Sevenoaks Town 1-1 Ashford United - It's in our hands. If we win every game from now on in we do the treble, says Ashford United player-assistant Shaun Welford

Wednesday 15th March 2017
Sevenoaks Town 1 – 1 Ashford United
Location Greatness Park, Mill Lane, Seal Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 5BX
Kickoff 15/03/2017 19:45

Macron Southern Counties East Football League Challenge Cup Semi-Final First Leg
Wednesday 15th March 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Greatness Park

ASHFORD UNITED player-assistant manager Shaun Welford has challenged his players’ to grab hold of the treble.

Ashford United are fighting it out with Crowborough Athletic and outsiders Sevenoaks Town to go on to win the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division title at the end of next month.

Ashford and Crowborough have both collected 70 points, although Sean Muggeridge’s men have a game in hand, while Sevenoaks Town have bagged 65 points.

Ashford United lock horns with Cray Valley (Paper Mills) in the Kent Reliance Senior Trophy Final in Maidstone on Sunday, 9 April.

But both first legs of the Macron Southern Counties East Football League Challenge Cup Semi-Finals remain on a knife edge at half-time.

Last night, the game between Sheppey United and Whitstable Town at Holm Park finished all-square at two-goals-a-piece, while Sevenoaks Town travel to Homelands Stadium on 28 March still in the tie.

Ashford United drew first blood with striker Brett Ince scoring his seventh goal of the season inside the opening 19 minutes.

But Sevenoaks Town restored parity through striker Byron Walker slotting in his 24th goal of the season, just 91 seconds into the second half, watched by a large crowd of 168 at Greatness Park.

“I thought it was alright, it’s the Semi-Final of the Cup weren’t it,” said Welford.

“Both teams wanted to win it but there’s another 90 minutes to play yet so we’ve looked each other up I think so have taken a lot of knowledge and information about them into the next leg.

“I quite fancy ourselves to be honest. We’ve weathered the storm at their place and it will be a different game at our place.”

Sevenoaks Town manager Micky Collins was furious with the performance of referee James Hurst tonight.

He said: “My initial thoughts really is, it was two even sides, played their hearts out to win a game of football and from my opinion looking at it that’s one of the worst refereeing displays I’ve seen for a long time, for a long time!

“Some of the decisions he made tonight were very, very bad and it’s annoyed me a little bit. We’ve got another leg to play so it wouldn’t have made much difference but some of the decisions he’s made, I’ve got to question his integrity.”

Sevenoaks Town went into the game on the back of four wins on the bounce, while Ashford United lost their 14-match winning run by losing 1-0 at Bearsted at the weekend.

Sevenoaks Town should have been 2-0 up inside the opening seven minutes.

Greg Benbow, who was forced off with a rolled ankle later on in the game, swung in their first corner and Kieron McCann rose with big goalkeeper George Kamurasi to loop his header from eight-yards against the top of the crossbar before dropping down and being cleared.

Collins said: “We’ve come out of the blocks, we started lively like we normally do.  We’re at home so we expect to go out and perform and I wanted us to give a good account of ourselves tonight and I thought we did it.”

“It took us a good 10 minutes to get into the game,” admitted Welford.

“We know they’ve got a lot of pace, they’re good on the counter attack.

“The corner where the lad headed against the bar, we decided to have a little gamble and keep three up top. That gave them a one-man advantage in the box and they’ve got a free header, hit the bar and we changed it after that and they were pretty much ineffective.”

Kamurasi was guilty of hitting a poor clearance, which was collected by McCann, who threaded the ball in behind for Billy Bennett, but his left-footed shot was tipped around the post by Kamurasi, getting his large frame down low to his left.

“That’s the thing with George, he’s normally pretty consistent with his kicking. When they’re one-on-one you fancy George all day long so he made up for his little mistake and they didn’t capitalise on it,” said Welford.

But Ashford United grabbed the lead with their first attempt on goal, timed at 18 minutes and 39 seconds on the clock.

Collins claimed Corey Holder’s challenge on Ince was not a foul just outside the right-hand corner of the Oaks’ penalty area.

The imposing figure of striker Ryan James had his hands on his hips before a short run up before drilling a low free-kick in towards the near post. The ball deflected into Ince’s path and from ten-yards from goal the striker turned and swept his shot across the keeper, nestling nicely into the bottom far corner of the net.

Collins blasted: “I don’t think it was a foul! I think that’s the first decision he’s got wrong on the night!

“Corey’s stood his ground, the guy rolled around him and fallen on the floor, it’s not a free-kick!  He’s given it and we haven’t reacted. It’s our fault and it’s poor defending from that but again it’s not a free-kick so I questioned the referee there immediately.

“We haven’t picked our marker which is not good enough and that’s our fault but go back to the initial point and the initial point is it’s not a foul so if he doesn’t give the foul, they don’t get the free-kick and they don’t score. Again, another poor refereeing decision!”

“That’s the thing that Brett does, he’s a fox in the box and he’s quite an intelligent player,” added Welford.

“He’s very difficult to myself, the target-man. He’ll do the work, he’s a hard worker and he’ll get in and about.  Whether it was luck when the ball fell to him or he’s in the right place at the right time but it’s a great finish nonetheless.”

The goal signalled a period of bright enterprise from Danny Lye’s men. Unfortunately, a family emergency prevented Lye from watching the game so Welford, an unused substitute, took his place in the dug-out to gain vital experience of management.

“It’s good, it’s something that - I’m getting on a bit, I’ll be 38 in May – I want to get a foot in the manager side of things and to learn.  I want to prolong my career in the game. I’ve got to start learning that side of it. It is different. You’re used to taking orders from the side so to give them out is new but it’s one that I’m enjoying and long may it continue.”

Ashford right-back George Savage hit a long ball forward towards the edge of the Sevenoaks box, the ball was knocked down by Ince and Ben Davisson’s right-footed shot from 22-yards bounced into Rob French’s hands for a comfortable save.

Ashford winger Ryan Palmer, who was better in the first half than the second, hit a first time right-footed drive from 30-yards, which bounced past the left-hand post at the halfway point.

Sevenoaks keeper French had a scary moment when he attempted to clear Holder’s back-pass, but the ball cannoned off James and bounced off the keeper and past the right-hand post.

Byron Walker was nudged by Joe Vines, the central defender who was making his Ashford United debut.  The ball was played across to Bennett, who flashed his low right-footed drive past the far post from 25-yards.

Benbow cut in from the left, slipped the ball through to Bennett, who played in Byron Walker but he couldn’t dig the ball out from underneath his feet and sliced his shot wide from a tight angle.

Sevenoaks Town created two glorious chances to equalise inside the last ten minutes of the first half.

Bennett played a one-two with right-winger Stephen Camacho before hooking the ball on the outside to Bingham, who took a poor touch and hooked his right-footed shot towards goal which was blocked by the body of the advancing Kamurasi.

Collins said: “Good save. We played our way in, played some good football. I think we got it down and passed it and moved the ball in the right areas and I thought we looked good going forward.”

Welford said: “That’s the thing with George, we’ve got a good defence, we’ve got some rocks at the back and it’s normally Westy (Stuart West), we’ve got Joe Vines in now.

“When strikers are getting in past that wall of a back four then they’re faced with this big, big keeper, George. He’s massive so it’s hard enough getting past the back four, then you’ve got to face him. He’s massive, he’s massive. His shot stopping is unbelievable. It gives you a bit of confidence when the ball goes beyond your back four. You think good luck getting past him. He’s brilliant at shot-stopping and he proved that again today a couple of times.”

Sevenoaks’ central midfielders Jimmy Rogers and Bingham started the move that saw Bennett clip the ball over the top of Vines and Pat Kingwell to put Byron Walker in behind but all he could do was to steer his header straight into Kamurasi’s hands from 12-yards.

Collins said: “I think Byron’s got one eye on George and he probably had time to chest it down and slot it home. He’s disappointed with it and it was a shame really because I thought we deserved to be in at least one-all.”

Welford said: “It’s sloppy marking, which is unlike us. I think we were ball watching a bit but I don’t think heading is Byron’s strength so luckily it fell on his head and it was straight into George’s hands.  I think if it falls on his left foot he’s slotting that away, fortunately it’s ended up on his head, which is where you want it with Byron.

“I’ve played with him (at Dover Athletic), when he’s got the ball at his feet he’s good at getting that yard of space. He just plays it to his left and he’s got a wicked shot on him, so put it on his head all day long for me!”

When asked what he said to his troops at the break, Collins said: “Not a lot really. I picked on a few points that I wanted us to do and I thought we could create more by playing on the floor and we did. We then came straight out in the second half and we do that and we score.”

Welford added: “It was keep going because I was happy. I was happy with the tenacity, the tempo was high, it was fine, it was fine.

“We didn’t look like conceding after the first 10 minutes. We’ve had a few half decent chances and we upped the tempo, which is good.

“I was happy with that but all I wanted them to do was keep it up especially when that whistle blows. You want them to be on it. It took us another 10 minutes to get into the game.”

Sevenoaks Town started the second half on the front foot. 

Byron Walker played the ball out to winger McCann, who cut inside to drill a shot towards the near post, which forced Kamurasi to beat the ball away, the ball dropped in his six-yard box and no one in a Sevenoaks shirt was there to tuck it home.

But Sevenoaks Town equalised with their next shot, 91 seconds on the clock.

McCann played in a low cross from the left towards the edge of the box to an unmarked Camacho, who played in Byron Walker, who steered his low left-footed shot through the keeper’s legs into the bottom corner from 12-yards.

Collins said: “Easy football, nice intricate passing, in we go into the box and we score. It’s as simple as that.

“We didn’t want them to be out of sight and they probably thought the same about us, then it’s a bit of a dead event (the Second Leg).

Welford added: “I was a bit annoyed with the throw-in. They had a throw on the left and with one throw they opened us right up and when Byron’s got that ball on his left foot he’s lethal with it. He’s scored plenty of goals this season.”

Ashford United responded well and James played in a low cross from the left to Ince, who cracked a first time, right-footed drive from 15-yards towards the roof of the net but French pushed the ball over the crossbar with his outstretched right hand.

Welford said: “We released the ball quickly and we got three or four players move into Brett and you fancy Brett in those instances but a good save.”

Collins added: “It was a good save but you expect that. He’s six foot four so you expect him to tip it over the bar, which he did.”

Vines almost scored with a debut goal in the 51st minute.

David Botterill launched a deep cross from the right towards the far post and Vines (who was there after Botterill’s initial corner) looped his back header across the keeper and landed agonisingly wide of the far post.

Welford was pleased with Vines’ debut, having signed him from Ryman League Division One North side Thamesmead Town.

“He done great. Sometimes at this time of the season to come to a new side it’s a bit daunting. Joe knows a few of the boys, he’s best mates with Adrian Stone. His performance today, it seems he’s settled in nice and easy, which is what we wanted. He’s a leader, he’s a natural leader and he talks and it’s what we’ve been missing this season and hopefully it will be the difference in the closing games to maybe nick it for us. 

“He brings a lot, he brings a lot of experience into the side and he’s a big voice and he’s a big player.   He was on the bench at Thamesmead, the boy needs minutes at the age he is. He has to stay fit and he’s got to have minutes.  We’ve seen he’s been on the bench and with Stuart West suspended for five games coming up we needed a centre half and he fits the bill massively.”

Quiet Yacine Gnahore sprayed a pass out to Chris Edwards on the right and his hanging cross was punched away by Kamurasi.  McCann then picked up the loose ball on the left and poked the ball into the box, cut inside and lashed his shot over the bar from 15-yards.

Both sides proved to be a tough nut to crack and no chances was created between the 17th and 69th minute.

“I think both teams wanted to win the game. I think we certainly wanted to win the game,” added Collins.

“It was only a couple of injuries we’ve picked up that we had to change our shape and then played more defensively and consolidated what we had, otherwise we would’ve kept going.”

Both striker Bennett and left-back Benbow rolled their ankles during the game and Collins fears the worst.

“I think Greg Benbow’s probably a little more serious than Billy’s but who knows? It could be a week, could be two weeks, could be six.  Big losses and that’s the disappointing thing tonight.”

Kingwell clipped a fine diagonal pass out to Ince on the left, the striker cut inside and winger Rory Hill’s right-footed curling effort deflected off Edwards and sailed past the far post from 20-yards.

Collins was clearly furious when referee James Hurst ruled out a goal with 20 minutes remaining.

Bingham fed McCann down the left and he floated in a cross into the centre of the Ashford box.  Kamurasi jumped up with Byron Walker, caught the ball, dropped it and the ball landed at Camacho’s feet, who tucked his shot into the bottom left-hand corner only for the referee to disallow it.

The Football Association block match officials to take part in post-match interviews, but calls on the governing body to allow match officials to answer questions on key moments in games, facing the press 30 minutes after the final whistle of games at every level of football.

“What annoys me at this level and at any level of football and the level of respect that you’re supposed to show officials,” barked Collins.

“I spoke to the ref at the end of the game on the pitch and questioned a couple of decisions. Two of their players have made three fouls minimum in the game and he hasn’t booked them, not that I want to see people booked but they’re the laws of the game so I questioned him on the pitch and he said ‘come and see me at the end, cooling down period.’

“I’ve gone into his room to see him, he’s gone home! Where’s the cooling down period? Do I have to drive round his house to see him? Unacceptable!

“They want respect, where’s the respect there? I want him to clarify why he’s disallowed that goal because that is the worst decision ever! The goalkeeper catches it, drops it on to our forwards head, it drops to our other player and he taps it into the goal and he disallows it!

“I’ve got to question his integrity on that decision because he’s seen something here that the rest of the people here have not seen tonight.

“We’ve done something that is actually within the Laws of the game and we’ve scored. Yet, I’ve pulled him on it to question him and he doesn’t want to hang around to discuss it with me because his cooling down period is at home in his bath!”

“First look at it, I thought we might’ve been lucky to get the free-kick on George,” admitted Welford.

“It looked like he dropped it. I’m a good 70 yards away so I didn’t, the referee’s obviously seen something enough to give a free-kick, so I have to take his word for it.”

Kamurasi improved with his next save, low to his left to hold Byron Walker’s scuffed left-footed drive from a central position 25-yards from goal.

Sevenoaks sub Jack Richards got forward to play a low cross in from the left and Bingham’s powerful angled drive was blocked by Kamurasi, low to his right.

Ashford United could have grabbed the victory on the night with two late chances.

Jack Miles made a mistake as he failed to clear his lines and allowed Palmer to collect the ball, cut inside and find Hill, who like Palmer struggled to make an impact tonight, but French came off his line to smother the ball at the winger’s feet.

Substitute Jason Goodchild fed Palmer, who cut in off the right flank to unleash a dipping right-footed drive from 35-yards.  The ball dipped and bounced in front of French, who did well to dive to his right to push the ball behind for a corner.

Welford said: “It’s a bobbly pitch so when you’re shooting from that distance, if you have a couple of bounces of the ball it could bobble up in front of the keeper, which is what it done and fair play to him, he’s kept his eye on it and saved it.

“It seemed like the game was petering out to a 1-1 and it did open up, which is not what we really wanted but it could’ve gone either way.”

Collins added: “Speculative strike isn’t it and Frenchy has done what he should do, he’s got across and pushed it past the post.”

Ashford United host AFC Croydon Athletic (their manager Kevin Raynor was in the crowd here tonight) on Saturday, before hosting Hollands & Blair on 21 March.  They return to Sevenoaks Town in the League on 25 March, before welcoming them at Homelands Stadium to contest the Second Leg on Tuesday 28 March, before the crunch game against Crowborough Athletic on Saturday 1st April.

Whoever wins that game should go on and win the league title.

Sevenoaks Town travel to Deal Town on Saturday and to Erith & Belvedere next Tuesday, before the double-header with Ashford United.

Welford said: “It’s going to go down to the wire, I think and you can’t take Sevenoaks out of the equation either.  We’ve got to play them in the league and if they nick a win their right back in the race.

“It’s in our hands, isn’t it. If we win every game from now on in we do the treble so it’s exciting but it’s the way you want it to be, I think.

“We’re waiting for Crowborough to slip up but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. It’s in our hands. We’ve told the lads if you want it, it’s there for you.  You’ve just got to put a performance in every week, win them all and we win the league, so that’s how it is.”

Looking ahead to the Second Leg, Welford said: “It will be a different game on a flat pitch. It was a bit bobbly, the wide players were saying the ball wouldn’t settle to their feet, that’s where we’re at our strongest when they get the ball, get the ball down and they can run at the defenders.

“It will be a different game at home. It’s a bigger pitch. It will be an open game. It's a Semi-Final, there’s a big carrot dangled in front of you, a Cup Final. It will be a tight game again, no doubt about it, but we’ll go into it with confidence no doubt and hopefully get into another Cup Final.”

After trips to Deal Town and Erith & Belvedere next week, Collins cannot wait for the League’s make-or-break weekend.

“It’s game on, isn’t it, it’s even-Stevens and both will probably want that and Ashford probably think the same. They want to go back to their place.

“It’s a tough weekend. We play them on the Saturday in the league, which is vitally important for both sides and then we see them in the Cup on Tuesday and the following game they’ve got Crowborough.

“We just have to assess the injuries first, that’s the most important thing. We have to go to Deal and if we want to keep in the title race we have got to go and get three points.”

Sevenoaks Town: Rob French, Chris Edwards, Greg Benbow (Jack Richards 81), Jimmy Rogers, Jack Miles, Corey Holder, Stephen Camacho (Harrison Carnegie 74), Joe Bingham, Byron Walker, Billy Bennett (Yacine Gnahore 46), Kieron McCann.
Sub: Toby Lansdale

Goal: Byron Walker 47

Ashford United: George Kamurasi, George Savage, Fraser Walker, David Botterill, Joe Vines, Pat Kingwell, Ryan Palmer, Ben Davisson, Brett Ince (Jason Goodchild 76), Ryan James, Rory Hill.
Subs: Danny Lye, Shaun Welford, Harry Lavender, Clark Woodcock

Goal: Brett Ince 19

Attendance: 168
Referee: Mr James Hurst (Peckham, London SE15)
Assistants: Mr Daniel Wyatt (Woolwich, London SE18) & Mr Valentine Anekwe (Bromley)

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