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Dunston UTS 2 – Ashford United 3

Match Report by Denise Peach posted on 9th February 2016

MKC Report

Match Stats

Date: Sat 6 Feb 2016

Kick Off: 3.00pm

Match Type: FA Vase

Venue: Away

Score (FT): 2-3

Score (HT): 2-0

Referee: Unknown

Assistants: Unknown

Bookings:

Ashford:
Yellow Cards: None

Red Cards: None

:
Yellow Cards: None

Red Cards: None

Teams: N/A

Attendance: 290

From Ashford United’s Milton Keynes Correspondent

Read all reports from MKC HERE

 

Having endured the whole of December and the whole of January without going to a football match – due to weather and cup postponements that have put paid to a number of away fixtures within my normal travel radius – there was no way that I was going to miss the opportunity to follow the lads to Tyneside. The FA Vase 5th Round replay away to Dunston UTS, of the Northern League, is undoubtedly Ashford United’s greatest adventure (so far).

This has been comfortably the farthest north that I have travelled in support of an Ashford team, (beating the trip to Grantham, which is some 165 miles south of the Tyne), and the contrast with trekking off to Newport, on the Isle of Wight, in the previous round, just underlines the fascination of the wonderful competition that is the FA Vase. It is a competition that I have followed with a profound interest for many years, most of which have been when my team, (Ashford Town, in those days), wasn’t even eligible to take part. I used to pore over draws and maps, enthralled by some of the journeys that little football clubs made to all corners of the country. I used to regard the opportunities that other clubs had, to travel up to the north east of England, to take on the “big guns” of the Northern League, with a degree of envy – and so I was not going to miss this occasion, now that the Vase draw, and a battling 1-1 result at Homelands in the original fixture, had thrown up the opportunity.

It was certainly a privilege to follow the boys to one of the world’s great hot-beds of football passion – and, in that respect, Tyneside is right up there with anything that Milan, Madrid, Liverpool or Rio de Janeiro has to offer. In fact, the folk of Gateshead would probably not understand how their opponents today could be the only football club in a town of some 75,000 people and yet have an average home gate of just over 200.

It was certainly a different match-day travel experience for me today. Instead of a train ride from Milton Keynes to London, (avoiding eye-contact with the massed ranks of Arsenal supporters), and then a winding journey through the boroughs of south-east London, this morning it was a simple case of driving two miles to the M1, pointing my battered Astra Estate in a northerly direction and then keeping the engine running for the next four hours or so. Dunston’s UTS Stadium is situated just a few hundred yards from the south bank of the Tyne, approximately two miles upstream of the famous Tyne Bridge and about 3½ miles from Newcastle United’s St James’ Park ground.

It was also altogether a very different match day experience for me. Rocking up at the likes of Rochester United and Sevenoaks Town feels a bit like the chance meeting of dog walkers. Today, it was a pleasure to visit a proper football club with a proper core of knowledgeable supporters, all decked out in the team scarf they wear to every game.

The UTS Stadium is located in a part of Gateshead that has a mixture of residential and light manufacturing land use. The main stand is surprisingly small, I thought, but cosy, and provided benched seating, with a sheltered terraced area on the opposite side of the pitch. The bar, toilets and changing rooms are behind one goal.

There appeared to be no match day programme available, but there was a good supply of team sheets, and the Ashford line-up looked a little thread-bare in places. News had been released, on Friday, that Matt Newman, who made18 appearances, (only completing the full 90 minutes four times), in Ashford Town’s 2009-10 season, had been signed to bolster our depleted midfield area – but, unfortunately, he was unavailable, having picked up a ligament injury. More worrying was the fact that Josh Woolley was once again asked to play a little out of position, at left-back – and with no defensive cover on the bench. This felt like it might be a weakness, against a team that sat in fourth place in the powerful Northern League, and was quoted as fourth-favourite to win the FA Vase, in bookmakers’ lists at the start of this round.

So Ashford started with Kamurasi in goal, with a back four of Cuthbert (A.), Kingwell, Cuthbert (L.) and Woolley. Player-Manager Danny Lye took the very brave decision to play himself in central midfield, alongside captain Mickey Phillips. This might come as a surprise to many Ashford fans who were unable to make the trip, but Lye’s performance on the day, leading from the front and ensuring that the midfield was not over-run like it was for long periods the previous Saturday, thoroughly vindicated his self-selection. Ryan Palmer played wide on the left of midfield, with Taser Hassan on the right. The attack was led by Player-Assistant-Manager Shaun Welford and Player-Coach Paul Booth. Accompanying goalkeeping sub Nick Luen were midfielders Mikey Dalton and George Savage, and strikers Tom Fagg and Seb Schoburgh.

For Dunston UTS, (which I still think of as Dunston Federation Brewery, the club’s old name), Aristotte Guerin, who scored the goal, coming on as a substitute, at Homelands, was given a start. The Feds’ full starting XI was Liam Connell (the skipper), Michael Pearson, Stephen Harrison, Dale Burrell, Adam Wilkinson, Luke Gilhespy, Dan Smith, Alex Francis, Steven Richardson, Malcolm Morien and Guerin.

Ryan Palmer tried his socks off on the left wing, but made little or no impact in this role, so the solid home defence deserves credit for nullifying Ashford’s brightest attacking threat. Palms did, however, have the first chance of the game, in the fourth minute. He attempted a curling, left-footed shot from the edge of the area, which Connell did well to tip around the post.

From there, there was a period where there was literally one chance per minute, at either end. In the fifth minute, Aristotte Guerin side-footed a shot straight at George Kamurasi, before Danny Lye had a free header at an Adam Cuthbert corner which he looped well wide, in the sixth minute. In the seventh minute, a direct through-ball just evaded Pat Kingwell’s out-stretched leg, giving Malcolm Morien a clear sight of goal, but he shot straight at goalkeeper Kamurasi. The resulting long clearance then very nearly found Paul Booth, just inside the Dunston penalty area, but he just failed to latch onto the opportunity.

The ninth minute saw the first important incident in the game. Feds’ ‘keeper Liam Connell was given a woefully short back-pass from one of his defenders, and he was caught by Paul Booth, who slid in with a tackle – earning him the first yellow card of the match. There was no malice in the challenge, and there didn’t appear to be a great deal of contact – but Connell did go a long way up in the air, and the lad was down for a long time and was obviously hurt. When he eventually rose to his feet, it was good to see Paul Booth trot across to shake his hand and give him a hug.

The game restarted, but had to be stopped when Connell slumped to the ground, needing further attention. He soldiered on, albeit unable to take goal-kicks, but, in the 18th minute, had to be replaced by sub goalie Andrew Clark. This was a further set-back for the home side, who had already had to replace Adam Wilkinson with Josh Clark, in the 14th minute.

Ashford, playing in their green & white home kit, clearly had the better of the opening quarter of the game, in terms of possession and territorial advantage, but never quite threatened the Dunston goal. Danny Lye won the ball with a good tackle, during this period, and fed it through to Ryan Palmer, whose low shot went wide. Then, in the 18th minute, Ashford’s battalion of tall defenders went up for a free-kick on the half-way line, but Pat Kingwell glanced his header wide.

Dunston seemed to be sparked into life by a chance in the 26th minute, and, from this point, for the remainder of the half, the home side’s pace up front and sharp, incisive passing cut the Ashford defence to shreds. Chief tormentor was the very speedy, and shaven-headed, Steven Richardson, who looked like a thinly disguised Andy Johnson. Chief victim at the back for Ashford was the normally reliable Pat Kingwell, who, whilst looking his usual composed and classy self when the ball was at his feet, was exposed several times by Richardson’s pace and quick mind. It was fortunate for Ashford, therefore, that Luke Cuthbert had an absolutely tremendous game, saving the team on at least three occasions.

The chance that changed the balance of the half came as a result of a break from defence, with Richardson surging forward down the right flank. He found the impressive Morien, in the penalty area, who turned Kingwell inside out two or three times, before Luke came back to spirit the ball away.

Seconds later, Aristotte Guerin rose well to meet a high cross, which he directed straight at George Kamurasi – but the home side took the lead just two minutes later. Unsurprisingly, Steven Richardson was the scorer, sprinting clear of the Ashford defence, onto a through-ball, and sticking the ball into the far corner of the net, like an accomplished striker.

The visitors tried to respond immediately, with Paul Booth attacking in the inside-right channel; he laid the ball off to Taser Hassan, but Hassan shot straight at ‘keeper Clark, from an acute angle. Then, in the 31st minute, Ashford had a further set-back, when Josh Woolley was the victim of a late tackle by Josh Clark, which might well have earnt the substitute a yellow card – but it didn’t. Wooley was down receiving treatment for several minutes, and then had to be replaced by Mikey Dalton – one midfielder replacing another as a makeshift left-back.

Adam Cuthbert was yellow-carded for a trip from behind, in the 38th minute, and the home side took what looked to be a comfortable lead, just two minutes later. A miss-directed pass within the Ashford defence gave the ball away to Malcolm Morien, on the edge of the area. Morien didn’t seem to have many options, but he speculated with a shot, which took a deflection off the ankle of a visiting defender, that was enough to put the ball beyond the reach of the diving George Kamurasi.

Again, Ashford’s response was immediate, albeit to no avail, with Paul Booth getting to the by-line, inside the Dunston penalty area. He pulled the ball back to Mickey Phillips, whose rather scuffed shot beat the goalkeeper, but was cleared off the line.

For much of the remainder of the half, however, the visitors looked in danger of going further behind. In the 45th minute, (but with five minutes of injury time to be played at the end of the first half), the ball was given away in midfield, and Morien put Richardson through on goal – but, this time, “Speedy” side-footed his shot wide. The Ashford midfield lost the ball again, four minutes later, giving Richardson another opportunity; he turned Pat Kingwell once again, but hit a wild shot over the bar.

Ashford couldn’t really complain about going in at half time behind, having given Dunston’s two goalkeepers little to do – but I thought that a two-goal deficit was quite harsh, given some of the nice football that they had played at times.

It was no surprise that UTS began the second half in buoyant mood, and pressed forward from the restart. Ashford were desperate to get some sort of foot-hold in the game, and a third Dunston goal at this point may well have been the prelude to a 4-0, 5-0 or even 6-0 thrashing, such was the Northern League side’s dominance.

In the 48th minute, a corner on the right was taken short, and Michael Pearson put Alex Francis through, inside the Ashford area – but George Kamurasi got his positioning right, and was able to block the shot that came in from an acute angle. Three minutes later, Richardson latched onto an up & under from the Dunston defence, beating Ashford’s flimsy-looking offside trap. He dinked the ball over the on-rushing George Kamurasi, but it dribbled agonisingly wide of the post. Richardson evaded the trap again, just a minute later, but was unable to convert the chance, and was soon involved in a nice move that set up a chance for Malcolm Morien. The two strikers passed the ball around Pat Kingwell with a slight air of disdain, but Morien hit his shot over the bar.

But the Ashford goal remained intact, and, in the 54th minute, the bench sent on young Tom Fagg in place of Taser Hassan. It was at this point that I noticed that George Savage had replaced Paul Booth – but I cannot confirm whether this was part of a double substitution, or whether the change had been made earlier. What I can report is that both substitutions appeared to work, with Savage George, with his quick feet, looking lively on the right, and “Ciggy” always appearing to have the skill to make that decisive through-ball or lay-off.

What started to turn the tide in Ashford’s favour, in the context of a tie that had ebbed and flowed in the course of 3½ hours’ play, was Ashford’s opening goal, which came in the 62nd minute – and this was a cracking finish; a signature Shaun Welford goal. It was beautiful in its simplicity, as Adam Cuthbert sent in a long cross from the right. Welford met the ball on the run, and powered a bullet header into the net, with the goalie barely having time to move.

Just a minute later, Dunston’s Dan Smith picked up a silly yellow card, for blatantly tripping Adam Cuthbert, on the half-way line – as Ashford now took control of the final quarter of the game, in much the same way as they had had the better of the first quarter.

In the 64th minute, Tom Fagg hit a long-range shot over the bar, shortly after Luke Cuthbert had made an important saving interception at the other end of the pitch. Then, in the 65th, Savage George presented Shaun Welford with a chance, with an excellent pass that put him through on goal – but the big man’s touch was too heavy, and Andrew Clark was able to come out and save at his feet.

Fans of both sides will probably agree that the game probably took a decisive turn in the 66th minute, when Stephen Goddard replaced Malcolm Morien, in a like-for-like swap. It is quite common for a player coming on as a sub to have a profound impact on a game, but usually not in the way that Goddard affected this match. Almost as soon as he ran onto the pitch, he put in a tackle on Danny Lye, for which he was penalised. I thought that he then indulged in some “hand bags” with Lye, but I am reliably informed that he lashed out at the Ashford Player-Manager. What is in no doubt is that Referee Scott Oldham, who, like his two Assistants, hails from Lancashire, had no hesitation in showing him the red card. What confirmed that Goddard had completely lost the plot was that he then tried to pick a fight with Big George Kamurasi, (not the wisest choice of opponent), squaring up to him, on his way to the dressing room. So that concluded Mr Goddard’s involvement for the afternoon, with no need for a shower – except, maybe, a cold one.

That left Steven Richardson up front on his own. He was still occasionally dangerous, with his pace, but it was now a question of whether Dunston could hang on to their one-goal lead. The pitch, which was slippery throughout, became, understandably, more chopped up as the game progressed, but Ashford were now impressing with the high tempo that they managed to maintain with their passing game.

In the 75th minute, the visitors put together a flowing move, involving Shaun Welford and Tom Fagg, which moved the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, eventually finding Savage, on the right – but the recent signing from Beckenham Town hit his shot straight at the ‘keeper. Three minutes later, Dunston hit back, with Aristotte Guerin looking to be through on goal – but Luke Cuthbert snuffed out the danger with a crucial tackle.

There were relieved cheers, in the 85th minute, from the increasingly anxious Dunston faithful, as Danny Lye fired a shot into the car park behind Andrew Clark’s goal, but the home side’s lead was to last for just another four minutes. Fittingly, the equaliser was scored by captain Mickey Phillips, who drove the team forward from midfield, and, along with Luke Cuthbert and Shaun Welford, was a candidate as Ashford’s Man of the Match. Picking a loose ball up in the middle of the Dunston half, Phillips hit a shot that took one or more deflections on its way to the back of the net, giving Clark no chance. So, like Dunston’s second, there was an element of good fortune about the goal – but it was a reward for the visitors’ continued pressure, and teams don’t get those breaks when they are defending on their own 18-yard line.

There were murmurings, in the main stand, that indicated that the home fans did not fancy the chances of their ten men in extra time, with the momentum very much with the green & whites – but there was to be a further twist in this intriguing cup tie. Precisely what happened in the third minute of injury time will be a matter for debate among the travelling fans who made the trip, but it began with Shaun Welford chasing a seemingly lost cause and preventing the ball from going out for a goal-kick. He pulled the ball back to Mikey Dalton, who, in spite of coming on as a left-back, now had nobody to mark, and had adopted the role of playmaker from a wide left position. He aimed a high, looping cross to the far post. Tom Fagg was the Ashford player under this, but it was a Dunston defender who got the final touch on the ball that put it into the net.

As young men in blue sank to the turf in utter despair, the entire Ashford bench spontaneously dashed onto the pitch and formed a human pyramid in the mud of the Dunston six-yard box. This was not so much a goal celebration as the celebration of a victory that had seemed unlikely just 45 minutes earlier. It was virtually the last kick of the game, after which there were scenes of joy that I have not previously witnessed with an Ashford team. First, the whole team took part in a victory slide in front of the visiting fans behind the goal – then, there were hugs and back-slaps for the fans who lined the side of the pitch on the walk back to the changing rooms.

In the midst of all this euphoria, we must spare a thought for Dunston, whose dream of a return to Wembley, following their victory in the 2012 Final, was cruelly snatched away from them by a fairly fluky goal in injury time. It was a tough one for their fans to accept. Nevertheless, their hand-shakes and good wishes for the visiting supporters were as genuine as they were warm – which is what you can expect from people in this part of the world.

I’d like finish with a word about Danny Lye. He put in a great shift in central midfield, today, but let’s not forget that getting Ashford United through to the Quarter Finals of the FA Vase is a major achievement for a lad who has just turned 35, and who is making a tremendous fist of his first job in football management. Remember that he took over from Paul Chambers in very difficult circumstances, with two games of this season gone. Chambo was famous for “having a quiet word” with the boys at half time, if things hadn’t gone well in the first half – and I gather that Daniel had such “a word”, at about 3.50pm today. If that’s the case, then it worked.

Well done, Gaffer. You did it !