Match report: Late Ashford equaliser deny Rovers’ three points

A hard fought encounter saw Rovers drop 2 points in the 88th minute

Our hosts today are Ashford Town, with whom we have shared a long history of fixtures over the years, both in the Combined Counties and Isthmian Leagues. Ashford Town are currently sitting a couple of places above Rovers and four points clear, but having played two more games than us. A win for Ashford would increase the gap and give Rovers more of a hill to climb from their current position. So, all set for an evenly matched game.

A much changed line-up to the Rovers’ squad, with Matt Tanton, Courtney Swaby and Ben Holden all unavailable due to injury and suspensions, but a welcome return for Antonio Simeone and Conan Torpey. First starts were handed to Matt Feeney-Hill and Lindell Stewart, and a debut for Rylan John. Joining Simeone and John in defence, Bertie Lloyd and Isy Nzelo, with James Dillon between the posts. Daryl Colemen, Max Oldham Feeney-Hill, Nabeel Ghannam and Stewart make up the midfield, with Torpey up front. On the bench, Aaron Jenkins, Noah Africa, Charlie Martin, Gabriel Odunaike and Tariq Straker.

Ashford were quick out of the blocks, winning an early corner, but Rylan John was able to head safely away. John was involved again in the 3rd minute, picking up an early (but somewhat harsh) caution for a late challenge. The free kick, from around 35yds, floated over the back line, Simeone shielding the ball out.

From the goalkick, a shocking (unpunished) challenge by Ahkeem Belford on Nabeel Ghannam, leading with his forearm, gives Rovers a free kick just inside the Ashford half. Daryl Coleman takes, and floats a great ball over the Ashford backline, but is brushed away by ex-Rovers man Aaron Goode. Ashford then turned up a gear, orchestrating a succession of probing advances into the Rovers’ half. Qasim Khan on the left provides Jack Arnold with a shot, but was no trouble for James Dillon. Nathan Rogers was looking handy in the middle of the park, intercepting a pass out from Bertie Lloyd, he jinked his way through but his shot was wide of the mark.

After 10mins a great exchange between Rogers and Sam Humphreys sees Antonio Simeone head out from a great curled effort from Humphreys. Humphreys then rattled the underside of the cross bar, thankfully not crossing the line. Khan then follows up and shoots from the rebound, Dillon pulling off a great block at point blank range.

In reply, Matt Feeney-Hill plays in Max Oldham on the left, whose quick to beat his defender, but the ball just crept out before he got his cross away. Coleman then finds himself with time and space to provide a delightful chip over the Ashford back line. Conan Torpey, ignoring the claim for offside, lobs keeper Toby Mawer, but sees his effort drift frustratingly just the wrong side of the post.

Just before the half hour, a poor unpunished challenge by Michael Kinsella on Oldham, resulted in Oldham taking no further part in the game, Charlie Martin taking his place. From the free kick Ghannam shot takes a slight deflection, but Mawer gets down to it just inside the left hand post.

As Rovers regroup after the loss of Oldham, Izy Nzelo and Coleman soak up pressure from Ashford clearing our lines and cancelling out any threat. A great ball from keeper Dillon finds Lindell Stewart on the right, who plays the ball inside to Torpey on the edge of the penalty area. As Torpey turns he is hauled down, winning a free kick in familiar territory for Ghannam and Simeone. The well crafted take was perfectly executed by Simeone, taking a slight deflection, but beating Mawer to put Rovers one up.

After Khan is cautioned for a tackle on Coleman, the free kick is squared to Simeone who puts over a decent crossfield pass which is bundled out for a throw. John quickly takes finding Torpey, who heads back out Ghannam. His shot connects but is just wide of the post. Moments later Ghannam takes a quick free kick from just inside our half, which would have crept under the bar if Mawer had not tipped it over, the Ref insisting on a retake. Simone then pings out right, but John’s header back into the box drifts over the bar.

Just before half time, a brilliant ball from Feeney-Hill into the penalty area was just too inviting for Torpey, but not quite near enough to get a head on it. Maradona-style, Torpey guides the ball into the net with his hand, amid protestations from Ashford to caution Torpey. Fortunately, the Referee was lenient on Torpey, but took exception to being cajoled into a decision, booking Goode instead.

The last action of the half saw another excellent ball over the top from Feeney-Hill, leaving Stewart with a 50/50 challenge with keeper. The clash was inevitable, but thankfully neither player was hurt. Rovers go into to break a goal to the good, but with all to play for in the second half.

Ashford start the second half having substituted Jack Arnold for Jerry Frimpong, and immediately Frimpong is in amongst the action, winning a corner out on their right. Simeone heads out, and from the second corner, John pushes the ball clear. Dillon then claims Ashford cross. Early signs of more urgency in Ashford’s game.

5 minutes into the half, Coleman picks up a knock, and is replaced by Noah Africa, making it our second substitution due to injury. Good distribution from Dillon finds Torpey just inside the Ashford half, and wins a free kick as he turns his marker. Simeone takes, finding Lloyd of the far left. The ball drops nicely to Ghannam, but his shot is smothered by Mawer.

A long clearance by Simeone, falls to Torpey on the edge of the Ashford box. Tussling with Sesay for possession, Torpey almost gets past his man but goes down, his claim for a penalty not given. Adam Poynter is then brought on for the Ashford striker Khan. Ghannam, Martin and Nzelo on the left continue to combine well testing Ashford’s resolve, but the final finish eludes them

On the hour, a throw-in from John is flicked on by Torpey, falling to Martin but his header not strong enough to beat the keeper. Sustained pressure from both sides with Rovers looking to extend their lead and Ashford seeking the equaliser, the game could still go either way.

A Lloyd clearance reaches Martin, who in turn feeds the ball through to Feeney-Hill. The give-and-go with Torpey, sees our striker brought down by Kinsella who picks up a yellow. The free-kick is drilled low and hard by Ghannam, from just outside the box, but was struck straight at Mawer. From the clash with Kinsella, Torpey is subsequently replace by Aaron Jenkins. Third injury substitution.

After an Ashford free-kick outside our penalty area is scrambled away, Noah Africa intercepts a pass and neatly side-steps Humphreys and Belford, and passes through the gap for Stewart, but he was unable to capitalise. Belford was then cautioned for a challenge on Stewart, which would have seen him in a great position in front of goal. Ghannam’s free-kick was struck goalward, but deflected out for a goal-kick.

With 80mins gone, Ghannam nicks the ball from Goode just outside their penalty area, his pass back to Stewart sets up the shot, but is skied over the bar. Almost at the death of the game, a foul on Deven Reid-Solanki, who had come on for Harry Woodward, gave Ashford a free kick just outside our 18yd box. The kick was headed away, but only as far as Goode, who smashed his shot through the crowded penalty area, a slight deflection taking it past Dillon for the equaliser.

With only stoppage time to go there were still chances for Jenkins and Ghannam to restore the lead, but the final touch just wasn’t happening. I’m sure Ashford were as pleased to have rescued a point, as Rovers’ were frustrated at losing two, but a point is a point, and that’s better than none at all.