Match report: Ashford Town take Rovers to the cleaners

Ashford Town take Rovers to the cleaners

Rovers slip to 16th after a lack-lustre performance against Ashford Town

The contest today against Ashford Town is a crucial game for both sides. Not a relegation battle by any means, as both are relatively safe, but important for each to widen the point gap between themselves and those below. Ashford, apart from a recent 2-0 home win against Met Police, haven’t seen victory since late December and I expect will be apprehensive of the game today, given Rovers current run of form against top sides.

Rovers squad this afternoon takes on quite a different look, with a debut for goalkeeper Harvey Keogh, and the return of Gideon Acheampong in defence. Antonio Simeone, Bertie Lloyd and Ben Holden make up the rest of the back line, with Ashley Sheppard, Tyrese Osbourne, Jayden Smith, Max Oldham and Lindell Stewart in midfield and Aaron Jenkins as striker. Daryl Colemen returns from injury and starts on the bench, with Mal Thomas, Oscar Williams, Charlie Martin and Ronaldo Ashman.

Before the game had really got going, and only 5 minutes on the clock, the hosts are knocked onto the back-foot. A ball to the edge of the 18yd box by Ben Holder reaches Connor Young, who slips inside the penalty area and shoots. Taking a cruel deflection off Bertie Lloyd, the ball twists past debutant keeper Harvey Keogh, giving Ashford Town a head start. This isn’t a game Rovers wanted to chase.

With Ashford enjoying the majority of possession, the opportunities for Rovers were rare, but when they did appear the final finish eluded them. A clearance from Antonio Simeone finds Jayden Smith on the right who holds the ball up well, squaring to Gideon Acheampong. Ashley Sheppard chips the full-back’s pass into the box, but is headed clear by Holder. Lloyd picks up the loose ball and pings out wide to Tyrese Osbourne, winning a throw on the right. Ben Holden’s delivery is perfect for Lindell Stewart, who got a good head on it, but keeper Arber Grosha claims well.

Mid-way through the first half, a drop-kick from Keough is chested down by Stewart on the edge of the Ashford 18yd box. He turns his man well and shoots, the ball deflected down the left channel for Jenkins, who could only find the side netting with his shot. A minute later a good exchange between Acheampong and Jayden Smith, sees Acheampong deliver a great cross to Osbourne, but his shot wasn’t strong enough, and easy for the keeper.

Rovers best opportunity to draw level came just after 30mins. After an Ashford attack is stopped by Keough, he clears to Stewart. Holding the ball up, he plays through to Sheppard. Playing out to Oldham, the midfielder bursts across field just outside the penalty area, slipping a great ball through to Jenkins. Nicely skirting round the keeper, Jenkins rolls the ball goalward, but the effort is cleared off the line.

Just before the stroke of half-time Ashford extend their lead. After a penalty appeal from Rovers’ in the Ashford box, the ball is launched upfield, the Rovers defence only half clearing. Akintunde monopolises on the gifted opportunity and drives his shot past Keogh for 2-0. With the three minutes added time, Rovers strive to make amends. A long throw from Holden, sees Lloyd head on to Osbourne, whose shot deflects way for a corner. Oldham takes, but his effort is headed away by Jack Smith, but falls to Sheppard, the shot whistling over the bar and signalling the end of the half.

With Charlie Martin coming on for Stewart for the start of the second half, Rovers make good ground in the opening minutes. After an Ashford throw-in, Akintunde turns and shoots, Simeone blocking well and clearing to Martin. The pass to Osbourne gives the midfielder room to place a great through-ball to Jenkins, splitting the Ashford defence, but keeper Grosha gets there first.

A foul on Jenkins on the left gives Rovers a free-kick from about 30yds. Oldham takes, but the curling delivery is headed out. Simeone pushes the ball back over the Ashford defence, but is claimed by Grosha. From the keeper’s distribution, Akintunde breaks goalward, his shot bringing out a good save from Keogh, only for Young to poke home the loose ball. With three goals to the good, Ashford have given the hosts a mountain to climb.

With Rovers making their second substitution on 52mins, Daryl Coleman coming on for Jenkins, the hosts look to step up a gear. To be fair Rovers kept up a sustained period of pressure from this point, which on any other day could have clawed something back. On the right, Jayden Smith pinches the ball from an Ashford attack on the right, playing inside to Osbourne, but the shot was just past the right post. From a Simeone free-kick, Lloyd heads back across goal but just evades Oldham’s touch. From the clearance Sheppard tries from distance, but the effort is blocked.

With time running out for Rovers, Osbourne wins the ball from Jack Smith and passes inside to Simeone. The centre-back’s pass sets Oldham off on a run. A quick exchange with Sheppard, and Martin is given space on the right guiding the ball out for a corner after a deflected pass. Oldham takes to the far post, Lloyd heading back across goal, but is headed away for a throw. Holden launches into the box, again winning a corner. From Oldham’s delivery Addison Garnett heads clear, Holden bravely heading back into the box, picking up a foul in the process. The kick is quickly taken by Coleman to Oldham in the left corner. The cross finds Osbourne, who turns his man but the shot doesn’t trouble Grosha.

Further substitutions on 70mins, for Rovers, Mal Thomas replacing Osbourne, and for the visitors Kingsley Eshun replacing Ahkeem Belford. Again, after a good period of pressure from Rovers, Oldham finds Jayden Smith with a ball over the Ashford defence. Jayden Smith then passes back to Acheampong, who passes inside to Sheppard. The through ball for Oldham is perfect for his left foot, but the shot, with more than a suspicion of handball on the way, is well taken by the Ashford keeper.

In the 83rd minute Rovers finally get their slice of luck. After a great clearance from Simeone, Jayden Smith wins a corner after his shot from the right is blocked. Coleman takes the corner long to the far right post, Thomas putting the ball back across the penalty area, Lloyd connecting with a powerful header. Despite the best efforts of Grosha, the Ashford keeper, the linesman ruled the ball was over the line. Rovers pull one back, but is there time for two more?

Clearly this wasn’t to be. To add to Rovers’ pain, in added time Keogh was adjudged to have bought down Kingsley Eshun in the box giving Ashford a last minute penalty. After a Rovers attack broke down, a long ball put Eshun in the clear one on one with Keogh. With the Rovers defence appealing for offside, the Ashford sub side steps the outstretched arm of the keeper, and after the merest of touches goes down. Young steps up to dispatch the penalty, which he duly does, for his hat-trick and Ashford’s fourth. Thankfully the Referee didn’t prolong the agony and brought the game to a close shortly after the restart.

I was surprised by this result. I was surprised by the ease in which Ashford put us to the sword and commanded the game. Having been so resilient and fiery against Chertsey in the Cup the previous week; putting in a heroic performance against the league leaders and only losing on penalties; this was in stark contrast.