Hythe Town 2-2 Ashford United - I don't think it's quite the start that we would've wanted but there's a lot of points to play for still, says ninth-placed Ashford United boss Kevin Watson

Tuesday 03rd October 2023
Hythe Town 2 – 2 Ashford United
Location Reachfields Stadium, off Fort Road, Hythe, Kent CT21 6JS
Kickoff 03/10/2023 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division
Tuesday 3 October 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Reachfields Stadium

ASHFORD UNITED manager Kevin Watson says he’s feeling content with a point after his side put in a resilient performance and showed more commitment after suffering a heavy league defeat at the weekend.

Both sides went into this local derby at Reachfields Stadium with back-to-back Isthmian League South East Division defeats and both could have risen to fourth-place with a derby night victory.

Hythe Town lost to Chichester City (0-5) and Erith & Belvedere (0-1) both away from home, while Ashford United have lost 5-3 to Phoenix Sports before suffering a 6-0 defeat at East Grinstead Town at the weekend, which forced manager Watson to make five changes to his starting line-up tonight.

Hythe Town centre-half Lex Allan gave his side an early lead from a header following a goalkeeping mistake from Jacob Russell, before Ashford United levelled through Danny Parish’s penalty, scoring his third goal of the season.

Hythe Town grabbed the lead with 15 minutes remaining through a sublime finish from left-wing-back Aaron Barnes, before Ashford United levelled at the death through Lewis Knight’s stunning left-footed volley, which screamed into the top left-hand corner from 18-yards, a contender for goal of the season.

“Not the finest of spectacles, I don’t think. It was competitive. There wasn’t an abundance of quality on the pitch tonight from either side, I don’t think. I probably didn’t expect it to be, local derby,” said Watson.

“I think it’s always a tough place to come isn’t it?  I felt after the poor result on Saturday, I thought there was more commitment from our team and we showed an aspect of the game, which is important to show in terms of being quite resilient at times.

“That’s probably the best I’ve seen the pitch for a long time.  I think everyone’s used to playing on absolute carpets now aren’t they? It looks decent from the side and it’s not in bad condition. The groundsman has done a decent job. It’s still a little bit bobbly.”

Watson was asked why he made five changes and whether he got a positive reaction from his players.

“Saturday was poor. I think as a management team if you have a poor result and poor performance like that, you’re going to make changes if you can.

“Yes. I felt there was more commitment. I don’t think we had an abundance of quality but I felt the commitment and the work ethic was better.”

Hythe Town boss Steven Watt said: “Our luck at the minute!  Any slight error or mistake just seems to get punished.

“I felt in complete control of the game. Baring the two goals, I don’t think they’ve registered a shot on target that I can remember, any chance as such.

“We’ve had more than enough chances, I think, to win a game but been punished right at the end again.

“It’s not even a mistake from Steve (Phillips). It’s a little error and nine times out of 10 a centre-half hits it anywhere but where he hit it and it’s gone in – it’s a great finish, so you have to give credit to him.”

Reflecting on their single-goal defeat at Erith & Belvedere, Watt said: “Saturday we were outstanding so there was no reaction needed in terms of us because of the performance. Another week we win four or five nil but again we got punished for a silly mistake and a wonder strike and lost the game 1-0 but tonight, I felt a really soft penalty and a slight mistake from Steve led to the equaliser.”

Hythe Town took the lead from a well-worked set-piece routine, with five minutes and 26 seconds on the clock.

Everyone was expecting Jack Steventon to launch a long throw into the Ashford box, instead he played it short and right-wing-back Marcus Goldsmith put over a cross, which was poorly punched by Russell and towering centre-half Allan guided his header into the roof of the net.

“It’s something we spoke about in terms of starting quick,” said Watt.

“Obviously, with their result on Saturday, it was important that we started quick and then try to get that early goal, which we did and I felt we were good value for the lead at that point and putting a lot of pressure on.

“It was a perfect start to the game, it was the way we wanted to start the game.”

Watson said: “It was very scrappy wasn’t it?  It was a short throw where it looked like they were setting up for a long throw. The ball’s come in and there’s bodies in the box.  We sort of know they’re going to do that is one thing, being able to deal with it, is another.

“From their perspective it probably looks like a well-worked set-piece. From our perspective it looks soft.”

Steventon – who plays in the centre of a three-man central defence – launched his first long throw into the Ashford box and the ball came out to holding midfielder Frannie Collin, who drilled his first-time drive flashing past the right-hand post from 25-yards.

Ashford United created their first opening in the 12th minute.

Centre-half Ben Gorham drilled a low 20-yard pass into Ian Draycott’s feet in the middle and his reverse pass split open Liam Smith to play in Parish, whose right-footed drive from 12-yards was comfortably held by Steven Phillips, low to his right.

“I said there wasn’t an abundance of quality. I thought that was quite a good phase of play really,” added Watson.

Watt added: “It’s one of the shots on target. I didn’t quite remember that one. Not a massive, threatening chance. It was a comfortable save that you expect Steve to make.”

Collin floated in a cross from the right which was met by Jake Embery’s towering header (over Gorham) which cleared the Ashford United crossbar.

Gorham was penalised for a foul on Hythe Town striker Johan Caney-Bryan and Russell made amends by taking a couple of steps to his right before diving to push Collin’s right-footed free-kick from 35-yards around the post for the first of seven corners.

Watt said: “It was a good free-kick. Fran knows in that situation where there’s a bit of wetness to try to make the keeper work and he did and it was a comfortable save for a keeper, so I don’t class that as a chance really. It was a good free-kick from Fran but a really comfortable save.”

Watson added: “Frannie’s good from set-pieces isn’t he? When they get them around the box like that, you know he’s going to make the keeper work.”

Collin floated the resulting corner in from the left and Allan steered his header across the keeper and past the far post.

Ashford United went close to scoring at the halfway mark in the half, however.

Rhyle Ovenden played the ball into the left-channel and good movement from Parish saw him hold the ball up before cutting the ball back for holding midfielder Connor Dymond, who pounced on the ball in space before drilling a low right-footed drive flashing past the foot of the near-post from 30-yards.

“Good vision from Danny. He was nice and patient and when he got into a good position, he got his head up and I thought it was a good strike from Connor,” said Watson.

Watt added: “I’m happy with players shooting from there. If they go in from that distance it’s either a hell of a strike or my keeper’s made a save.”

However, referee Richard Joss awarded Ashford United a soft penalty after adjudging right-wing-back Marcus Goldsmith to have fouled Tom Carlse just inside the corner of the box.

Parish stepped up and clinically drove his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, sending Phillips the wrong way, to bring Ashford United back into the contest with 30:59 on the clock.

“Tom done well to get into that position. He’s got his body between the player and the ball and it’s a bit clumsy from their lad.  Tom’s gone over and the ref’s given a penalty and Danny’s converted it well. It was a good penalty,” said Watson.

Watt was less than impressed with the decision, claiming it would have been overturned if VAR was used in the eighth-tier of English football.

He said: “Very, very soft.  Someone described to me in the changing room, it’s a penalty that you get in your own corner flag as a defender when you’re trying to let the ball run out.

“He just stepped across Marcus and he’s gone down with a scream and that tells you nine times out of 10, it’s not a penalty!  I think it’s a really poor decision and even the linesman my side (of the pitch, Ryan Chantrill-Smith) agreed with it. He didn’t see it as a pen either, so I think that tells you everything that you need to know!

“It’s not a penalty! There’s not enough contact. He’s stepped across him and gone down screaming, so it’s never a pen in my eyes.”

Dymond first time pass released left wing-back Carlse down the left-channel and he put it on a plate for Parish, who took a touch inside the box but Phillips smothered the ball to his right, before the home side went close following their second corner of the night.

Collin played the ball in from the right towards the near post for Liam Smith to hook his volley through a crowd of players and just past the foot of the near post.

“I think Liam’s got to hit the target. It’s the second phase from a ball in the box. If he gets it on target, he probably scores,” admitted the Cannons boss.

Both managers were asked their thoughts with the tussle tied at one-all.

Watt said: “Just more of the same really. It was more frustration with the penalty because we should’ve been in front. We should’ve comfortably be in front.  It was more disappointment with the decision for the penalty that we’re going in drawing.

“It was pretty much like ‘boys keep your heads going, keep doing what you’re doing’ because I felt there were goals in the game. If felt like it was a matter of time before we get the second.  It was quite positive from us in the first half and I think we were the better team going into half-time.”

Watson added: “We just spoke a little bit about shape and how we thought we might be able to get some chances and where our concentration needed to be from a defensive perspective really.”

Ashford United put in a vastly-improved performance during the early stages of the second half, creating a couple of chances through direct play.

Dymond drilled a long ball straight down the heart of the pitch and Parish jumped to flick the ball on to release Lanre Azeez, whose right-footed half-volley bounced across Phillips and flashed past the foot of the far post in the 51st minute.

“I thought he hit it a little bit too early. I felt he could’ve had another touch. It’s easy to say that from the side sometimes, players have to make decisions in split moments,” said Watson.

Watt said: “It’s wide. I didn’t see that as a chance because he’s wide, he’s forced an error. If he’s beat Steve, I’ll be looking at my keeper.

“I didn’t see that as a glaring chance, that he’s got to score. It’s disappointing from our regard that they’ve got there but they’re in the area that we’re comfortable them being in.”

Then four minutes later Gorham then hit a trademark long ball forward out of defence and Steventon’s slip some 30-yards from his goal played in Parish, whose right-footed drive flashed across Phillips and past the far post from 22-yards.

Watson said: “Danny’s frustrated with himself on that one.  Technically, you fancy him converting from there, but again it’s happening quickly in the game, isn’t it?”

Watt admitted: “That’s probably the best chance of the game and I think he’s got to score.

“It’s the only mistake at the minute that we haven’t been punished for. It’s a shanked clearance and Stevo just slips and he goes through and he’s got to score and he’ll be disappointed that they should be in front at that point. It was uncharacteristic from us to let them in like that, unfortunately.”

The game then turned into a direct stalemate from that moment on, with a draw the most likely outcome for these two committed teams in a blood and thunder, hard-fought local derby.

Hythe Town grabbed the lead with 29 minutes and 22 seconds on the clock, through Barnes’ sublime finish.

The 26-year-old picked the ball up in midfield, ran forward unopposed before reaching the edge of the box, cut inside and on to his right-foot before sending a delightful chip into the top far corner of the net.

“It’s the quality that Barnsey has, a fantastic finish,” Watt said of the former Welling United (National League South) player.

“Barnsey has bags and bags of quality, that’s why we brought him to the club.  Fantastic guy and an unbelievable player.

“We spoke about that. Bradley Simms (Ashford’s right-wing-back) is very good on one-v-one situations, particularly if you go on the outside but when you drive inside you can cause him problems at times, so it’s something that we’ve worked on and spoke about having that right sided player on the left so if you did get in that situation, you could cut in and Barnsey did the rest.

“He’s such a quality player, an unbelievable finish and I just wish it was enough to win the game.”

Watson said: “From our perspective, look, we’ve defended the first phase when he's picked it up, ok, in terms of our shape and then we’ve let him keep going and come inside.  There was a replicated goal we conceded on Saturday but that was through the middle of the pitch – but people can’t carry the ball that far unopposed.”

The Cannons are always a threat from set-pieces and Collin swung in his sixth corner of the night which found centre-back Liam Smith at the far post and his left-footed shot on the turn screamed over the crossbar.

The board for six minutes was raised and Ashford United forced a draw with 47 minutes and 44 seconds on the clock.

You will not see a better goal at any level of the game tonight. 

Knight, who was one of five players dropped after Saturday’s heavy defeat at East Grinstead Town, came off the bench in the 48th minute for Tolulope, who was forced off with an ankle injury.

Holding midfielder Harvey Brand launched a long ball into the e Hythe Town penalty area from the right (close to the half-way line), Phillips called for the ball and poorly punched the ball away.

Knight then drilled a stunning left-footed hooked volley screaming into the top left-hand corner from 18-yards to rescue a point.

“Yes, a great strike from Lewis,” said Watson.

“I suppose it feels like when you’re losing 2-1 and score relatively late on, it feels like something’s gained but I think we need to look at the bigger picture with that game really.

“I think a draw was probably a fair result I would imagine.  I don’t know. I suppose a neutral would be better to judge it.”

Watt admitted he wasn’t expecting Ashford United to score but hailed the strike from the 31-year-old Knight, who like Watt was born in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Watt said: “I didn’t feel under pressure and I’m sitting in there and the boys agreed. I didn’t feel under pressure at all at any point in the game. It wasn’t as if we were getting bombarded and (Ashford were creating) chance after chance.  They got in and around our box and it broke down and we broke.

“It was really, really comfortable but you can’t afford to switch off, particularly if you’re 2-1 up.  When you go into the dying moments you have to stay engaged in the game, so it wasn’t a case of thinking the game was won, but I couldn’t see how they were going to score.  They didn’t look like they were going to score, baring a mistake from us, which obviously happened.

“Unbelievable finish. The first thing you have to say before you dissect the goal, you have to say it’s an unbelievable finish. It must’ve been a great view from behind it – it looked great from where I was.  You have to take your hat off to him. It was a fantastic finish.

“I don’t think Steve (Phillips) has to come. Lex (Allan) is there. You’ve got a six foot seven centre-half on his head against probably a five foot 10 player, so there’s no need for him to come but he’s (Knight) got a lot to do.  Steve done what he can, he’s got it away from goal and it’s an unbelievable finish. You’ve got to take your hat off to him.”

However, Hythe Town missed a glorious chance to claim the local bragging rights with 50:22 on the clock.  Referee Richard Joss blew for full-time at 51:04.

It came from a trademark long throw, which Steventon hurled in from the left.  Liam Smith and then Allan flicked the ball on with their heads and Collin was lurking unmarked at the far post but he stretched for the ball to volley it over the crossbar.

“If it’s anyone you want it to drop to, it’s Fran,” admitted Watt. 

“I think he’s just over stretching. He can’t quite control the ball like he would do but if there’s anyone in that situation you want it to fall to it’s him.  Nine times out of 10, Frannie Collin scores that.

“It’s just seems what’s happening at the minute but you’ve got to keep grinding it out and keep working and you have to turn things around in terms of the work we’re having at the minute.  You have to keep playing well and things will change.”

Watson said: “They are quite direct. I can’t criticise them because they do it well and it was a tactic and a way of doing things, so that’s up to their management, the way they want to manage their team.  I don’t criticise any team for the way they approach things really.

“I’m content (with the draw), more than happy because we’ve lost two league games on the bounce, so I wouldn’t say happy.”

Both of these sides have picked up seven points from their opening five league outings, with Hythe Town in eighth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division table, with the Nuts & Bolts in ninth-place.

Three Bridges are at the summit with 14 points from six games, while the play-off places contain Chichester City (13 points from five), Herne Bay (10 points from five), Sittingbourne (eight points from five) and Cray Valley (seven points from three).

Both are also in FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round action at the weekend, with Watt taking his side to Concord Rangers, with Watson’s men travelling to Beaconsfield Town.

Essex based Concord Rangers are second-from-bottom in the Isthmian League Premier Division table with three points from nine games, while Beaconsfield Town are in sixteenth-place in the Southern League Premier South with 12 points from 11 games.

Watt said: “We’ve dropped five points from the last two games, that’s how I reflect it. We should be sitting with another five points but we’re not, that’s football and both performances warranted to win both games but we’re sat here with one point and that’s something we spoke about in there. We can’t sit and dwell on things where we think and all agree that we deserve more points. You get what you deserve in football, so if you end up with one point, you deserve one point.

“We’ve got to dust ourselves down and go to Concord on Saturday and try to get a positive result there and then we’ve got Sevenoaks here next Tuesday.

“There’s no question marks.  I think we’re playing very, very well at the minute, so I’ll be much more concerned if we were coming off the back of really big loses and not playing quite well and teams were dominating us a little bit but I don’t feel like that at all.  I feel very comfortable winning games. It’s just unfortunate any slight error we make gets punished.”

Hythe Town are relishing the underdog tag for their FA Trophy trip on Saturday.

“It will be a tough game. They’ve got some good players up there. I know quite a few of the players they’ve got there. Concord is never an easy place to go, as it proved on Saturday when Folkestone went there and lost 2-1 and it was their first win of the season.  They lost (3-0 at home to Cray Wanderers) again tonight.

“When you play teams in above leagues, it’s always a higher quality of player but we’re looking forward to it.  We’re getting the bus up there and it’s very much we go there and try to do what we’ve been doing and hopefully that will result in another tie.”

Watson, meanwhile, revealed that he watched Beaconsfield's impressive 3-0 win at Brackley Town on Tuesday 26 September.

Reflecting on their league position, the former Cray Valley and Herne Bay boss admitted: “It’s not a great start to be honest.  We’ve had some tough games to start off with, Erith & Belvedere and Sevenoaks.

“It’s (the league campaign) is up and running now. We’re getting into a little bit of routine soon in terms of playing league games and things will start to sort themselves out. I don’t think it’s quite the start that we would’ve wanted but there’s a lot of points to play for still.

“I went to watch Beaconsfield the other week. They were really good when they played Brackley and beat them 3-0.

“It will be a really tough game. I thought it was a real good standard for Step Three football, so we’ll have to be really good on the day to win the game.”

Ashford United, meanwhile, should be playing back at Homelands Stadium shortly, with finishing touches being made to their newly-laid artificial pitch within the next few days.

“We’ll be in the ground soon, which will be positive for a number of reasons.  We are (looking forward to playing at Homelands Stadium), also in terms of training and things like that and connecting with the fans and the crowd.  We’re not far off now, a couple of weeks maybe, so we’ll look forward to that.”

Hythe Town: Steven Phillips, Marcus Goldsmith, Aaron Barnes, Jack Steventon, Liam Smith, Lex Allan, Ethan Smith, Frannie Collin, Johan Caney-Bryan, Jarred Trespadern (Bradley Schafer 72), Jake Embery (Charles Noyelle 80).
Subs: Josh Stirman, Sam Flisher, Kane Phillip

Goals: Lex Allan 6, Aaron Barnes 75

Booked: Ethan Smith 81

Ashford United: Jacob Russell, Bradley Simms, Tom Carlse, Connor Dymond (Kymani Thomas 78), Jonah Tolulope (Lewis Knight 48), Ben Gorham, Ian Draycott (Anthony Edgar 73), Harvey Brand, Danny Parish, Rhyle Ovenden, Lanre Azeez.
Subs: Vance Bola, Mason Saunders-Henry

Goals: Danny Parish 31 (penalty), Lewis Knight 90

Booked: Jonah Tolulope 45, Harvey Brand 58, Bradley Simms 87, Anthony Edgar 90

Attendance: 228
Referee: Mr Richard Joss
Assistants: Mr Ryan Chantrill-Smith & Mr Krystian Kaczala