Ashford United 2-3 Ramsgate - Those marginal differences are the reason why Ramsgate are top of the league and we're in a position we're in, says tenth-placed Ashford United boss Kevin Watson

Tuesday 16th January 2024
Ashford United 2 – 3 Ramsgate
Location Homelands Stadium, Ashford Road, Kingsnorth, Ashford, Kent TN26 1NJ
Kickoff 16/01/2024 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division
Tuesday 16 January 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Homelands Stadium

ASHFORD UNITED manager Kevin Watson says he will be looking to bring in one or two new players to bolster his squad after his side threw away a two-goal lead against league leaders Ramsgate to make it three defeats in a row in a game tarnished by crowd trouble.


The crowd of 402 that braved the freezing conditions at Homelands Stadium saw Watson’s men put in a good first half performance and they fully deserved their two-goal lead inside the opening 22 minutes.

Centre-half Connor Dymond poked the ball in from a goal-mouth scramble before striker Vance Bola headed in his tenth goal of the season, but things swiftly went downhill for the Nuts & Bolts.

Bola went off with a calf injury, before Ramsgate striker Joe Taylor won and converted a penalty with the last kick of the first half.

Ramsgate winger Alfie Paxman swept home his ninth goal of the season to restore parity, as dominant Ramsgate bossed the second half, before prolific talisman Taylor clinically slotted in his 35th goal of the season to seal the points.

Ashford United were reduced to 10 men in the 75th minute when Dymond was sent off for violent conduct.

“There’s no better way to win a game, 2-0 down against a good side, they’re a good side, good pedigree, good players,” said Ramsgate boss Ben Smith.

“They were well on top weren’t they, first half.  I thought the goals just seemed to kill us and sucked the life out of us.  We didn’t have a lot of energy and when you look at the side we’ve got, we’ve got a lot of technical players that will give you energy.

“Benny Bioletti was back today, he’s been away snowboarding so we’ve missed that real pace in the side and when we brought him on and made the changes, suddenly we came to life.

“The times we conceded, just knocked the stuffing out of us. With the side that we had out there, we’re the top scorers in the country at our Step (64 goals from 21 games after tonight) but you’re always wondering where the goals are coming from in it.  Obviously, you’ve got JT (Taylor) but you’ve got no Jordan Green, no Jack Paxman, Bioletti’s only coming back today and Tijan Jadama, who I would say is the most unique player at this level. When you take them out you’re thinking we’ve got to be perfect to go and win the game.

“It looks like they’ll be back on Saturday, so we should have a full-squad on Saturday, which should be good.  Not necessarily they’ll all come straight back in and play but we’re asking a lot of Joe Taylor. We’re asking a lot of Alfie Paxman, who’s been the most improved player throughout the quarter of the season.  You ask a lot of them to keep pulling up the goods when you’ve got more players available.  There’s a lot of players that can go and win us the game.”

Ashford United suffered back-to-back 1-0 away defeats at both Broadbridge Heath and Littlehampton Town and were on course of a victory tonight and Watson cut a frustrated figure during the post-match press conference.

“Look, we had a real good foothold in the game being 2-0 up,” said the former Cray Valley boss.

“They’re an extremely good team and their league position shows that and their results show that but I felt we kept our shape well and we were managing the game really well. 

“Disappointing to concede right on the stroke of half-time. There was a little bit of nativity from us and their two other goals were our failures.  We created problems ourselves and with good teams like that, you’re going to get punished and we did.

“All the hard work that we put in and discipline in the first half for whatever it was, 44 or 45 minutes, was then undone.”

Reflecting on his side’s first half performance, Watson said: “We did play well and if a team that’s top of the league has to adapt their shape because of what you’re doing, then you are doing something right but we’ve got to be able to sustain that over the whole game.

“I don’t think in any game you completely have full sort of dominance or whatever it may be but it was certainly our own failure this evening.”

Ashford United came out with all guns blazing and caught Ramsgate cold, taking a deserved lead with seven minutes and 16 seconds on the clock.

Bola floated a corner in from the right towards the far post, which was headed back across goal by an unmarked Ben Gorham.  The ball was then flicked the ball towards goal from a crowd of players inside the six-yard box, the ball was flicked onto the crossbar by Ramsgate keeper Tom Hadler and Dymond poked the ball into the bottom right-hand corner in a goal-line scramble.

“We don’t score enough from set-pieces for the number we get, so it was good. It was a good delivery, a good header back. It was a clever header from Ben and then we put pressure on the goalline and we got it over the line, so from that perspective, that was pleasing,” said Watson.

Smith added: “It’s disappointing. We booted the ball off the pitch from 30-yards out. I don’t think it needed to be a corner and then the way we conceded it, it’s just diabolical to be honest with you.

“We just looked cold, they caught us cold.  That’s the best way of summing it up.  Fair play to them, a great header across the box.  Tom Hadler’s made a great save – I don’t know how he’s saved it - but I don’t know who scored it but someone put it in.” 

Ramsgate were looking out of sorts during the first half, as Ashford United defended well and Ramsgate should have done better with their first chance of the game.

Central midfielder Bode Anidugbe broke forward before finding Taylor in space on the right and he switched the ball out to left-winger Alfie Paxman, who drilled the ball along the 18-yard line to Michael West, who laid the ball off to Anidugbe, who lacked composure inside the box and his weak left-footed shot from 14-yards was hit straight at Chris Lewington, who made a comfortable save.

Smith admitted: “We huffed and puffed. We had loads of possession, didn’t really have a lot going forward did we.  The odd break like that.”

Watson added: “They had spells of possession but we said we’re happy for them to do that with certain territory in the game and I don’t think they created an abundance of good chances for the possession they had and I think that’s down to the shape that we kept.”

The impressive Bola cut onto his right-boot before splitting Ramsgate left-back Jack Parter with a fine 40-yard diagonal pass on the vastly-improved artificial playing surface.

Danny Parish took a touch, cut into the box and his right-footed drive deflected off Parter and Hadler comfortably grabbed the ball in his midriff as it bounced up.

Edgar fed debutant Bradley Ryan, who stepped inside Ramsgate centre-half Daniel Johnson, before Bola drilled a right-footed shot from a central position some 25-yards out, which sailed over the Ramsgate crossbar.

Ashford United deserved their two-goal lead when it arrived with 21 minutes and 45 seconds on the clock.

An explosive run from Parish saw him run towards the by-line down the right before he hung over a cross towards the back post finding an unmarked Bola, whose downward header found the left-hand corner from seven-yards.

Watson said: “A well-worked goal. Danny done very well, stood it up to the far post and it was a good finish from Vance.”

Smith added: “I thought he was a threat, Vance Bola.  I thought he was the real impetus to their side. He put himself about, went into good little pockets. I thought he was alright.

“I think when he got injured, I think that’s possibly when the momentum – I wouldn’t say momentum because I don’t think we had any momentum in the first half – but I think they slowed up when he came off.”

Ashford’s players often swarmed around Taylor in and around the home side’s penalty area and nothing was going for Ramsgate during the first half as their play was often slow and lacked tempo, urgency and desire.

Taylor hit a right-footed drive over the crossbar from inside the D before Taylor latched onto Alfie Paxman’s cross, cut onto his right-foot and his low drive deflected off Ben Gorham and flashed past the far post, before Ramsgate right-back Jack Paxman drilled a cross high over the top of the near-post.

Ashford United missed a glorious chance to kill the game off in the 36th minute.

Bola played the ball out to Parish, in space down the right, and he cut into the penalty area and his effort was blocked.

The ball came out to central midfielder Edgar, who took a touch before drilling a right-footed drive towards the bottom left-hand corner from 25-yards, forcing Hadler to dive to his right to push the ball towards Harvey Brand, who lacked composure when it really mattered and he poked his left-footed shot past the post from eight-yards.

Watson said: “I thought Robbie Rees was in a better position. I felt Harvey got there and they both followed it in.  Robbie was coming with his left-foot so yes, it was a really good chance.”

Smith admitted: “At that point, you’re thinking can we get in at half-time two-nil?  Not that they were absolutely opening us up but we just didn’t have anything.  We looked, I wouldn’t say clueless but we looked very lethargic and you could see we looked lethargic out there and we needed a spark and needed energy.”

When asked why that was, Smith replied: “Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to the opposition.  They scored at good times.

“We had it on Saturday (2-0 down at home to Burgess Hill Town before winning 4-2) and you’ve got to find a way and then you come here and you’re 2-0 down again.  It’s not something that we’re used to and you’re thinking to yourself how many times can you keep coming back from that?”

Ramsgate finished the first half on the front foot and Bola was forced off with a calf injury, before holding midfielder Brand also suffered a calf injury and was withdrawn at the interval.

Ramsgate’s lifeline was accepted with the last kick of the first half (49:52).

Parter played the ball through Parish’s legs from the corner of the penalty area to play in Taylor, who cut towards the by-line, only for Gorham to wrestle Taylor to the ground close to the by-line and referee Marcin Indyk pointed to the spot and booked Gorham.

Taylor stroked his right-footed spot-kick past the diving Lewington (who guessed the right way and dived to his left) but couldn’t prevent the ball nestling in the back of the net.

Smith said: “I thought it was the only time that we put it into him (Taylor).  It was pretty much the only time we fed it into him from a good area.  We struggled to get him in high positions in their half in the first half and that time we did.

“You can’t get pinned up to him in the box.  Ben Gorham is a good defender but (he had) two hands around him, he’s rolled him and it is what it is.”

Watson added: “Look, Joe Taylor is the most prolific goalscorer in the league and probably the league above and something about his game is getting into those positions, where he’s got his back to goal. He’s extremely good at that, probably the best I’ve seen.

“Look, I felt up until that point we’ve kept him quite quiet but it just shows, doesn’t it, that quality in those moments, I thought he played Ben quite well in that situation.”

Watson added: “We were just talking about discipline and shape really, it was always going to be.  They would have a spell I the game and it was about how we dealt with that.

“Harvey Brand had to come off at half-time. He injured his calf. It wasn’t tactical. I thought he was having an excellent game. 

“We were forced into that change and up until that point, I thought he was having a big impact on the game. He was getting round the pitch and getting tight to people and winning first balls and things.”

Smith hooked Anidugbe and Parter at the interval, bringing on Alfie Young and Wesley Hennessey.  He changed to a three-man defence, Young (right), Craig Stone (central) and Johnson (left) and West and Lee Martin sat in front.  Hennessey impressed up front alongside Taylor.

“Obviously calmed it down didn’t it.  It still wasn’t good enough,” admitted the Ramsgate boss.

“Half-time isn’t for screaming and shouting at people. Half-time is about getting what you need to get right for the second half.  You’ve got 15 minutes to do something.

“Sometimes we’re worth a bit of credit because at half-time we changed two players, changed the whole shape, changed everything.  Actually, we made three formation changes in the game and people won’t look at that.  Sometimes we deserve a little bit of credit of trying something.

“We went three at the back in that (second) half because we thought we’d have so much of the ball. Alfie Young’s unbelievable on the ball, really solid carrier of the ball, finds passes through the lines and he’s going to get loads of space on the ball.

“We also brought Wes Hennessey, one of our young lads, on. We put him up with JT (Taylor).  We didn’t have enough bodies around JT in the first half, so second half we went two up and I thought the young lad done tremendously well against some good centre-halves.”

Ramsgate were a much better side during the second half and wasted a golden opportunity to level with six minutes and 21 seconds on the clock.

Alfie Paxman hit a long through ball along the deck to release Hennessey – who appeared to be yards offside – but Samuel Hall’s flag stayed down and Hennessey reached the edge of the penalty area before putting it on a plate for Taylor, but his left-footed chip from 18-yards was comfortably plucked out of the air by Lewington.

“Wes has got to go and score! He’s clean through. I think he expected the offside and I think had he gone and scored from that, if I was their management, I wouldn’t have been happy because he looked about 10 yards offside,” said Smith.

Watson added: “From where we was, it looked well offside but the ref’s not given it. I thought we had a should for a penalty in the first half as well, so it probably feels like you’re not getting the rub of the green with decisions like that.”

Ashford United right-back Tariq Ossai whipped in a cross but Robbie Rees hooked shot looped high over the Ramsgate crossbar.

Ryan played the ball out to Parish, who linked up well with substitute striker Noah Carney, before Rees worked the ball to Ryan but his left-footed dink was from a very tight angle close to the by-line and Hadler grabbed hold of the ball comfortably in the 18th minute of the second half.

When asked about Ryan’s debut, having signed the attacking midfielder from basement side Beckenham Town, Watson replied: “I thought he done well. He’s the type of player we like to work with in terms of the age he’s at and his development and his technical ability.

“Considering this is the first time that he’s met the players and not had an opportunity to train with the lads, I felt he climatised really well. He’s not played football for a few weeks, so he’s developing his fitness.”

Smith added: “We said at half-time, the defending’s been diabolical so it had to improve and fair play to the boys it did.  When it ain’t your night, it ain’t your night, you’re not having your best game, you’ve got to show some character.

“I thought Craig Stone, Daniel Johnson, Alfie Young with Lee Martin and Michael West in front of them, I thought they really got to grips with them in the second half and when you dominate the ball, you’ve got less chance of looking to concede.”

Smith brought on right-winger Benedict Bioletti (22:38) and he was swiftly in the action, as Ramsgate deservedly equalised with 23:15 on the clock.

Ashford United’s left-back Tolulope Jonah was their weak link during the second half and he had his pocket picked by a hungry Bioletti close to the by-line, before Hennessey’s (who was a few yards away) put in a cross which flashed across the face of goal towards the back post where Alfie Paxman rifled his first time shot into the left-corner from three-yards.

“When you’ve got Benny on the pitch, he’s so quick, he covers ground quickly.  The centre-half has taken a chance shielding it out and he’s nipped round him and then Wes rolls the defender and picks out a great ball for Alfie Paxman.  I thought Alfie, for him, had a quiet game but he comes up with a goal,” said Smith.

Reflecting on Hennessey’s jump from under 23 football to the eighth-tier, Smith said: “Whenever he’s played, he’s been excellent. He’s too good for the 23’s league. He scores too many goals in that league. He’s too good for that league. He’s done well at Deal (Southern Counties East Football League Premier, tier nine) without scoring.  Steve King has been really impressed with him, so hopefully we can keep going with Wes, whether he gets loads of minutes now or next season or wherever, he’s got a big future at our football club.

“He’s another Thanet boy. We’ve got 11 of our 17-18 players are all from the CT postcode. People don’t mention that. They don’t like to mention that because it’s not part of the narrative.”

Watson added: “Again, it’s a ball in the channel.  Tolulope’s tried to see it, run out. The lad’s got there with endeavour to be fair to him.  Kept in in play and then we’ve got our left-back and our centre-half out of position as a result of trying to see it out and there’s space in the box and they slid in and finished it well.”

Ramsgate turned defence into a blistering counter-attack and they claimed their third win on the spin since their 4-2 defeat at surprise package Lancing on 6 January, which was their second league defeat of the season, the first since losing 4-2 at Sevenoaks Town on the opening day of the season (12 August 2023).

The home side’s second and final corner was played in from the right by Rees. The delivery was poor and was cleared away by the first defender and Ashford United gave the ball away inside the Ramsgate half in midfield, when Edgar lost possession, trying to pass to a team-mate not so far away.

Medy Elito released Hennessey on the counter-attack, who put it on the plate for Taylor, who clinically placed his left-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner from 18-yards (27:24).

Smith said: “You don’t give Joe Taylor a chance like that do you?  I say that, the last couple of games he’s had a lot of chances, made some strange misses but you don’t want him to score when you’re 4-0 up – I want him to score when it matters.

“I did enjoy that goal, not that there’s pressure on my head but there is pressure. I want to win this league.  I’ve said it since day one that I want to win this league.  Everyone puts us favourites because they see the players and they think money, money, money.

“I’ve said it and I’ll say it again, there’s also other clubs with money.  You look at the players player-for-player tonight. Ashford’s are experienced at this level. They’re not too dissimilar to us, are they?”

Watson added: “Look, that’s come from our corner, right. It’s poor delivery from the corner, it’s come out. We’ve played too many passes in a short space of time and then they’ve broken on us and they were quite clinical.”

It all started to kick off during the final 15 or so minutes.

Edgar committed a bad foul on Bioletti on the right touch-line and Dymond allegedly head-butted Taylor in the aftermath.

Referee Marcin Indyk spoke with his assistant referee Samuel Hall and showed Dymond a straight red-card for violent conduct. 

Dymond was walking along the touchline and a spectator tried unsuccessfully to scale the perimeter fencing – beside the away team’s dug-out - to get at him.

Another angry Ramsgate fan, voiced his disgust towards the large melee of players and management in front of him and was slapped in the face before he was escorted away by a couple of stewards. 

Once calm was restored, the referee booked Edgar for the initial challenge and Taylor was also cautioned.

Both manager’s were asked their thoughts on the incidents.

Watson said: “I saw the tackle with Anthony and it was a foul and worthy of a booking. I didn’t see the second bit with Connor and then Connor’s been sent off and he’s walking off and there’s supporters trying to get to him physically, so look, at this level of football it’s open and it puts players in a vulnerable situation like that doesn’t it.  A part of what we have to do is protect our players, so I felt that was unacceptable for fans to respond in that way.”

Smith said: “It’s one of those, Benny’s obviously beaten him (Edgar) down the line. He’s (Edgar) run over and just kicked him.  You never see it but the letter of the Law, he ain’t playing the ball, he’s just kicked someone and that’s an orange card isn’t it?

“However, I know Anthony Edgar is not that type of player, so I think it looked worse than what it was. I don’t think he’s like that.

“And then Connor Dymond, he’s lost his head. He’s headbutted JT, obviously the players’ have gone over there because they think it’s a naughty tackle from Edgar.  It’s always going to happen and then obviously that spills out. Someone gets head-butted and it’s right close to the crowd, who have seen the headbutt. People are trying to stop that and get involved but I’d like to think the players from both sides and management from both sides tried to calm that down quite well to be honest. We stopped that getting out of hand.”

There was to be one further chance in this Kent derby, while Ashford’s right-back Ossai was off the pitch receiving treatment after running into the fencing by the corner flag at the other end of the pitch. 

Ramsgate got in behind Jonah once more and the impressive Bioletti’s cut-back found an unmarked Martin at the far post but he couldn’t get his shot and on target as he was stretching to reach the ball.

Reflecting on their third successive defeat, Watson said: “It is frustrating because we put in the performance for the first half and there was not too much difference between the two teams really and then the second half was slightly different the way it played out but probably those marginal differences are the reason why they’re top of the league and we’re in a position we’re in.”

Watson admitted losing Bola and Brand was a key momentum shift.

“Look, it can’t be helped but you don’t want to make two substitutions by the second half, it sort of limits you what you can do then in terms of decision making, going down to 10 men.

“But the goals we conceded today, we felt from our perspective were our own doing and I thought both of those players were having an impact on the first half.”

Ramsgate (55 points from 21 games) are now 14 points clear of unbeaten Cray Valley (Paper Mills), who do have four games in hand.

Lancing (41 points from 21 games), Sittingbourne (39 points from 20 games) and Three Bridges (34 points from 19 games) are in the play-offs with the big-spending Millers.

Herne Bay (34 points from 21 games), Sheppey United (33 points from 22 games), Chichester City (30 points from 20 games), Sevenoaks Town (29 points from 21 games), Ashford United (29 points from 21 games) and Hythe Town (27 points from 16 games) are also in the play-off hunt.

Ashford United welcome fifteenth-placed side East Grinstead Town (20 points from 19 games, eight points clear of the relegation zone) to Homelands Stadium on Saturday.

“I’ll start thinking about East Grinstead tomorrow. We’re a little bit light on personnel so we’ll have to review that because I don’t think (Bola and Brand) will be able to recover in time,” revealed Watson, who was asked whether he can bring in fresh blood and was then asked about his hopes for grabbing a play-off place.

“Yes I am!  I’ve openly said that I think we need that.  Knowing that we need it and making it happen are two different things because there’s lots of variables involved when you’re looking at players.

“We’ve brought in Bradley Ryan, potentially we’ll have to bring in another one or two for Saturday, so as a management team we’ve got to try to make that happen in between our day jobs and lives. I do think we need to bolster the squad at this point.”

And on the play-off hunt, Watson replied: “At this moment in time, we can’t look that far ahead at those positions. We’ve just got to concentrate on trying to get some wins under our belt because we’re just not doing that consistently. That’s now three loses on the bounce and you’re not going to achieve anything with those sort of statistics in terms of points return, so we’ve got to concentrate on Saturday really."

Smith, meanwhile, takes his side to thirteenth-placed Horndean (21 points from 18 games) on Saturday.

“Again, that winning mentality, that’s what they gave us. We refused to lay down tonight, said the Ramsgate boss.

“We were desperate to win, that’s what we are, we’re desperate to win.  We’ve got a group of players there who are dying for the Ramsgate shirt, as cliché as that is, they are.

“Anybody in this league can beat anyone.  We played Horndean at home and they were a good side. They’ve got two good strikers, so we’ve got to go there with the right attitude. We’ve got to go there with that elite mentality.

“I’ve watched them a few times, they’re a lively side, nice to watch. We’ve got to go there with full guns blazing. We’ve got our players back now, no injuries tonight, so we go there, I’d prefer to go there on a Saturday than a midweek but hopefully it’s on but we go there full strength with a lot of momentum.”

When asked about the title race tonight, Smith replied: “The title race looks a lot better at full-time than it did at half-time!  I don’t see Cray Valley slipping up.  You’d rather have the points in the bag and Steve McKimm will say the same.

“You’re talking about a two-horse race and we’re talking about league titles with 17 games to go. I’ve made it very clear that we want to win the title. I did that in pre-season because why would you come to a club like Ramsgate and not want to win the league and I’m sure Steve is the same at their place.

“Can someone else catch us two because at the minute it looks like us two but can someone else catch us from the back? We’ll see."

Ashford United: Chris Lewington, Tariq Ossai, Tolulope Jonah, Harvey Brand (David Ozobia 46), Connor Dymond, Ben Gorham, Danny Parish, Anthony Edgar (Kymani Thomas 79), Vance Bola (Noah Carney 45), Bradley Ryan, Robbie Rees.
Subs: Rhyle Ovenden, Ian Draycott

Goals: Connor Dymond 8, Vance Bola 22

Booked: Ben Gorham 45, Anthony Edgar 77

Sent Off:  Connor Dymond 75

Ramsgate: Tom Hadler, Jack Paxman (Benedict Bioletti 68), Jack Parter (Alfie Young 46), Lee Martin, Craig Stone, Daniel Johnson, Alfie Paxman, Bode Anidugbe (Wesley Hennessey 46), Joe Taylor, Michael West, Medy Elito.
Sub: Lee Hook

Goals: Joe Taylor 45 (penalty), 73, Alfie Paxman 69

Booked: Lee Martin 45, Joe Taylor 77, Wesley Hennessey 83

Attendance: 402
Referee: Mr Marcin Indyk
Assistants: Mr Samuel Hall & Mr Jack Mottram
Observer:  Mr John Darcy