillingham)