Hythe Town 1-0 Ascot United - Hythe Town boss Steven Watt: There's always a lower league club that's a great FA Cup story - I always challenge the players and say can it be us this year?

Saturday 04th September 2021
Hythe Town 1 – 0 Ascot United
Location Reachfields Stadium, off Fort Road, Hythe, Kent CT21 6JS
Kickoff 04/09/2021 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup First Qualifying Round
Saturday 4 September 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Reachfields Stadium

HYTHE TOWN manager Steven Watt says he was disappointed with his sides finishing after comfortably progressing through to The FA Cup Second Qualifying Round for the first time in five years after beating Ascot United.

The Cannons had to wait for a solitary 63rd minute strike from left-back Nathan Gordon to end Jamie Tompkins’ side’s run in the competition that has seen them beat Risborough Rangers at the second attempt in the Preliminary Round.

Hythe Town went into the game sitting in the bottom five in the Isthmian League South East Division table with three points from as many games, while Ascot United play one level lower and arrived on the Kent coast in ninth-place in the Combined Counties League Premier Division North table with seven points from four games.

Hythe Town needed two games to see off Woking-based side Westfield in the Preliminary Round but Watt’s men were comfortable in a dominant performance here today.

“Really comfortable I will say, how it stayed 1-0, I don’t know,” said Watt, 36, who made his Chelsea debut in The FA Cup under Jose Mourinho back in January 2005.

“I think we got into some great positions and just not capitalised on it. I think that’s the biggest disappointment of it is that we’ve not come out with more goals.

“I’ve just said to the boys in there, we need to take our chances when we get it, particularly when we dominate a game like we dominated today.  We had lots of possession in and around the final third and I expect us to be a little bit better in the final third, so that’s the only criticism from today, apart from that though, it was a pretty comfortable afternoon.”

Watt’s half-time team talk lifted his side’s tempo and improved performance.

“We addressed it at half-time in terms of our possession. We were too predictable in what we were trying to do. We tried to move them around and didn’t have the intensity in the final third or enough of the ball in the final third, so we just asked them to mix it up a little bit at half-time and go a bit more longer, turning them around a little bit more, picking up more second balls.

“I think we ended up stretching the game second half to get more space.  By the way we played first half it allowed them to sit in a low block to stop us trying to break through them but by missing out that midfield it stretched the game and it gave us the space we needed to eventually get the goal.”

The Cannons probed down the left for most of the first half but they lacked width as they played a diamond midfield and both full-backs Liam Smith and Gordon advanced further forward leaving their two centre-halves to deal with ineffective lone striker Keaton August who struggled to threaten in Ascot United’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Hythe Town took six and a half minutes to create an opening when Charlie Webster – who played behind the front two of Tom Walmsley and Frannie Collin – played the ball into Jacob Gilbert, who took a touch in plenty of space before driving a right-footed shot flashing past the left-hand post from 35-yards.

Ascot United created an opening in the fourteenth-minute following a set-piece from the right.

Jonathan Denton’s delivery with his left-foot was put into a good area inside the box but left-winger Duarte Surpanu’s flicked his shot over with a back-heel.

Ascot United goalkeeper Sam Gray was called into action in the 20th minute following a long throw from Smith.

The ball was flicked back by Surpanu at the near post and Gilbert nipped in front of his marker to plant his header towards the roof of the net from six-yards, forcing Gray to use both of his outstretched hands to push the ball over.

“I thought Jacob Gilbert was excellent today and deserved a goal. It was a good save from the keeper,” said Watt.

“Gilbs isn’t the tallest of midfield player, you’d like him to get that into the ground, head it down towards the ground, but the ball was rising. It’s the right position of where we want him to be and he was really unlucky not to get a goal there.”

Darren Oldaker – who played on the left of the diamond – floated in the resulting corner but Smith rose to steer his header straight at Gray, who made a routine collection at his near post.

Hythe Town, who played out from the back, often played a slow tempo and lacking width they struggled to trouble the Ascot back four, well marshalled by centre-half Daniel Bailey, who was thrown up front as an emergency striker towards the end of the game.

Ascot’s eight-goal number 10 Harry Laflin was kept quiet throughout but he rolled the ball out to left-back George Lock, who cut inside and his cross from 30-yards was heading towards the far corner, which forced goalkeeper Will Godmon to step to his left to flick the ball behind for a corner.

“I was right behind that, it was comfortably going wide but as a goalkeeper, you’re not to know that and Will just made sure,” said Watt.

“We let him (Lock) come inside too easily and it was a ball at the back post but it was going well wide and there was no threat at all.”

Oldaker trod on the ball inside the Ascot half before recovering from that set-back by drilling his right-footed drive flashing past the near post from 35-yards but this was a disappointing first-half performance from Watt’s men.

Ascot United created the last chance of the half inside stoppage time after Surpanu drew a foul out of Smith.

However, Denton’s weakly hit left-footed free-kick from 28-yards was comfortably gathered by Godmon while dropping down to his knees at his near post.

“I don’t think it was a free-kick, it was a soft free-kick that the ref gave and Will did his job. It was a poorly hit free-kick and it was easy for Will to gather up,” added Watt.

“We wanted to mix it up a little bit. I thought our possession was good but without creating enough opportunities and capitalising on turnovers.

“We were too sloppy in the final third for my liking so we asked them to address that a little bit, just mix things up and go a little bit longer and use Tom Walmsley’s pace a little bit more in behind and try to get the game stretched to create our own space and I think we did that second half.”

Hythe Town upped their tempo at the start of the second half and a more direct approach kept Ascot United on the back foot.

Hythe Town should have smashed the deadlock inside the opening eight minutes when Oldaker’s first-time pass split open centre-half Sam Evans to put Tom Walmsley through on goal but once inside the box the striker lacked composure and his weak left-footed shot from 12-yards trickled towards the goal-line and left-back George Lock got back to clear the ball away.

“I thought Tom had a little bit more time there and could’ve maybe had taken a touch in that situation and if he hits it cleanly enough, it’s a goal,” said Watt.

“It’s another opportunity where we should be at least 2-0 up at that stage of the game.  I thought Tom was fantastic today and he lead the line well for a youngster and he was unfortunate not to get his goal.”

Smith roamed forward and cut in from the right towards the centre and once on the edge of the Ascot penalty area he rolled the ball out to Gordon, who took a touch before whipping in a great cross towards the centre of the box where Webster planted his free-header over the crossbar from the edge of the six-yard box.

Watt said: “Maybe you don’t want Webo on the end of that cross. It’s a fantastic cross, a well-timed run. I’m maybe harsh but he’s got to score! You’ve got a free header. He looked seven yards out at least, a free-header in the middle of the box. I expect a goal there.  We could’ve been three-up up and game done and a comfortable rest of the game.”

Hythe Town remained patient, however, and sealed the deal with 18 minutes and 32 seconds on the clock, courtesy of Gordon’s first goal of the season.

Smith threw the ball to Oldaker who slipped Collin in behind Evans, before he was tackled inside the six-yard box.

Webster kept the move going from inside the penalty area and clipped the ball over to the far post to pick out the unmarked Gordon, who steered his left-footed shot across the keeper and trickling into the bottom far corner from eight-yards.

“Again, by design or shape, we got bodies central and we would rather play central, they were really concerned about us going through the middle and it freed up Nathan at the back post and he’s at the right place at the right time,” said Watt.

“We speak to the full-backs about getting in, particularly in games when we’re on top. It was a good finish. I’m glad we got a goal because I thought by that stage the game should’ve been out of sight really.”

Collin, who often dropped deep during the game, then had a couple of chances to make the game even more comfortable.

Tom Wynter punted a long ball out of defence to put Walmsley through on goal but he was brought down by last-man Bailey, who was booked by referee Joseph Dann-Pye.

Collin drilled the resulting right-footed free-kick from 20-yards straight down Gray’s throat, who made a comfortable save, with little over 20 minutes left.

“I just like giving Frannie a free-role,” said Watt, when asked about the 34-year-old dropping deep well into the centre-circle to start attacks.

“We know he’s a player with such quality. If we can get him in areas and pockets on the ball with time and space he’s going to hurt any team that he plays against, so it’s something that we try to look for.

“He didn’t have as many chances or as many clear-cut chances as he would’ve liked today but he was instrumental in us coming out with a victory.”

Gordon linked up well with Webster down the left and put it on a plate for Collin, who got in front of Lock to plant his header over the crossbar from eight-yards.

Watt introduced substitute Jordan Sarfo in the 76th minute and switched formation to 4-2-3-1 and they missed yet another chance inside the final five minutes.

Sarfo cut in from the left and after several step-overs, his drilled shot took a deflection and flashed past the foot of the near post.

Oldaker cut the corner back to James Rogers before Oldaker floated over a cross towards the far post.

Doe took a touch on the corner of the six-yard box before smashing his shot across the keeper, forcing Gray to dive to his right to parry and Bailey put his body on the line to prevent Doe scoring from the rebound.

Watt, a centre-half by trade, added: “For me, you’ve got to score in that situation. You’ve got a free shot six-yards out on the angle but look you’ve got to give them credit. It’s a good save by the keeper and the five (Bailey) has put his body on the line, which you’d expect a defender to do but the game should’ve been well, well out of sight before that even happened.”

Ascot United failed to threaten during the second half but they almost snatched a last-gasp equaliser to take Watt’s men back to Berkshire on Tuesday night.

Gordon committed a foul and keeper Gray was sent up into the Hythe Town penalty area but Wynter nodded behind Denton’s floated delivery.

Right-winger Sean McCormack, who caused no threat during the game, delivered an outswinging corner from the left with his right-boot and was headed towards goal by the unmarked Lock.  Godmon dived to his right and used a strong right hand to make a vital save and the ball was hacked away by Oldaker on the line.

Watt said: “I’ve been critical of Will of late. I think he’s cost us but the first thing I mentioned to the boys, he’s saved us there. He’s saved us at the end. He’s saved those forward players from missing those chances to take us through to the next round.

“That’s the type of goalkeeper Will is. When you need him, he’s always there. You go through tough spells as players, particularly when you’re in goal and you go through a tough spell is a lot more difficult than any other position on the pitch.

“I was really happy for him today. I thought he was fantastic throughout today. His kicking was great, he commanded the back four, his starting position was excellent.

“The only one real chance they actually had, he was there so it’s full credit to Will for being there when we needed him.  It’s difficult for goalkeepers not being switched on when a game has been dominated as much as that but when we needed him he was there and it was a good save.”

Hythe Town return to league action next Saturday with a trip to sixteenth-placed East Grinstead Town (three points from as many games), before Sittingbourne visit Reachfields Stadium three days later.

When asked about the Second Qualifying Round, which takes place on Saturday 18 September, the Scotsman replied: “A home game will be good. We’ve been lucky, we’ve had two at home, yes there’s been a replay away on our cup journey and hopefully we can get another one.

“The boys were really keen to bounce back from the disappointment of (losing 3-0 at home to Ramsgate) on Monday so the boys wanted to go out there and give the board and the fans something to go away and be happy about and hopefully they are today.

“I wish it was a lot more goals. It should’ve been at least three, minimum, I think but we’ll take a win, we’ll take a clean sheet and we’re in the hat for the next round and who knows where the cup can take you?

“It’s been a while since the club’s gone through to the Second Qualifying Round, so it’s been five years since the club’s been there.

“I always say every year, no matter what club I manage, there’s always a club from the lower levels that’s a great story and I always challenge the players and say can it be us this year?

“I’d love a cup run. I’ve been in cup runs as a player. At Maidstone we got into the Second Round proper when we were in the Ryman Premier, the year we won the league and that was a fantastic journey, not just as players but for the club itself and the fans, so something like that will be wonderful and we can only take the next game.

“We’ll look forward to the draw on Monday but we’re fully focused on East Grinstead next week.

“It will be a tough game. We need to string more performances like we did today but taking more chances at the other end.”

Hythe Town, then managed by Scott Porter and in the Kent League, reached The FA Cup First Round back in November 2010, going down 5-1 to then League Two side Hereford United at Edgar Street.

Watt’s class of 2021 are now only three wins away from that stage of the competition.  The National League South sides, including Maidstone United, go into the hat for Monday's draw.

Hythe Town: Will Godmon, Liam Smith, Nathan Gordon, James Rogers, Tom Wynter, Scott Doe, Darren Oldaker, Jacob Gilbert (Jordan Sarfo 76), Tom Walmsley, Frannie Collin, Charlie Webster.
Subs: Ryan Pattison, Connor Cheek, Eli Beniot, Morgan Williamson

Goal: Nathan Gordon 63

Booked: Scott Doe 60, Jacob Gilbert 66

Ascot United: Sam Gray, Danny Walden (Oliver Graham 86), George Lock, Tom Scott, Daniel Bailey, Sam Evans, Duarte Surpanu (Calum Ferguson 69), Jonathan Denton, Keaton August, Harry Laflin, Sean McCormack.
Subs: Alex Sykes, Ian Davies, Taylor Morgan, Joshua Masters, Rory Merrick

Booked: Daniel Bailey 68

Attendance: 285
Referee: Mr Joseph Dann-Pye
Assistants: Mr Piotr Zachweija & Mr Wayne Horsfall