Ashford Town 0 Croydon Athletic 1 - Cumberbatch: We're focused to make sure we stay up (EXCLUSIVE)
ASHFORD TOWN 0
CROYDON ATHLETIC 1
Eben Allen 72 (pen)
Stephen McCartney reports from The Homelands
Ryman League Division One
Ashford Town, keeping the same starting eleven that won 1-0 at basement boys Corinthian Casuals on Saturday, deserved more than what they got at The Homelands tonight.
Croydon Athletic, who climbed above Dover Athletic and into seventh place in the table, just two points adrift of the final play-off place that’s currently held by Kingstonian, didn’t deserve to collect all three points, having won the game with a dubious penalty with 18 minutes left.
Ashford’s right-back Jamie Smith was adjudged to have fouled Rams’ top-scorer Eben Allen 12 yards from goal, although the striker managed to stay on his feet - something they can’t do higher up in the game.
Allen, though, placed the resulting gift to Simon Overland’s left to steal the points for the Surrey side.
“I thought we certainly deserved more,” admitted Ashford Town’s joint-manager John Cumberbatch after the game.
“I mean the penalty, to us at first, we thought Jamie had kicked him but the players say he just went shoulder to shoulder with the lad and the lad just slipped basically.
“It’s more demoralising we end up losing it because of that - but that’s been the story of our season,” he bemoaned.
Had Ashford taken their first half chances they would have gone on to win this game, but had to settle for no points and the 18th competitive game that they’ve failed to hit the target.
They started brightly and showed plenty of promise that they will, once again, be playing Ryman League football next season.
Their first chance, inside the opening three minutes saw top-scorer, with eleven goals, Joby Thorogood nip in front of his marker to poke Kenny Jarrett-Elliott’s low centre wide of the near post from eight-yards.
Visiting goalkeeper Luke Garrard was twice called into action, spilling midfielder Gary Clarke’s right-footed 25-yard drive and preventing Jarrett-Elliot’s deflected shot from 20-yards creeping inside the foot of the far post.
Ashford, however, squandered two gilt-edged chances late in the half. The first came after 35 minutes when Jarrett-Elliott’s cross from the left by-line found Danny Simmonds, who was left unmarked at the far post, but he agonisingly headed over from eight-yards.
Then Richard Sinden, a transfer deadline day signing from Kentish Observer League side Hythe Town, should have opened his Ashford account, having scored 24 times for Paul Fisk’s side, but the former Maidstone United striker couldn’t bring the ball down and Garrard was able to smother the ball at his feet just six yards from goal.
Garrard was once again called into action early in the second half, spilling Joby Thorogood’s long range drive, but once again there was no-one in a lime green shirt to tuck the ball home.
Goalscorer Allen rose to meet Gareth Graham’s 53rd minute corner - their third of the game - but couldn’t direct his header towards goal and then Overland smothered the ball at half-time substitute Jamie Byatt’s feet.
Croydon Athletic came close to grabbing a 61st minute lead when blonde haired Steve Gibson whipped in a hanging cross towards the far post and a brave header from Barry Stevens, which went agonisingly wide of the foot of the left post.
But the Surrey side stole the victory when Allen slotted home the penalty kick, which he won after stumbling under Smith’s challenge, and once again the Nuts & Bolts are cursing their bad luck.
“There been other games that we’ve played well and exactly the same thing has happened,” bemoaned Cumberbatch. “It’s just unbelievable that a total change of personnel and exactly the same thing happens again.”
Ashford must take credit in bringing in six new players in the past two weeks - Simon Overland, Dan Tanner, Stuart Playford, Richard Sinden, Danny Simmonds and Shaun Loft - to assist them keeping clear of the drop zone.
“I’m still confident we can stay up,” insisted Cumberbatch. “It bites away at your confidence when things like today happens, because I felt, for instance, in the first half we dominated the game and had the better chances but it’s the same story.
“We go out second half, they were a lot more lively and they changed their tactics, but just at the point where we had re-organised and started coping with them, because they put three up field, the referee’s decided it’s time to give them a penalty - and that hurts.”
Newport IOW are four points adrift of Ashford and they travel to Ramsgate on Saturday, although Bashley are the visitors to The Homelands, the Kent side are favourites to maintain their Ryman League status.
Having won just five matches from their 39 outings this season, can you see the Islanders winning two of their last five matches, against Ramsgate (away), Dulwich Hamlet (home), Fleet Town (away), Banstead Athletic (away) and at home to promotion chasing Tooting & Mitcham United on the final day of the season?
Ashford should pick up points from their remaining five league games, and will be hoping they can beat Bashley on home soil on Saturday.
After that they travel to Walton Casuals (15th April), entertain local rivals Hastings United two days later, travel to Ramsgate (22nd) and end the campaign at home against Molesey on the 29th.
Speaking about their next game, against ninth placed Bashley on Saturday, Cumberbatch wants his experienced players to bounce back.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure the players remain confident,” he said. “The new signings are not new signings but most of them are experienced players and we’re hoping their going into the game, their not going to have their heads down, and hopefully we’ll get a better result.”
Ashford’s fans will be hoping for a better campaign next season, having suffered anguish in the last two campaigns, following their switch from Southern League football.
“It’s a little bit early to be talking about next year,” said Cumberbatch. “We really have to totally focus on what we’re doing at the moment and make sure the club does stay up.
“We’ve got plans for next season and they’re various things to discuss, but especially with some of the players we have signed, the focus is just making sure we stay up and that we start getting points on the board.”
Last season the club finished their 42 match campaign with 39 points, but this season is the worst statistically for the club with only 30 points on the board - and they’ll be playing two more league games this time out.
“I’m still a little bit concerned because I still feel we create chances but we’re not scoring goals and that’s still a little bit of a worry,” said Cumberbatch.
“But having said that the new players that have come in haven’t really had a chance, especially the strikers, to show what they can do.
“Hopefully that will change but there is still a concern that we’re not scoring goals.”
Ashford Town: Simon Overland, Jamie Smith, Dan Tanner, Barry Crawford, Stuart Play ford (Capt), Gary Clarke (Joff Thorogood 84), Marc Cumberbatch, Danny Simmonds (Richard Boorman 76), Joby Thorogood, Richard Sinden (Shaun Loft 71) Kenny Jarrett-Elliott.
Subs: Ian Ross, James Colman.
Croydon Athletic: Luke Garrard, Gavin McGowan, Sam Hewitt, James Gibson (Capt), Mark Walters, Gavin Bolger, Gareth Graham, Eben Allen, Andre Robinson (Jamie Byatt 46), Barry Stevens. Subs: Charlie Stagg, Tyrone Myton
Referee: Mr Irvine Woodward (Seaford)
Assistants: Mr Lloyd Rendall & Mr Rob Wilkins