Ashford Town send St Albans City crashing out of FA Trophy

Another cup nightmare for City

FA Trophy First Qualifying Round

St Albans City 1 Ashford Town (Middx) 3

ASHFORD Town (Middlesex) arrived at Clarence Park without top scorer Dan Brown who was holidaying at Disneyland in Florida but while Brown was enjoying the company of Mickey Mouse and Co. his teammates were enjoying a fairytale afternoon of their own.

The cup competitions have not been kind to St Albans City this season - although David Howell’s men have been the masters of their own downfall – and this was another sorry tale as City let a lead slip for the seventh time this season.

Everything looked rosy for the home side when Ryan Moran reacted quickest to fire home from an acute angle after 17 minutes but the Saints were guilty of taking their foot of the pedal and Ashford grabbed their opportunity with both hands as two goals from midfielder Jack Mullan and one from winger Shane Graham secured the Southern League Central side’s progress.

Howell was forced into making one change to his starting XI with Sean Shields replacing Ryan Watts who began his three-game ban, but that alteration didn’t appear to unsettle the home side as they enjoyed the upper hand in the opening quarter of an hour.

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Shields was first to test Paul McCarthy in the Ashford goal latching onto the goalkeeper’s poor goal kick and rifling in a shot from 30 yards that had the Ashford custodian at full stretch and although the rebound fell kindly to Danny Hart the winger’s diving header was palmed behind by McCarthy.

City looked dangerous from set plays in the early exchanges and it was no surprise that the opening goal came from a corner. Shields picked out Moran at the far post who headed powerfully at goal and despite McCarthy getting two strong hands to the ball to keep it out the loose ball fell to Moran who drilled the ball low past two defenders and the stricken ‘keeper from the tightest of angles.

Surely it was now a case of how many City would rack up but the visitors had other ideas. Mullan and Ashley Lodge began to seize control in midfield and in Mark Bitmead and Pietro Palladino Ashford had two strikers who would chase and harry from start to finish.

Even so the manner in which Ashford equalised will have had many tearing their hair out. Concentration has been an issue this season for the City backline and so it proved again as a quickly taken corner allowed Samad Kazi to cross for the unmarked Mullan who volleyed past Nick Jupp from six yards.

Ashford thought they’d grabbed a second from the very next attack as Palladino beat Jupp to the ball and nicked it past the ‘keeper for Bitmead to apply the finishing touch but the striker was ruled offside.

Palladino – the smallest player on the park – then crashed a header off the post in first half stoppage time as the home side craved the referee’s whistle and the sanctuary of the dressing room.

City introduced Paul Furlong for Sakho Bakare at half time but that did little to arrest Ashford’s dominance.

A long throw in from James Mann flew over Jupp’s head and had to be hacked clear by Kosi Ntlhe and Bitmead drilled an effort straight at the City ‘keeper.

The home side grabbed the second goal their dominance deserved just after the hour mark. Palladino picked out Graham on the edge of the area and despite the winger fluffing his effort badly the ball rolled to Mullan who placed it in the bottom corner of Jupp’s net from 20 yards.

City did have the ball in the back of the net for a second time when Shields left his marker for dead and drilled the ball low across the face of goal for Furlong to turn it home but the veteran centre forward had strayed into an offside position.

There was no let up in Ashford’s hunger and City’s fate was sealed 18 minutes from time when Graham netted a third. Left winger Ed Thomas was afforded the time to look up and pick out his colleague on the opposite wing and Graham had no problem in beating Jupp with a low effort across the ‘keeper and inside the far post.

City did enjoy some late pressure but were unable to find a route past McCarthy while Lodge had the opportunity to rub salt in the City wounds with a free kick deep into injury time but the ball crashed into the side netting of Jupp’s goal.

City: Jupp; Yorke, Cutchey, Moran, Ntlhe; Hart (Fry 77), Ijaha �, Matthews (Haisley 62), Sean Shields; Bakare (Furlong 46), Walker.

Subs not used: Haworth, Viner.

Ashford Town: McCarthy; Kazi, Canderton �, Mann, Kirihara; Graham, Mullan, Lodge, Thomas; Bitmead (Luckins 90), Palladino (Sopjani 90).

Subs not used: Knock, Tobin.

Referee: Adrian Piggott (High Wycombe)

Att: 275