Ashford United 3-1 Crowborough Athletic - I just think they wanted it more, admits Crowborough Athletic boss Sean Muggeridge

Saturday 01st April 2017
Ashford United 3 – 1 Crowborough Athletic
Location Homelands Stadium, Ashford Road, Kingsnorth, Ashford, Kent TN26 1NJ
Kickoff 01/04/2017 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Saturday 1st April 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Homelands Stadium

ASHFORD UNITED manager Danny Lye says heart, fight and desire from his players’ will help the club win the title this month.

A crowd of 459 were at Homelands Stadium to watch Ashford United claim a massive three points in the top-of-the-table showdown between these two Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division powerhouses.

Both sides went into the game on 74 points and it was second-placed Crowborough Athletic who took the lead through Ross Treleaven’s eighteenth-goal of the season.

But big games call on big players and winger Rory Hill, 27, went on to score his third career hat-trick to ensure Ashford United moved three points clear at the top of the table with five league games remaining, although the Crows do have a game in hand.

“We’re first-against-second for a reason because we’re the best two teams in the league,” said Lye during the post-match press conference.

“The last couple of games, we’ve been struggling, they’ve been struggling a little bit so today was really who wanted it the most and I think today we showed that.

“It keeps us top of the table. It moves us three points clear, which is really important and Sevenoaks slipped up (drawing 1-1 at Lordswood) so it’s there for the taking, but there’s a long way to go yet. One result won’t decide it.”

Ashford United suffered back-to-back defeats to third-placed Sevenoaks Town (0-7 over the two games, the league game away and the Challenge Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Homelands in midweek), but Hill’s hat-trick marked the club’s 100th league goal of the season.

“Is it 100? I didn’t know that but it’s great,” said Lye.

“That shows you that we’ve scored a lot and we’ve played well. If you look at the goals against (37), I think that’s crept up lately compared to what it was and that’s been our problem over our last three or four games. We’ve been giving away sloppy goals.”

Crowborough Athletic lost their unbeaten away league record with their fourth defeat of the season today.

“I thought we started really well and we went 1-0 up. If we got a second one it might’ve been a bit of a different kettle of fish but we didn’t,” said Crowborough Athletic manager Sean Muggeridge.

“We stopped, they got back in it at half-time. I still thought we could go on and win the game but they just totally deserved to win completely.

“I’ve just had a bit of a word with the players out there. I don’t think they haven’t given me everything but it’s very, very disappointing, apart from the first 20-25 minutes.”

When asked about the title race, Muggeridge insisted: “It’s not over, we’ve got a lot of games left. It would’ve bene easier today to get a draw or win but we haven’t.

“We haven’t been in form for the last few weeks. We’ve got away with results and the AFC Croydon Athletic result (a 1-1 draw away last weekend) was an example of how we’ve been playing and today was no excuses. We had a full squad so there’s no excuses at all.”

Crowborough Athletic started well and were to be denied the breakthrough inside the opening four and a half minutes.

Playing a 4-1-3-2 formation, against an Ashford United side that started with a 4-5-1 formation, Crowborough right-back Sam Crabb played the ball over the top to put Eddie Smith through on goal, but after cutting inside the former Farnborough striker right-footed shot from a tight angle forced George Kamurasi to get down low to his left to make the save at his near post.

“We did have a few chances and we maybe we could’ve had a few more goals,” said Muggeridge.

“I think after Ashford’s results in the previous couple of games it might’ve been game over but you’ve got to be fair to them, they thoroughly deserved it afterwards, say the first 25 minutes.”

Jason Goodchild played the ball inside to Hill, who struck a right-footed drive from 30-yards which was saved by visiting keeper Dan Ellis.

Crowborough Athletic striker Zac Attwood curled a shot around the far post from 15-yards after Treleaven played a low ball in from the right.

Hill floated in a free-kick into the Crowborough box and David Botterill took a touch before stroking his shot just past the post with Ellis scrambling to his left inside the opening 10 minutes.

But Crowborough Athletic drew first blood by taking the lead with 19 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock.

Lee Carey shrugged off a challenge from Ben Davisson close to the left touchline and played a pass along the deck towards the D.  The ball was cleared out to Treleaven, who drilled a low right-footed drive nestling into the bottom right-hand corner from 19-yards.

“We decided to put him wide today to get at their full-backs and it was working,” said Muggeridge.

“We scored, we were pretty much in control of the game.  We didn’t have anything really but it’s a great strike.

“If we did get the second one we would’ve gone on and won the game, it’s as simple as that.”

Lye added: “I think they scored against the run of play to be fair. I thought we were more on top but I think we feel asleep a little bit and they’ve got players that can hurt you.

“Great goal.  There were some good goals today and that shows you that the two teams have got good players. It’s going to be decent goals that win you these games and that one from him was a good strike.”

Kamurasi flung himself to his left to pluck and gather at the second attempt Carey’s right-footed drive from 30-yards after the quiet Henry Muggeridge played the ball into his feet.

Ashford striker Shaun Welford endured a frustrating afternoon. He met Hill’s floated free-kick with a glancing header from six-yards which sailed wide, before Ashford United missed a glorious chance in the 32nd minute.

Crabb under-hit a back-pass towards keeper Ellis and Goodchild latched onto the ball and sprinted through on goal but Ellis rushed off his line to smother at the number 10’s feet.

Lye said: “He should’ve hit it first time but he’s tried to take it around the keeper but the keeper’s done well. Dan Ellis has come out and made it hard for him.”

Muggeridge added: “Sam was playing right-back today and he took time to get used to it. He passed it and I think it held up a little bit on the pitch. I’m not actually sure what happened. I actually turned away and he’s under-hit the pass and it was a great save.”

Muggeridge floated in a cross from the left and Attwood’s glancing header sailed into Kamurasi’s hands.

Ashford winger Danny Stubbs whipped in a deep cross towards the far post and Welford towered over Jack Turner to head down and past the near post from 10-yards.

But a real piece of quality from Hill brought Ashford United level with 38 minutes and 43 seconds on the clock.

Fraser Walker threw the ball into Hill, who played a one-two with his left-back before driving forward with the ball for at least 25-yards.  Crowborough players failed to attempt to tackle or bring down the roaming winger, who cut into the box before drilling his right-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner.

“Does his magic, that’s what Rory does week-in-week-out. He makes a difference,” hailed Lye.

“He picked the game up from that, put it in the back of the net and he moves on and that lifted the boys. It was a good time to score.”

Muggeridge added: “Poor, very poor. I said to them at half-time, you’ve done all that hard work to get 1-0 up and you just give it away just like that.

“Rory Hill is a good player and when he turns up like that he’s pretty much, I’m not saying he’s unplayable. For a guy to run that long and not get tackled or even fouled – I mean I don’t want my players to foul. If you go that far and don’t even get tackled then it’s very disappointing. It’s disappointing at the stage of the game as well just before half-time.”

Stubbs then floated in a deep cross towards the far post and Hill ghosted in behind to steer his header wide from a tight angle.

Crowborough Athletic should have equalised in the 44th minute when Ashford’s central defender Pat Kingwell lost out to Smith, who strode forward before producing a poor finish that had the striker holding his head in his hands in despair, dragging his shot wide of the near post from 25-yards when faced with the big and vocal presence of Kamurasi.

“A bit unfortunate really, he made it himself but he sort of snatched at it and it’s gone wide,” said Muggeridge.

“That would’ve put us 2-1 at half-time. It might’ve been a bit different. We have to take them chances.

“It’s hard to knock anyone because they tried their hardest to score a goal but if we had scored again it would’ve been more different.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

Lye said: “We had problems keeping our shape over the last three or four games and today we went through it and the boys done what they were told and I told them the best team will win if you go out there and give you your most, give it everything that you’ve got because man for man you’re better than them!”

Muggeridge added: “I just said the first 25 minutes we were right on it but after that you’ve just got to hand it to them.  I keep saying it, but it’s very disappointing that we did dominate the first 25 minutes and didn’t get another goal but that’s football.”

Ashford United were given an opening inside the opening two and a half minutes when Hill’s ball down the left channel released Welford, who saw Ellis advance to attempt to smother the ball at the strikers’ feet and the loose ball was cleared towards safety.

Ashford midfielder David Botterill brought the ball down under control with his chest before striking his volley past the left-hand post.

But it appeared at this stage that Crowborough Athletic were settling for a point and it was up to Ashford United to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

The game then turned into a feisty affair with referee Kane Dempster trying to keep things under control as both sets of players were going at it.

Lye stepped on the pitch in frustration as Goodchild tussled for the ball with Carey and Referee Dempster sent Lye off towards the dressing room in the 62nd minute.

Lye said: “It was a bit feisty. It was a tough one for the ref to control because both sides have got experienced players and they can sort of trick the ref into certain things. I’m just glad no one got sent off, other than me, yes.”

When asked to explain why he walked onto the pitch, which led to him being sent off, Lye replied: “It’s just frustration, you know.  The free-kick’s so blatantly our way. He’s put the arm across and he’s ended up giving a foul against us and booking our player for it, which is ludicrous.”

Muggeridge added: "It will (be feisty). There’s two teams trying to win the league. You’re not going to get a nice little friendly game between two sides going for the league.”

Ashford were solid at the back and Crowborough Athletic couldn’t break them down during a second half that the home side pressed home their advantage.

Lye said: “The whole team have put a great shift in today, they worked hard.  The back four, I thought Pat Kingwell, Richard Avery, David Botterill, they had really good games as well. It was a good foundation from everyone.”

Muggeridge added: “We were trying to go long. I don’t know what they were doing there. We coached on a 3G pitch all week to get the ball down and play and we went too long again.  We know how good they are in the air. It’s just people taking responsibility out there really. But they’ve been superb for me all season and we’ve got to look at myself as well. Did I make the right decisions? Substitutions? Which I will do and I expect the players to look at themselves as well.”

Ashford United were awarded a 65th minute penalty when Hill cut into the box and was tripped by Turner.

Clubs that video their games give too much away, as Ellis revealed during the post-match press conference.

Welford stepped up and stroked his right-footed penalty towards the bottom left-hand corner, but Ellis dived low to his right to push the ball behind for a corner.

“You’d put your house on Welford to score the penalties don’t you? He’s not had the rub of the green over the last few weeks,” admitted Lye.

Muggeridge said: “I am honest and I’m not just saying it because we lost, I thought it was outside the box for a start, it looked well outside the box.  I might be wrong but I’ll have a look at that. He shouldn’t really be diving in there anyway and Shaun doesn’t normally miss them but I think it was a great save than a miss really.”

Goalkeeper Ellis added: “If I’m bored at work I watch videos of various games in the past. I’ve seen this season, the last couple of penalties, he’s gone to the right, so I said at the start of the game if he took a penalty I’d dive to the right and thankfully he went that way and I saved it.  I quite like penalties, you’re never expected to save them.”

It took another moment of magic from Hill to give Ashford United a 2-1 lead with 23 minutes and 41 seconds into the second half.

He collected the ball on the left wing, danced past three Crowborough players before curling a peach of a shot around Ellis into the bottom far corner from 25-yards.

“It just opened up and I thought I had to hit it and it caught the keeper flat footed and it just went into the bottom corner, so yes, I take that one,” said Hill.

Muggeridge added: “Same as the first half goal, it’s a good shot from Rory.  We let him cut inside. He actually had two or three shots before that so why are we letting people cut inside and do that when he’s already done it first half is beyond me. But I don’t really know what else you can do as a manager? You tell them, we’ve coached it all into them. Is it a bad day at the office? Don’t know, disappointing goal.”

Ashford hit Crowborough on a break and it was two-against-two but the excellent Hill decided to go for it alone, his right-footed drive from 25-yards bouncing past the right-hand post.

Davisson’s corner from the left was met by Welford’s downward header at the far post, which was blocked, before Ashford United scored their 100th league goal of the season with 10 minutes left.

Welford was fouled a yard outside the box and initially wanted to take the free-kick himself.

Hill stepped up and stroked his right-footed free-kick towards the bottom left-hand corner and Ellis dived to his right to tip the ball onto his post.  Welford slid in to attempt to poke the ball over the line but admitted after the game that he didn’t get a touch so man-of-the-match Hill grabbed his hat-trick, taking his tally for the season to 22 goals.

“Welfs picked it up and I thought he’s not having it, no way,” said Hill.

“I thought the keeper was just the other side a little bit so I gave him the eyes and struck it in the other corner, luckily.  He did get a hand to it so it was quite close and then Welfs tried to nick it on the line!”

Lye added: “We laughed because Shaun’s been on a bit of a goal drought. If you look at Rory’s contributions today, he’s scored three, he’s won a penalty. He’s had a fantastic free-kick.”

It was one of those goals where Welford might have got a touch before crossing the line – but he admitted after the game that he didn’t so Hill claimed his hat-trick.

Muggeridge said: “I said to the players in there, it’s a bit disappointing that the actual player (Welford) has come in and tapped it in – where were the blue shirts?  The ensure me he was offside. I can moan about that, the way we played, we would’ve lost anyway.

Ellis backed Welford’s claim by saying, “It’s Rory’s goal 100%. I’ve set my wall up and he's shaped up as if he was going to try to get it up and over the wall and he hasn’t. He’s whipped it across the front of the front post and I’ve touched it onto the post and it’s just rolled over the line so it’s definitely Rory’s goal.”

Crowborough Athletic forced a couple of late chances but it proved to be too little too late and this defeat may cost them the title and promotion back into the Isthmian League, where they spent one season in 2008-2009.

Muggeridge floated in a corner from the right and Turner rose to plant his header over the crossbar.

“it’s just a pity we couldn’t get it on target but that’s football unfortunately. It never looked like we were going to score in the second half,” added the Crowborough manager.

Muggeridge then played the ball into Attwood’s feet, who threaded the ball through to Tom Vickers, but his deflected shot trickled just past the right-hand post.

While Hill will get the plaudits, Lye was full of praise for other players too.

He said: “The whole team have put a great shift in today, they worked hard.  The back four, I thought Pat Kingwell, Richard Avery, David Botterill, they had really good games as well. It was a good foundation from everyone.

“We have got the players and the last few weeks I challenged them a little bit because they haven’t been at it and today they proved me right that they are good players.”

Ashford United travel to Whitstable Town on Tuesday night and play Cray Valley in the Kent Reliance Senior Trophy Final in Maidstone on Sunday 9 April.  They then host Fisher (15 April), are the away side when they play tenants Canterbury City (17 April), before travelling to Croydon (22 April) and host Rochester United (29 April).

Crowborough Athletic have got to play the bottom four clubs in their last six games, which are never easy.

They host Erith & Belvedere next Saturday, before travel to Whitstable Town (11 April), host Lordswood (15 April), travel to Fisher (17 April), host Beckenham Town (22 April) before travel to Hollands & Blair on the last day of the season.

“Today’s another victory but we’re a long way from it. Dunston away is probably the best one in the Vase so far but it will be one of my best days come the end of the month as long as we don’t slip up and make more mistakes,” said Lye.

“It’s all in our hands at the minute. They’ll be more draws along the way over the next few weeks. They’ll be twists and turns and it will go up and down and all off a sudden Crowborough will be there, we’ll be there but all we have to do is keep chipping the results off.

“Whitstable is going to be a tough game. I know Scott Porter well and he won’t lay down because he won’t want his mate to beat him so he’ll be trying to win the game.  We’ve just got to go to war again.  It’s going to be a battle down there. It’s going to be physical. We just have to make sure that we turn up again because the last few weeks we’ve been inconsistent and not turned up. As long as we turn up and put in the fight, heart and the desire that we’ve done today then we’ll be alright.”

Reflecting on today’s defeat and the title race, Muggeridge admitted: “We’re never going to catch their goal-difference (12 goals) now so it’s going to be them slipping up now so it’s in their hands now.  We know what it’s like. When it’s in our hands it’s very difficult to keep going and hopefully that will happen to them but I just think apart from the first 25 minutes they wanted it a bit more.

“I’m never going to give it up and my players won’t either. It’s made it more difficult for us, I know, but we’ll keep going and going and going until it’s actually not mathematically possible to win it.”

Ashford United: George Kamurasi, George Savage, Fraser Walker, David Botterill, Richard Avery, Pat Kingwell, Danny Stubbs, Ben Davisson, Shaun Welford, Jason Goodchild, Rory Hill (Joe Vines 90).
Subs: Ryan Palmer, Luke Eldridge, Adrian Stone, Matt Day

Goals: Rory Hill 39, 69, 80

Booked: David Botterill 29, Jason Goodchild 61, Rory Hill 62, Danny Stubbs 79, George Savage 89

Sent Off: Danny Lye (manager) 62

Crowborough Athletic: Dan Ellis, Sam Crabb, Tom Boddy, Lee Carey, Jack Turner, Jason Barton, Ross Treleaven (Tom Pearson 83), Jack Walder (Tom Vickers 86), Zac Attwood, Eddie Smith (Dan Perry 74), Henry Muggeridge

Goal: Ross Treleaven 20

Booked: Jack Walder 54, Zac Attwood 63, Jack Turner 65, Henry Muggeridge 90

Attendance: 459
Referee: Mr Kane Dempster (Hythe)
Assistants: Mr Joseph Dann-Pye (Maidstone) & Mr Harry Phillips (Dartford)

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This report has been dedicated to my dad, Dave McCartney, who sadly lost his life to cancer 17 years ago today. Rest in peace and missing you lots xxx