Ashford Town suffer tournament penalty heartbreak
Ashford Town's under 15’s travelled to Lyon last weekend to compete in the SO Pont De Cheruy Chavanoz Tournoi International.
Teams from Switzerland, Spain, Perpignan and French academy sides, including the youth side of French Champions Lyon, provided stiff opposition for a Kent side that were the youngest team in the tournament.
Ashford Town began their group games with a game against A.S. La Sonnaz of Switzerland on the Desvignes pitch.
With all group games 25 minutes long Ashford Town had to ensure they were quickly out of the blocks and they certainly enjoyed the majority of possession without creating any clear cut chances.
However, the decisive move was the switching of Ben Ross and Adam Slegg as both immediately began to threaten the Sonnaz defence.
Alex Marr shot narrowly wide after an exchange of passes with Slegg. The deadlock was finally broken when Slegg burst through the Swiss defence and sent a pinpoint cross into the path of Sheldon Clottey.
Clottey's curling shot beat the keeper but rebounded off the crossbar for Ben Ross to fire home. Ashford Town continued to press forward but were content to secure the points with a 1-0 victory.
Ashford Town’s next game was on the Stade Grammont against a French academy side FC Elne that towered above the small Kent side.
Ashford, to their credit battled from the off, but became increasingly frustrated at the referee, who was giving free-kicks away for fun, as Ashford were penalised for a series of challenges that would have most certainly have gone unpunished in England.
This resulted in a number of testing set pieces but the French side were continually thwarted by the impressive Alex Stevens in the Ashford Town goal.
Stevens made save after save as centre backs Danny Keen and Laurence Harvey endured a torrid time.
On the one occasion he was finally beaten Keen was on hand to clear off the line.
However, as Elne pushed forward for the decisive goal they found the Ashford full backs Jamie Gibbons and Greg Conlon in equally impressive form.
To Ashford Town's credit they did nearly snatch a winner, albeit undeserved on the balance of play, after firstly Ross nodded over and at the death Danny Shearing burst into the box and nearly slid the ball in.
In the end they were more than content with the draw.
Ashford’s next game was against the hosts and would prove to be their most disappointing game of the tournament.
Although chances were limited Ashford again controlled the game and the few chances that occurred were falling there way.
Once again Ashford were falling foul to some "generous" refereeing decisions which appeared to be going the hosts way.
Ashford were still dominating and the introduction of Marr, Slegg and Conlon saw them increase the pressure with Slegg going close twice.
However, with time running out the hosts won a disputed corner and when keeper Ben Vincer misjudged the cross the SOPCC forward headed into an empty net.
Ashford pushed forward but couldn’t find a way through and therefore suffered their first defeat of the tournament.
Sunday started early with Ashford facing Club Meximieux on the Stade Grammont in a 9am kick off.
Ashford played some excellent free-flowing football and their opponents were struggling to gain any possession.
However, once again both defences were on top and while Ashford created the better chances they couldn’t find a way through.
The highlight of the game was the introduction of Ricky Harden as a substitute.
Harden missed half of the season after suffering serious injury and his return received the biggest cheer of the day from his team mates.
The final game of the group stages was against runaway leaders Academy side U.G.A. Decines.
With skipper Danny Keen sitting out Ashford were lead out by stand-in skipper Greg Conlon.
Ashford quickly got into stride and were moving the ball quickly the front three of Ross, Slegg and Clottey were causing their opponents problems with their pace and Ashford looked most likely to score on the one occasion Decines broke through the resolute Ashford defence Stevens made a superb one handed stop low to his right.
Ashford should have been awarded a penalty at the death when the ball struck a raised hand but once again but were left frustrated at the refereeing.
With the group stages incredibly tight Ashford then found out they would face a penalty competition against Club Meximixieu to decide who would contest the plate final.
The play-off was held at the Stade Grammont in front of a sizeable crowd that surprisingly included a number of neutral Ashford supporters.
Skipper Danny Keen won the toss and elected Ashford to take first penalty. The first seven penalties were all scored with Alex Marr, Jack Ransley, Adam Slegg and regular penalty taker Alex Shell all scoring. The fourth Meximixieu penalty was then superbly saved by Alex Stevens in the Ashford goal, leaving Danny Shearing to blast in the decisive penalty and give AshfordTown a 5-3 win and a place in the plate final.
The plate game at the Stade Grammont saw the biggest crowd of Ashford Town’s tournament against FC Amberieu.
With the influential Harvey and Clottey both missing through injury the team was shuffled with Shearing playing at centre back with Danny Keen.
Once again both defences were on top and although Ashford again enjoyed the Lions share of possession both goals remained intact leaving another penalty shoot-out.
With a big crowd Ashford Town’s penalty takers faced a severe test of nerve and when Marr missed his retaken penalty Amberieu quickly grabbed the initiative.
Ransley, Shell, Slegg and Shearing all scored leaving Amberieu the opportunity to grab the win, however once again Stevens came to Ashford Town's rescue as he saved taking the shoot-out into sudden-death.
Skipper Danny Keen stepped up and saw his well-struck penalty brilliantly saved and although Stevens got a touch to the Amberieu keepers penalty it agonisingly squeezed under his body to give the French side victory.
Ashford Town were then surprised as they were not only awarded the Plate runners-up trophy but also picked up the Fair Play trophy and the Mayors trophy as well as a number of compliments.
The Coach of the tournament winners FC Lyon was most impressed by the quality of football Ashford Town played and couldn’t believe they were just a club side and not an academy side.
Manager Vince Shell said: "We certainly enjoyed the experience of competing in an International Tournament and will have learnt from their experiences.
"We were real ambassadors and the winning of the Fair Play trophy is to our credit.
"We are already making plans for next season when a tour of Switzerland is planned."
Ashford Town Squad: Alex Stevens, Ben Vincer, Laurence Harvey, Danny Keen, Greg Conlon, Brad Long, Ricky Harden, Danny Shearing, Adam Slegg, Alex Shell, Danny Smith, Ben Ross, Alex Marr, Jack Ransley, Jamie Gibbons, Liam Holman, Sheldon Clottey.