Herne Bay 0-3 Ashford United - Of course, we can still win the league, says Ashford United boss Tommy Warrilow

Saturday 22nd January 2022
Herne Bay 0 – 3 Ashford United
Location Winch's Field, Stanley Gardens, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5SG
Kickoff 22/01/2022 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 22 January 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Winch’s Field

ASHFORD UNITED manager Tommy Warrilow says his side can still win the title after closing the gap on Hastings United thanks to clinical finishing at Herne Bay.

Second-placed Ashford United are now only four points adrift of leaders Hastings United and with a game in hand – ahead of the two heavyweights clashing in an eagerly-awaited showdown at Homelands Stadium next Saturday.

Gary Elphick’s side suffered a 3-2 home defeat to Burgess Hill Town today, while Ashford United came away from Winch’s Field with all three points, courtesy of two trademark headers from striker Jay May and a 70th minute penalty from his strike partner Gary Lockyer.

Herne Bay remain outside the play-off zone in sixth-place with 41 points from 22 games and their cause was not helped when five of their London based players turned up late, arriving at the ground 45 minutes before the kick-off.

Herne Bay were held to a goal-less draw at Corinthian last weekend, while Ashford United suffered a 3-2 home defeat to Haywards Heath Town.

“Obviously really pleased, I thought it was a fantastic performance,” said Warrilow.

“Herne Bay is a difficult place to come, we know how they play, they’re a good side but I said to the boys we won’t jump up and down or whatever, it’s a great three points.

“We said before the game we’ve been on a little bit of a run where we’ve been throwing leads away etc, but we’ve only lost the one game (in our last six) and if that’s a blip, then fine because Hastings have lost.

“We’ve always got them organised and I thought today every single player put a shift in. We marked, we created and I’m thoroughly delighted with the performance.”

Herne Bay manager Ben Smith cut a disappointed figure after going down to their fifth league defeat of the season.

“Man against boys, very disappointing.  We’re still in a good position but I’m not talking about positions and where we are and all that stuff. I’ve just said to the boys that was nowhere near good enough,” said Smith.

“If you’re talking about letting the fans down – we had good support here today – the players have let themselves down if anything.

“It’s that sticky patch in the season where things aren’t going for us at the minute. It feels like they’re feeling sorry for themselves rather than being proactive and doing something about it, so I need to make changes, it’s as simple as that!

“Ashford are a very physical side. They got the early goal, we’re chasing. I actually thought first half in terms of ball in play I thought we were the better side than them, I really did, but goals win games and goals change the complexion and the mindset.

“We came out second half thinking ‘right, we’re going to have a real good go at the them here,’ and we concede that early and the games done and I look around and I didn’t see enough leaders.  Disappointed is an understatement of what I was feeling.”

Ashford appeared to be hungrier than their counterparts from the coast today and created their first opening inside the opening six minutes.

Right-wing-back Mamadou Diallo put the ball back into the Herne Bay box (following a set-piece) for the recalled Tommie Fagg to rise to flick his header straight into the hands of Jordan Perrin from a central position sixteen-yards from goal.

Warrilow said: “It’s not so much the hunger or whatever, it’s just the frustration. It was a 15 minute spell where we’ve let three goals in last week and even at 3-0 here we made sure we were locked up.  It just happens.  Unfortunately for us it happened last week.  Today, I’m talking about moving on now. We’ve performed how we know we can perform and no one can argue, we deserved the win.”

Ashford United started the game on the front foot and took a deserved lead with nine minutes and 19 seconds on the clock, following a long throw from Jack Steventon, who was part of a resilient back three.

Steventon launched the throw into the box, which was headed away by Laurence Harvey, who rose like a salmon to clear his lines.  Steventon whipped in a deep cross which was clipped back into the box by Lockyer from the edge of the box and May rose to glance his header across the keeper and into the far corner from 12-yards.

“I’m pleased for Jay because he’s got two goals. He does what he does. We know he’s not going to go in behind and all that.  Gary Lockyer’s worked his socks off today and the pair of them are a real handful,” said Warrilow.

“We can dissect. He should’ve been picked up, of course he should but they take chances like that.  They play percentage football and they’ve got lots of goals in their side by playing that way. They’ve got big, strong physical players, they’re going to get chances and we knew that,” added Smith, who was without Mobolaji Dawodu, who withdrew from the squad on the morning of the game, nursing a shoulder injury.

Smith was full of praise for recalled left-winger Adem Ramadan, who impressed on his recall after Kieron Campbell had to wait 67 minutes for his introduction after suffering from a virus (not Covid-19).

Ramadan spun Steventon on the halfway line down the left flank and strode forward with the ball before cutting into the box and onto his right-foot and his angled drive was comfortably saved by visiting goalkeeper Jordan Carey, dropping down to his knees to gather at his near post.

“I thought Adem Ramadan stepped up today in Kieron Campbell’s absence. He stepped up and he’s one of a few players who you can give a bit of credit today,” said Smith, who was then asked about Campbell’s place on the bench.

“Kieron Campbell should’ve never come on the pitch to be fair but it was his will to play.  He’s got a virus, he’s not well.  No (it’s not Covid-19). He’s been tested every hour or so he’s had a test.  He’s been our best player in the last couple of months so he was a big miss but other players have got to step up.”

Herne Bay then started to dominate possession and called Carey into making a comfortable save in the 29th minute.

Left-back Jack Parter crossed the half-way line before clipping a long diagonal, which was controlled by Rory Smith out on the right wing with his head before bringing the ball down and passing inside to striker Zak Ansah.

The 12-goal striker took a touch on the edge of the D and stroked a left-footed shot towards goal, which bounced once and was comfortably held by Carey, who has regained his place in the side after Warrilow released Tyler McCarthy after dropping him last Saturday.

Warrilow has signed two players from struggling Hythe Town, the versatile Jarred Trespaderne and striker Frannie Collin.

With May and Lockyer playing up front, Collin was playing alongside Fagg in the centre of midfield with Josh Wisson protecting the back three in a holding midfield role.

Collin swung in his second corner of the game, which was punched clear by Perrin towards the edge of the Herne Bay box but Wisson nipped in front of Hamilton Antonio and sliced his shot past the right upright from 16-yards.

Warrilow said: “Frannie’s been playing in pockets.  I gave Fran a bit of a licence to. He’s an intelligent footballer now.  I thought he was exceptional today with him and Faggie in there.

“We wanted a man-for-man in the midfield area but Frannie’s used to the ball and his deliveries are second to none. He’s experienced enough now to know his job and he loves that job. He’s got bodies behind him and bodies in front of him but you can still see his legs ain’t gone, he’s as fit as anything and I thought he was exceptional today.”

Herne Bay squandered a glorious chance to restore parity five minutes before the break.

Ramadan stubbed out his Fagg (not literally, but ran past the Ashford number eight) down the left to reach the channel before putting it on a plate for Ansah at the near post but his side-footed finish off his right-boot from the corner of the six-yard was comfortably saved by Carey at his near post.

“We looked toothless when we got in those areas, not any conviction with what we were doing. We didn’t make enough of those chances,” admitted Smith.

Warrilow added: “It was a good save. Listen, these are a good team, they are going to get chances.  They like to play through the middle and get the full-backs involved with the overload so every now and then we got caught out but Jordan’s a good goalie, he stepped up and made a good save.”

Both sides were forced to shoot from outside the box as the first half came to a close.

Fagg hit a fierce right-footed half-volley deflecting past the right-hand post from 30-yards, which went behind for a corner despite Perrin’s efforts to prevent the ball crossing the by-line.

Rory Smith played the ball into Ramadan but his shot was charged down by a pressing Trespaderne just outside the corner of the Ashford penalty area and both corners came to nothing.

Both managers were asked their thoughts going into the break.

Smith said: “Some character was missing.  Look at the balance of play in the first half, we’ve dominated the ball but we didn’t have the real character to really drive on and hurt them.

“I thought we were the better side and I told them to raise it a little bit and you’re going to get some joy here, you’ve got to believe that you can beat them here.”

Warrilow added: “I said just about having a bit more urgency and getting into areas earlier.  They were switching play a lot and the balls were coming down our right-hand side and we were still over the left-hand side so the urgency to get around more and pop the full-back areas out and if they were going to score, make them score a good goal but stay on the front foot.”

Ashford United doubled their lead just 125 seconds into the second half, courtesy of patient build-up play, a sublime delivery and a free header.

The Nuts & Bolts played the ball around their own final third before centre-half Daniel Hull played the ball into Collin’s feet just over the centre-circle and he swept the ball out to Trespaderne.

The right-wing-back took a touch and whipped in a quality cross from the right which was put on a plate for May, who buried his free header across the keeper and into the far corner from 12-yards to score his ninth goal of the campaign.

“Brilliant goal, brilliant football. It went from Daniel up to Frannie and out to Jarred, we’ve opened them up and created a goal. If you get balls into the box with Gary and Jay in there, you know you’ve got a good chance of scoring,” said Warrilow.

How many Ashford fans were fearing the worse when their side were 2-0 up and expecting them to throw the lead away?

“No I wasn’t,” added Warrilow, when asked the same question.

“I said to the boys you can’t dismiss it.  You’ve got to be mentally strong. It’s easy to see why we’ve let goals in, it’s not like teams have ruined us.  We weren’t at the races last week but it’s done now.  I said go and get a third and we got the third and to be fair we could’ve got the fourth.”

Smith was clearly unhappy with the poor marking inside his penalty box and just how easy it was for May to score with both centre-halves Harvey and Daniel Johnson going missing.

“F*****g hell! It couldn’t get more simple than that, could it?  No pressure on the ball against players like Jay May and Gary Lockyer, you’ve got to put ball pressure on in wide areas and he could’ve had another five touches before he delivered the ball – a great cross and simple goal,” bemoaned Smith.

Herne Bay’s holding midfielder Bode Anidugbe hit a long ball forward which was controlled by Ansah before he drilled his right-footed shot towards the top right-hand corner from 25-yards, which forced Carey to raise both of his hands to catch in the 51st minute, an example of the goalkeeper’s good handing on the day.

Ramadan then found himself on the right and whipped in a precise cross into the box where Ansah steered his near-post header over Carey’s crossbar just 27 seconds later.

Parter and Ramadan linked up well down the left for the vast majority of the game and Ramadan’s speculative right-footed drive from 30-yards bounced once and was meat and drink for Carey, who gathered comfortably.

Carey stepped to his right to flick the ball behind his near post after Ramadan’s speculative 35-yard right-footed drive was heading past the near post after the ball was played into him by central midfielder Antonio.

Ashford United appeared content to sit on their two-goal lead and didn’t venture into Herne Bay’s penalty area and that was until Diallo was tripped by Herne Bay’s right-back Jacques Kpohomouh close to the by-line and Scottish referee Gerry Heron pointed to the spot.

Lockyer slotted his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, although Perrin dived the right way, he couldn’t prevent Lockyer notching his 26th goal of the season (20 for Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division side Kennington).

“We encourage them to push on.  Mamadou, I thought he had a great game today, full of energy and it was obviously a pen, I was right behind it,” said Warrilow.

Smith said: “Horror show! It’s braindead, absolutely braindead, oh my god!

“I mean, he’s absolutely bought it but I wouldn’t be complaining if we bought that. We try to stand up in those areas so I would’ve have a care in the world if he bought that penalty. He’s swan dived as well, didn’t he but how are we putting ourselves in that situation where we can give a penalty away there? It’s absolutely braindead!

Lockyer wanted to add to his tally and his shot on the turn from 30-yards was comfortably saved by Perrin.

Smith claimed: “The last 30 minutes we give up, gave up, not often I say that about my team. I’m the first to back them and the first to take the blame. The buck stops with me. I will take the blame for that. I didn’t see the people who really wanted to turn that game around.”

When asked why that was the case, Smith replied: “A few reasons, yes, none that I will go on about on here but things will have to change.”

Inside the final 10 minutes, Herne Bay substitute Bradley Schafer played the ball into Ramadan who played the ball out to Smith on the right wing and he whipped in a cross for Ansah, whose diving header flashed past the right post.

Ashford United threw caution to the wind late in the game as they went in search of increasing their lead.

Both of their substitutes linked up when Johan Ter Horst released Roberto Ratti, in behind Parter, and he whipped in a cross towards the far post for Lockyer to slide in and poke his shot just past the foot of the near post.

Some industry from Trespaderne teed up a chance for substitute midfielder Tashi-Jay Kwayie, whose angled shot trickled across Perrin and past the far post.

Liam Friend – who played in the heart of Ashford’s back four – released Ratti, who cut inside Anidugbe and his left-footed shot was comfortably saved by Perrin, who was standing in the centre of his goal.

“They were chasing the game, so we were hoping we’d get another chance. At the same time we weren’t going to go gung-ho,” added Warrilow, which probably explains their lack of chances between their second and third goals today.

Herne Bay had the last say on the matter as Ansah’s lay-off teed up Smith and he swept a shot which was comfortably saved by Carey.

Today’s performance will give Ashford United belief that they can close the gap even further by beating Hastings United at home next weekend.

Warrilow said: “I know what I can get out of them.  I know I’ve got a good team here.  The bench is getting stronger, we’re still without Bradley Simms and Tariq Ossai, so if we can get them fit and we’ve got young Bernard Kosia to come in as well.

“We’ve got a team you just can’t put a bomb under it because we’re sitting second, today’s win has closed the gap again and we’ve got a massive game next week.  There’s still 48 points to play for before today’s game so I said to the boys let’s go out and play and today we did.”

Herne Bay, meanwhile, have only won once in seven games against the top five teams (as it stands tonight) and that was beating Haywards Heath Town 1-0 in the middle of October.

“Against the top sides in this league we’ve come up short,” added Smith, who has lost both games against Warrilow’s men this season.

“Today we had some nice play in the first-half and we were a lot prettier on the eye than they were. We didn’t have enough about us to win a game of football.”

Hastings United are top of the pile with 50 points from 24 games and the four play-off places are occupied by Ashford United (46 points from 23 games), Ramsgate (44 points from 23), Cray Valley (43 points from 23) and Haywards Heath (43 points from 23), while Herne Bay remain in sixth-place with 41 points from 22, four points clear of Nick Davis’ VCD Athletic, who have played two more.

Both sides are in cup action on Tuesday night before taking part in tasty league fixtures next Saturday.

Herne Bay welcome fifteenth-placed Sevenoaks Town here in the Kent Senior Cup First Round, while Warrilow takes his side to Haywards Heath Town in the Velocity Trophy Third Round.

Smith takes his side to Ramsgate on Saturday, while Ashford United can look forward to a lucrative visit from Hastings United.

Smith said: “I’ve got to use it (the Sevenoaks cup tie), the result necessarily isn’t important to me on Tuesday night, it’s more the performance.  I want to see a performance from people.  Those who want to stay here and want to be a part of it and help us moving forward, they have got to show up.”

Fagg, Friend, Wisson and Lockyer went down for treatment during today’s game so Warrilow will asses their fitness ahead of the cup tie.

“Listen, you’ve seen how many have gone down at the end so I don’t know. We’ll pick the bones out of it on Sunday and Monday but obviously we want to give game time to all of the lads that haven’t been playing lately.”

And on the top-of-the-table clash next weekend, Warrilow added: “I’m not building it up or nothing, it’s too early. If it was like five games to go, there’s so much to play for.  We want to go to our place, we lost at home last week, we didn’t play well so we accept that but today we’ve shown that we can play really well and that’s why we are second. We’re not second because we are a poor side.

“It’s exciting. I said after Christmas, we want to be there or there abouts and we are and we still know there’s more to come. 

“We also know there’s more players to come back in and players are becoming available and they are speaking to teams and we’ll act on it.”

When asked whether Ashford United can go on and win the league title, Warrilow insisted: “Of course we can, of course we can.  What manager will turn round and say they can’t?!  If I was sitting seventh with 45 points to play for, I’ll still be saying we can still win the league because of what happened today.  You’ve seen teams come out today and lose against other teams. It’s massive. We’ve got it back.  We’ve got back what we’ve thrown away last week.”

Herne Bay: Jordan Perrin, Jacques Kpohomouh, Jack Parter, Bode Anidugbe, Daniel Johnson, Laurence Harvey, Adem Ramadan, Hamilton Antonio (Bradley Schafer 71), Zak Ansah, Aaron Millbank (Kieron Campbell 67), Rory Smith.
Subs: Daniel Carrington, Reion Noel-McFarlane, Kane Phillip

Booked: Rory Smith 77, Adem Ramadan 83, Laurence Harvey 88

Ashford United: Jordan Carey, Jarred Trespaderne, Mamadou Diallo, Liam Friend, Daniel Hull, Jack Steventon, Tommie Fagg (Tashi-Jay Kwayie 72), Josh Wisson (Johan Ter Horst 85), Jay May (Roberto Ratti 76), Gary Lockyer, Frannie Collin.
Subs: Lee Hook, Bernard Kosia

Goals: Jay May 10, 48, Gary Lockyer 70 (penalty)

Booked: Jack Steventon 20, Jarred Trespaderne 43, Tommie Fagg 50

Attendance: 628
Referee: Mr Gerry Heron
Assistants: Mr Christopher Stobart & Mr Nik Garside