Rochester City 1-0 Ashford - The drive is to go as high as we can, but small steps, says Rochester United joint-manager and joint-founder Aaron McCall

Friday 18th May 2018
Rochester City 1 – 0 Ashford
Location Rede Court Road, Strood, Rochester, Kent ME2 3TU
Kickoff 18/05/2018 19:30

Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Division Two Central & East
Friday 18 May 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Rede Court Road

ROCHESTER CITY joint-manager and joint-founder Aaron McCall says the club will look to take small steps and win promotion through the Kent County League rather than apply for Step Six football.

The club hire Rochester United’s Rede Court Road ground and their last game of the season was played underneath the floodlights.  The club finished runners-up to Wateringbury in the Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Division Two Central & East table with 49 points from their 20 games, finishing three points behind the champions.

Striker Finlay Martin, 18, settled a disappointing end of season game by scoring 18 minutes from time to beat an Ashford side that have to settle for a sixth out of eleven teams finish with 25 points and losing finalists in the Kent Reliance Junior Cup and Les Leckie Cup.

“I thought it was not a bad performance to be fair,” said McCall afterwards.

“We had a lot of players’ out tonight, it had a very much of a last game of the season feel to it but overall I’m happy with the performance, I’m really, really happy I’d say.

“Winning promotion is what we set out to do at the start of the season but I would’ve liked to have won it but when we played Wateringbury over the two games I think they just shaded it.”

Ashford player-manager Ryan Norman said: “Disappointed to be fair.  Probably the same as Aaron.  We’re struggling for numbers, we had a cup final on Tuesday so we had a few out injured.

“We’re playing catch up with the league schedule. We’ve played a lot of games, we struggled for players, it’s taken its toll on the players but I’ve managed to put a team together here and we come in and battled well against a team that have arguably been, along with Wateringbury, the best in the league throughout the season.”

Ashford created the first chance inside the opening five minutes when right-winger Josh Jones, who couldn’t live up to his performance on Tuesday night, crossed low for striker James Haylock, whose left-footed glancing shot across the keeper from six-yards was turned around the post by the diving Harry Potter.

Norman said: “You saw Tuesday JJ (Jones), he gets past his marker and puts the ball in the danger area.  I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t fill the box up more. We know what JJ has got in his locker. 

“I think our fitness was the telling story tonight, they were fitter than us all over the park so a bit disappointed not to get the goal.”

McCall said: “Harry’s done really well since he’s come in. He’s only a young lad.  He’s played at Bexlians last year, he also played for Lordswood’s first team as well at such a young age.  He’s got a real good head on his shoulders.”

Rochester City’s opening chance came in the 22nd minute when Andre Trenton’s corner was cleared and Martin hooked the ball back into the box and Tinotenda Mukura brought the ball down and Bitteng Guila hooked his shot wide from inside the D.

Rochester City’s left-back George Williams reached the by-line to whip in a cross towards the near post but Mukura’s header from inside the six-yard box bounced into the hands of James Atkins.

Atkins was called into more serious action when he stuck up his right-hand to tip over Martin’s drilled left-footed shot from 12-yards after being set-up by the Mukura, a diminutive pacey striker.

McCall said: “Real good chance!  You always know what you’re going to get out of Tino.  He’s lively, pacey and young Finlay has done brilliant this year.  He’s come through the under 18s system, progressed through the reserves and then the last month and a half he’s come into the first team and he’s hit the ground running.   I just say to him every time he goes out there just enjoy yourself and do what you do and he’s done really well again for us tonight.”

Norman added: “I can’t fault James. He’s made a couple of superb saves. He dropped me a text earlier today to say he’s had a bit of a hip injury but I said to him there’s no chance of getting a keeper in at this late notice and he turned up and once gain done a job for the team.  He made some outstanding saves so fair play to him.  He makes himself very big, very quick off his line and he kept us in the game.”

Both sides kept the ball on the deck but both lacked the cutting edge in the final third.

Ashford created the final chance of the half when Haylock played the ball along the floor to Tom Wilkes, whose right-footed curler from 22-yards was tipped around the post by Potter.

Norman said: “Tom missed out Tuesday night. I had a hard choice to make with the 16 that I picked and Tom was unlucky, one of the ones that missed out.  He played the Cup Final against Welling Town and I’ve got to keep the boys happy and mix things up so he missed out so I put him out tonight, fresh legs and I thought he had a decent game in the middle of the park.  He’s lively and energetic and he had a game for the Prison Service yesterday so he’s done well to give me another 90. He’s a fit lad and gets around the park so he had a good chance and was unlucky not to score.”

McCall added: “You can’t fault H since he’s come in. He’s probably only played five or six games for us at the back end of this year. We had another goalkeeper in goal but Harry’s come in and he’s taken his chance and fair play to him.”

At half-time, McCall told his troops to “Just keep doing what we’re doing! There was an end of season feel to the game and I don’t feel we did anything wrong as such. The boys were happy, there was no bickering or anything like that, it was real clam.  I said keep plugging away and luckily enough it did in the end.”

Norman said: “We all know about Rochester’s attacking talents. They missed a couple of their goalscorers tonight but it doesn’t matter, a team like this playing at a facility like this, they’ve got numbers all good players all around their squad.

“I had Mark Wallis come back from his honeymoon/wedding for the last month and he was superb at the back.  I’m lucky to have Wallis. He could play a couple of leagues’ higher than this and he’s a tock for me at centre back and he defiantly made a difference.  He looked a lot more solid and it’s good to have him back and he kept their forwards quiet for most of the game and I thought he was unlucky to concede a goal.

“I said to the boys we’re dangerous when we get ourselves down the wings, that’s where we create danger.  Their full-backs were good tonight.”

Rochester City were gifted a sight on goal inside the opening five minutes when the away side gave the ball in the final third and Mukura ran into the penalty box before slotting his right-footed shot just past the foot of the near post.

Rhyce Morris, Martin and Mukura all linked up before Harry Hunt was played in behind but his right-footed drive was smothered by the advancing and alert Ashford keeper Atkins.

McCall was full of praise for Mukura, who had a great game.

“Tino has been with us for four and a half years.  We’ve only been going five years as a club so he’s previously played for Whitstable Town, come through their Academy and progressed in to their under 21s as well and we managed to get hold of him, which I’m very pleased about.  On his day he’ll literally turn defenders inside out with his pace, he’s electric!”

Rochester City were to be denied a 59th minute breakthrough, courtesy of some great defending from Robbie Dolan, who has been drafted in from Ashford United’s under 23s.

Holding midfielder Dan Perfect played an inch-perfect ball over the top to put in Mukura, who chipped the ball over the advancing keeper from 22-yards and as the ball dropped underneath the crossbar Dolan showed the desire to get on his line to nod the ball over his own crossbar.

“Dan Perfect has come in tonight, he’s a reserve team player,” revealed McCall.

“I can’t fault any of the boys out there tonight, especially Dan. He’s stepped up and we had three or four reserve team players out there tonight and I can’t fault any of them, they all gave 100%.  The ball went through, Tino’s nicked it over the top of the goalkeeper and the defender has put it over.”

Ashford missed a glorious chance to win the game halfway through the second half. 

Substitute Craig Haynes started the second half playing in the holding midfielder role before he was used as an emergency target man.

Atkins launched a big kick over the Rochester back four to put Haynes through on goal but with only Potter to beat smashed his volley screaming past the right-hand post.

“Jamie Aides had to shoot off for work so I took him off at half-time and that was the plan all along to play Jamie in the first half and Craig in the second,” explained Norman.

“Craig is a luxury, vey experienced player, he’s 33-34 now but he’s a very good footballer, very intelligent on the ball and he uses it wisely and he doesn’t give it away.  Due to his height he can be a presence up there.

“I had to change things up. I didn’t have a full five-man bench today so I had to be careful.  He has the ability to drop in the centre of the park and he’s got the ability to go up and play centre forward so I pushed him up and he was unlucky with that.  I guarantee if he done that in training four times out of five he’d hit the back of the net.  He snatched it a little bit and he ended up pitting it wide.

“It’s games like this against good teams you have to put it in the back of the net and he knows it and he’ll be disappointed he didn’t get on the scoresheet.”

McCall added: “He should score! Me being a previous striker as well, he’s only got to lift it over him or put it past him.  He looked like he had too much time, maybe, on his hands, I don’t know.  He just scuffed it wide really. He should’ve hit it in.”

Rochester City banked the victory with 26 minutes and 5 seconds on the clock.

The impressive Mukura capped off a good night’s work when he played a cross-field pass over to Martin, who took a touch before drilling a low left-footed shot from a tight angle into the bottom near corner, via Ben Hunt’s deflection at the near post.

McCall said: “As soon as it left Finlay’s foot, I thought that’s going in!

“Since he’s come in for the last month or so he’s been absolutely brilliant!  He scored a hat-trick down at New Romney Reserves on his first team debut and then when we played West Farleigh at home he got another one and the boy is only 18.  He’s real prospect for this club.  He’s got good work-rate from the youngster and he’s put his chance away and I can’t fault him.”

Norman said: “Tino was lively all game, he was their dangerman tonight. He popped up in all kinds of spaces. I think the first half-an-hour you saw him hold his position and he wasn’t as lively as we know he can be and I don’t know whether he was given direction or choose off his own back but he decided to make himself a lot busier.  We all know anyone with a bit of intelligence around football if you stay together too long you become easy to pick up. He started to move around and get himself around the pitch and in little pockets. My centre backs didn’t know whether to pick him up or our holding midfielder didn’t know whether to drop off and pick him up. 

“He started that move and they got the goal from it.  I thought it was unlucky. We defended their wings really well tonight and we were very unlucky with that goal but these things happen in football.”

Ashford striker Matt Forster saw his right-footed drive from 25-yards comfortably bounce into Potter’s hands, but Norman put a chance on a plate for fellow substitute Stuart Taylor inside the final five minutes.

Norman, 29, reached the by-line down the left to cut the ball back towards the near post but Taylor flicked his shot straight at Potter from eight-yards.

Norman said: “I’ve been itching at the bit to get involved with these boys. I had a serious injury in April 2016 when I played for Lydd. I spent a long, long time doing my rehab.  I came back a little bit too early arguably.

“I said to myself a month ago if I can I’ll get involved in the last game of the season. I came off the bench and had a little go at the full-back and managed to get around him and put the ball on a plate for Stuart and he’s managed to hit the goalkeeper out of the whole goal!

“He would’ve been better missing it! I think he caught it too cleanly and come off the square of his foot and it’s gone straight to the goalkeeper.

“Stuart’s bagged himself a few goals and he’s an attacking centre midfielder and he’s got 13 goals this season. I can’t ask for any more.  I couldn’t have done any more for him than put it on a plate for him!”

Atkins made another fine block at the end as he rushed off his line to use his chest to deny substitute Harry Payne, after he was played in by fellow sub Lee Whalin, who is also joint-manager and founder alongside McCall.

McCall said: “This club has got a lot of ambition.  Everyone behind the scenes want to push it as far as we can. We’ve only been going for five years. The drive is to go as high as we can but small steps. The aim is SCEFL when we get there, hopefully in one or two years’ but you don’t know, small steps.

“We’ll go into Kent County League Division One next year and hopefully a lot of the boys will stick around. We’ll add a few in the summer and then we’ll look to go again but the aim will be to get out of Division One and hopefully to Kent County League Premier.

“Every season since we’ve been at the club we’ve been promoted. We’ve been here since day one.  Me and Lee Whalin founded the club, there have been a lot of other people who have come in and people who work hard behind the scenes.  The chairman has invested a lot of hard work, time and money into the club and wants to push the club forward.

“The aim is to keep going forward, small steps but we’ll love to be one of the teams pushing on for the SCEFL.”

Reflecting on his first season in charge of Ashford, Norman replied: “The aim for the season was to finish the season with a cup final and a top five finish, I’d be absolutely buzzing and I’ve ended up with two cup finals and a sixth-place finish.  By all accounts as my first season as a manager I’m absolutely ecstatic. I’m gutted that I couldn’t bring some silverware.”

Rochester City: Harry Potter, Rhyce Morris, George Williams (Dean Joseph-Whittingham 41), Dan Perfect, Aaron Woolcock, James Morgan, Andre Trenton (Harry Payne 65), Bitteng Guila (Jake Hobbes 65), Finley Martin (Lee Whalin 74), Tinotenda Mukura (Finley Martin 88), Harry Hunt.
Sub: Dean BakerHar

Goal: Finlay Martin 72

Booked: Finlay Martin 42, Aaron Woolcock 42

Ashford: James Atkins, Dane Rollings, Robbie Dolan, Jamie Aides (Craig Haynes 46), Mark Wallis, Ben Hunt (Ryan Norman 80), Tom Wilkes, Stephen Cowell, Matt Forster, James Haylock (Stuart Taylor 65), Josh Jones (Sam Sowdon 80).

Attendance: 55
Referee:  Mr John Quirke (Maidstone)

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