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Ashford United extended their winning run to a dozen matches, thanks to a brace for star striker Stuart Zanone and a well deserved goal from Gary Mickelborough, which proved enough to see off a spirited display from a young Corinthian side.
The 3-2 victory by the Nuts & Bolts at a cool and breezy Fawkham takes them within a point of Erith & Belvedere, who having lost to United at the Homelands in midweek, slipped to a 0-2 reverse at the hands of Tunbridge Wells.
Despite this champions elect Phoenix Sports remain unbeaten and have a 12 point advantage over the pair, with their form showing little sign of letting up, following a 3-1 win at big spending Greenwich Borough.
United had beaten the Hoops 3-1 at the Homelands last month, with all the goals coming early and once again they started at a fast pace, opening the scoring after 10 minutes via the prolific Zanone.
The leading scorer latching onto a raking pump up field from goalkeeper Joe Mant, using his pace to lose marker Sam Hayes and slip the ball past the advancing Sam L’Anson.
The lead lasted just three minutes, Ashford conceding from a free-kick, when Marcus Evans rose to head past Mant from a well drifted in dead ball situation.
The half ended all square, although Mant was called into action on 26 minutes to push away an awkward low bobbling shot from Alex Billings, then just before the interval a beautifully crafted curling shot from Zanone went agonisingly inches over the crossbar.
In the second period Corinthian had chances to go ahead, Luke Cuthbert who had a great game for United suffered just one blip and almost sliced the ball into his own net. Then Luke Tanner fluffed his lines by missing an open goal whilst Henry Goodwin fired wide.
Gradually the power of the Ashford side, on the back of the winning run started to show, with the Hoops forced to backtrack, as the visitors drove forward with purpose and on the hour mark they took the lead when Zanone scored his and Ashford’s second of the afternoon.
Adam Cuthbert delivered a perfectly weighted free-kick from just inside the visitors half, which wasn’t cleared and when it fell at the feet of Zanone, there was only likely to be one result, as he drilled the ball into the roof of the goal for his 36th goal of the season and bag his fourth against Corinthian this season.
This goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the home side, as a number of tackles started to fly in, indeed it was a busy day for Referee Piotre Zachwieja as a total of six players received yellow cards. This all under the watchful eye of Ashford based Referee Assessor Geoff Stanborough, who was taking several notes throughout the match.
Mr Zachwieja is clearly not afraid to show a card or two, having previously booked seven players when officiating in United’s dramatic 4-3 win at Holmesdale back in January. He did though fail to spot a high footed challenge by goalkeeper L’Anson on Mickelborough earlier in the game, much to the chagrin of Assistant Manager Lloyd Blackman who vented his frustration towards the officials at the half-time whistle.
The score became 3-1 when the tireless Mickelborough did well to win a corner-kick, before heading home from Liam Whiting’s delivery in the 77th minute, to notch his fifth goal of the campaign.
Corinthian still showed some fighting spirit as Jack Howlett turned to shot over the bar, before Mant easily gathered a tame shot from him, then substitute Nathan Palmer somehow contrived to miss the easiest opportunity of the afternoon, missing an open target from just yards out as Ashford were caught napping at the back.
Just before the final whistle Corinthian must have been pleased when arch goal scorer Zanone left to a standing ovation and perhaps buoyed by this, scored a goal that Zanone would himself have been proud of, substitute Harvey McMorrow showing his team mates how to find the target by firing home in the second minute of added time.
Ashford still have to play Phoenix Sports twice in their remaining 10 matches, so there is still much to play for, starting with a trip to Lingfield on Tuesday evening.
Match Reporter Kevin Hall
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