Ashford United inflicted on Hastings United their first home loss in the league this season.
Two goals in the opening twenty minutes gave the ‘U’s a mountain to climb and despite best endeavours they were unable to find a route back into the game. A breakaway third goal with ten minutes remaining confirmed Ashford’s victory and a league double over United.
United welcomed back Adam Lovatt after missing the last three games and Sam Beale was presented with a memento for reaching one hundred appearances. But on a bright, sunny day with no sign of Storm Ciara this proved to be the highpoints.
As the team top of the form table it was no surprise Ashford began the game brightly. Twice they raided down the right in the initial stages before David Smith struck an ambitious shot from twenty-five yards straight at United goalkeeper Louis Rogers. Ashford’s left-back then found space to fire in a shot which was going wide but deflected off a United defender for a corner, which indirectly led to the opening goal.
United cleared the corner, Daniel Ajakaiye broke at speed down the left wing, but his pass forward was intercepted and returned with interest. Ashford’s Smith found space to drill over a low cross to Jay May who was all alone at the far post and tucked home from close-range.
A goal to the good the visitors turned the screw. They pushed four, sometimes five players into the final quarter of the pitch and United’s back-four had no time to dwell and few outlet options.
Twenty minutes in and the pressure told. Ashford won a tackle in midfield but overhit a cross which was retrieved by Smith. His cross was partially cleared to the edge of the area and hit first-time low through a crowd of players by Sam Hasler. With Rogers unsighted the ball flew into the bottom corner and United found themselves two goals adrift.
As the half wore on United attempted to dig themselves out of a hole. A flicked header fell a fraction wide before Jack Dixon fired over from eight yards after a long throw wasn’t cleared. Jake Elliott then conjured up his own opportunity. After travelling from his own half through three challenges he played a one-two with Ben Pope and lashed a left-footer narrowly over.
Half-time: Hastings United 0-2 Ashford United
United kicked off the second-half with no changes in personnel, or in their 3-5-2 formation, and set about staging a recovery. Jerald Aboagye came flying in to meet a deep Craig Stone cross and missed getting a touch by a whisker.
The challenge the hosts faced was abundantly clear with Ashford playing with eleven men behind the ball, happy to soak up the pressure and hit on the break. To prove the point a United free-kick came to nothing and Ashford broke away allowing Thomas Fagg to shoot from twenty-five yards which grazed the crossbar.
With half-an-hour to go United began to empty their bench. Sam Adams, Lanre Azeez and Warren Mfula all entered the fray.
Sam Adams hit a free-kick into the wall from a promising position and Elliott’s follow-up shot was blocked. Then a break down the right ended with Mfula pulling the ball back straight to a defender with three United players waiting.
It was that sort of afternoon. Ashford had brought their A-game and for United, everything they tried came to no fruition. Epitomised by Ashford’s third goal. With United up for a corner the ball was cleared to Tom O’Connor, he did well in midfield to hold off Lovatt and spread a pass to Hasler who sprinted forward and finished clinically for his second of the game.
Theo Osinfolarin then had a one-on-one chance to add a fourth only for Rogers to make a brilliant block. And United’s game was summed up when Adams’ shot was blocked for a corner from which Azeez hit a piledriver from the edge of the area, this was half-blocked and when the loose ball was headed goalward it was cleared before it could drop over the line.
All told this was a disappointing result for the season’s best attendance which broke the one-thousand barrier. But the Ashford goalkeeper left the pitch with his gloves untouched by a United attempt, and that statistic tells its own story.
Full-time: Hastings United 0-3 Ashford United
United’s unbeaten home run ends at the 13th time of asking. For Ashford the game could not have gone any better, early goals allowed them to sit back and hit United on the break. Credit to the visitors though for their dynamic start which put them in the position to dictate the game.
Credit also to the United supporters who stayed to the final whistle, and beyond, and encouraged the home team throughout.
The ‘U’s remain top of the league and, with no game Tuesday night, have a week to prepare themselves for Chichester City next Saturday.
Man of the match: Jake Elliott, solid in the back three and ventured forward at every opportunity. Unlucky not to bring United back into the game with a rasping shot in the first-half.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Aboagye (63’ Azeez), Elphick, Stone, Elliott, Ajakaiye (68’ Mfula), Pope, Worrall (59’ Adams), Dixon (Unused subs: Pogue, Beale)
Ashford United: Mott, Ossai, Wilson, Prescott, Bourne, McIntyre, Condon, Fagg, May (90’ Stone), Smith (46’ O’Connor), Hasler (80’ Osinfolarin) (Unused subs: Hook, Russo)
Next game: Saturday February 15th, away to Chichester City, kick-off 3pm.