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Tunbridge Wells 22/3/14 Won 3-2

Match Report by Kevin Hall posted on 22nd March 2014

Three goals in 15 minutes sink Tunbridge Wells as Ashford stage stunning comeback

Match Stats

Date: Sat 22 Mar 2014

Kick Off: 3.00pm

Match Type: Southern Counties East Football League

Venue: Culverden Stadium

Score (FT): 3-2

Score (HT): 0-1

Referee: Wally James

Assistants: G Richards & S Jackson


Yellow Cards: None

Red Cards: None

Yellow Cards: None

Red Cards: None

1 Joe Mant
2 Luke Cuthbert
3 Liam Whiting
4 Gary Clarke
5 Jordan Miller
6 Pat Kingwell
7 Dave Cook
8 Adam Cuthbert
9 Gary Mickelbrough (off 90)
10 Tom Scorer (off 56)
11 Sam Conlon (off 75)

Substitutes (used *)
12Michael Smissen * (on 75)
14 Ian Wallace * (on 90)
15 James Dryden * (on 56)
16 Sam Fisher
17 Paul Chambers

1 Steve Lawrence
2 Jason Bourne
3 Lewis Mingle
4 Jake Beecroft
5 Scott Whibley
6 Perry Spackman
7 Rhys Lawson
8 Tom Davey
9 Andy Irvine (off 75)
10 Joe Fuller
11 Lee Radford (off 67)

Substitutes (used *)

12 Jack Funnell
13 Brett Ince
14 Andy Boyle
15 Jon Pilbeam * (on 67)
16 Richard Sinden * (on 75)

Attendance: 359

Thanks to a brace from Gary Mickelborough and a Pat Kingwell penalty, Ashford United, with a remarkable turnaround, edged home by 3-2 in the much anticipated battle for second spot, in the Southern Counties East table, following their visit to Tunbridge Wells.

For their fourth match in eight days, Ashford had travelled to the Culverden Stadium, one place and one point behind the Wells, as the two locked horns in the battle to try and stay within catching distance of runaway leaders Whyteleafe, at the top of the table. But having gone two goals behind 10 minutes into the second half, the Nuts & Bolts then staged a stunning comeback, pulling back the two goal deficit. Three goals in a 15 period minute mid way through the half, seeing them leapfrog above the Wells, as the vocal crowd were stunned into silence.

The sides met earlier this season, in the first round of the league cup, which Ashford won by a handsome aggregate score of 7-2 score over the two legged tie. The league encounter though was the first time the two clubs had met, since 28 September 1966 when Tunbridge Wells Rangers & Ashford Town drew 0-0 in the Southern League. The clash today though, undoubtedly had a touch more at stake, bearing in mind the league positions of the two at the start of play.

Spurred on by a healthy 359 attendance – the figure boosted by the large contingent of away support – it was the hosts who grabbed a vital early goal. Having already gone close from Andy Irvine with one that dipped over the bar six minutes in, the opener came via the head of tall number six Perry Spackman who muscled his way above the defence, to loop the ball past Joe Mant after 12 minutes from a well delivered corner kick.

The first half though in general, was played at a good pace, but on an awkward bouncy playing surface, on target shots and neat moves were at a premium. Ashford pressed and probably enjoyed the majority of possession but were decidedly lacking in the final third, having to wait until the 37th minute for a clear chance at goal, when Dave Cook volleyed over after good work by Luke Cuthbert. In truth Tunbridge Wells despite the one goal advantage faired little better, with Mant easily gobbling up a shot from Lee Radford, moments before Cook’s effort.

But then, just before half-time there was action in both goalmouths, Ashford grateful to Mant for a fine stop to deny former Ashford Town man Joe Fuller from point blank range. A counter attack then saw the ball rebound off the Wells crossbar from the head of Jordan Miller and with it still live the visitors were awarded a penalty, after Sam Conlon was bundled over.

It was however a controversial end to the half when a lengthy delay, which saw a yellow card shown to Fuller, up stepped Kingwell to take the kick, having already scored from the spot on Thursday evening at Lordswood. The kick was struck well, but it hit the post, via what appeared to be the hand of goalkeeper Steve Lawrence, Kingwell pounced to follow up the loose ball to bring scores level, or so he thought. His delight however was short lived, when the Assistant Referee, over ruled the Referee, presumably because he felt no one touched the ball, including the keeper, before it crossed the line, the play being re-started by an indirect free-kick to Tunbridge Wells.

The second period commenced with Tom Scorer rasping a shot which although always on the rise, was just over the bar as the visitors went close. The movement from Ashford looked good both with and without the ball, midfield powerhouse Gary Clarke particularly buzzing against one of his former sides. Although it was disconcerting to see Rhys Lawson – one of two, big name signings for Wells in the week- waltz through the Ashford midfield to win a corner kick for his new team mates. Lawson was always a threat and was Wells star player on the day and Ashford had to work hard to avert his threat.

Dave Cook then showed his strength to bundle the ball and the keeper into the net, which back in the days of the 1966 clash, the goal might have stood, but the times have changed now. Disaster then struck for Ashford, when Kingwell tried to head, then pass the ball back to Mant, but it sold the in form keeper short, for his worst moment of a brilliant season. The ball bobbled badly on the uneven surface, as Mant tried to clear the danger to completely miss the ball and gift Irvine the easiest of goals he his ever likely to score, as calmly he walked the ball into the open net for 2-0.

Immediately Paul Chambers reacted by replacing Scorer with James Dryden, Ashford needing to up the ante if they were to get anything out of the game. The visitors at this point were staring into the abyss and something needed to be done to quell the noise level from the home terracing which had certainly gone up a notch.

Seven minutes later, Ashford rallied and got a foot hold in the game, getting a goal back from Mickelborough, who pounced like a fox in the box to stab home into the roof of the net, via a superb knock down from Dryden.The goal galvanised Ashford as they took the game to the home side and on 71 minutes were awarded a second penalty, this time for hand ball when the ball struck the unfortunate Lewis Mingle. Kingwell, not daunted by the drama at the end of the first half again took the responsibility. Once more a lengthy delay ensued as Jon Pilbeam and then Scott Whibley found their names in the Refs notebook. This time Kingwell kept his nerve to send Lawrence the wrong way and restore the equilibrium at 2-2 with now 74 minutes now on the clock.

The comeback was completed three minutes later when again Dryden rose well to nod the ball down to Micklelborough who still had work to do from an acute angle, but coolly rounded the keeper to collect his ninth of the season and probably the most valuable thus far. The delight was etched on every away supporter and on Chambers , who flew down the touchline in a delightful celebration routine. This wasn’t anyone old turnaround, it was against a top side, who like Ashford harbour thoughts of playing at the next level, so it was all the sweeter for it. The Wells must also be sick of the sight of Mickelborough, who has struck five of his nine goals this campaign against the Royal club.

As the match drew to a close, it was Ashford who looked more likely to add to the tally, Michael Smissen who holds the ball up so well, having come on as a substitute adding to the home sides worries. Whilst the Ashford defence with Miller and Liam Whiting outstanding had little of danger to worry about, apart from the odd nervy moment, the home shots were long range and wayward, rarely threatening the goal.

As stoppage time was entered, Mickelborough who had led the line quite superbly, left to a great ovation to be replaced by Ian Wallace, but he had little to do in nearly eight minutes of overtime played. When Jake Beecroft with a rare sniff at goal in the sixth added minute fired over, Wells had run their race and were a beaten side.

The crowd had been singing “Ryman League, you’re having a laugh” at 2-0 up, but he who laughs last, laughs longest and as the spectators filed out after the final whistle, there was only one side laughing and that was Ashford.

Match Reporter Kevin Hall