THIS was a pulsating encounter between two sides who have found themselves very much at the wrong end of the table during the opening months of this season. Ash came out of the blocks like lightning and presented a constant challenge to the City defence – especially through their forward Richard Thompson. Guildford, however, showed the resilience which has become a hallmark of the team during Dave Tidy’s short time in charge and dragged themselves back from 3-1 down with only 14 minutes to go to draw four-four. Ash really should have won this encounter but results like this, against the odds, are the reason why City should stay up this season.
This match did not attract the large attendance we had all hoped – despite Sir Lagerlot’s best efforts to publicise the game in the Ash area. The problem was the weather: cold and damp and not conducive to a particularly comfortable afternoon of entertainment. Still, those that had made it really generated some atmosphere and within seconds of the whistle being blown, the Ash supporters were in full voice. One (who I am sure I remember my AFC Wimbledon supporting friend mentioning when the Dons played them) spent literally the whole match in his lonely outpost outside the club rooms chanting incessantly: ‘Ash Ash United Ash! Ash Ash United Ash!’ Needless to say we really wanted him to shut up! Still, fair play to him and the group of supporters in the stand also giving it beans, they certainly lifted their side and the atmosphere.
As mentioned, Ash went at City like a bull in a china shop, with the Guildford defence stretched from the very outset. It was the home side though who carved out the first chance – winning a corner in the 6th minute and Wayne Noad rising unmarked to head wide of goal. Back came the visitors though and a minute later should have been 1-0 up. A terrible piece of defending allowed an Ash forward to go one on one with Dave Tidy who pulled off an outstanding save to divert the ball behind for the first of two corners – neither of which troubled Guildford. The relief was short lived however as in the 9th minute City, struggling to handle yet another attack by the visitors, were bamboozled by a Scott Cannie cross which landed like a laser-guided bomb on the head of Thompson. The Ash striker made no mistake, although Tidy did at least make contact with the ball before it hit the back of the net. The visitors’ lead was short lived however as Guildford immediately went on the attack from the restart. An attempted clearance rebounded off an Ash player and fell fortunately into the path of Joe Loyza who finished past Paul Fitzpatrick with a clinical strike from the edge of the area.
This was the moment for Guildford to assert themselves on the game but they just couldn’t retain possession against the high tempo Ash side. The visitors, in no way dispirited by their setback, pushed City into their own half and started making chances. In the 16th minute they pulled ahead when a good pass sent Gavin Evans through and he was deemed to be held back in the box by Wayne Noad. The referee pointed to the spot and former Guildford striker James Blason stepped up and made no mistake, sending Tidy the wrong way with a powerful strike. With the home side seeming to be over-run every time their opponents went forward, this was now a worrying situation for the City fans. A minute after the re-start it really should have been 3-1 when Blason, running down the wing and obviously emboldened by his spotkick, shot audaciously from 25 yards, beating Tidy but hitting the foot of the far post where the ball was desperately hacked away. Still the visitors attacked and more chances came in quick succession – the City defence having to be on top form to block the ball in the area on several occasions, whilst Tidy had to put a Gavin Evans shot behind for a corner which thankfully came to nothing.
Needless to say, Guildford were very fortunate to find themselves only one goal behind at this point and at around the 25 minute mark, began to go on the offensive themselves – a fine pass almost finding its way to Sheppard who was lurking on the edge of the area but running through to the keeper instead. In the 29th minute they won a freekick on the edge of the box but it was wasted – a poor delivery being easily claimed by Fitzpatrick. At least Guildford were getting more of the ball however and at last they began to find the space they needed to move it around. All that was lacking was the final killer pass and for the next seven or eight minutes the home side kept possession but seemed unable to trouble the Ash keeper. The visitors were quiet for the rest of the half, but the ever lively Blason had a volley well held by Tidy in the 39th minute. Meanwhile the home side created a number of half chances which they just could not convert. First a quickly taken freekick in the 43rd minute fell to Loyza but his shot was blocked by some good defending. City then won a corner a minute later but could only curl it into the keeper’s hands. The best chance to level was saved till last – another Guildford corner resulting in a shot having to be cleared off the line in the dying seconds of the half.
Surprisingly sprits were high at halftime among the Guildford fans. Matt Howell was desperately trying to think of some suitable chants to welcome Scott Cannie back to the Spectrum after controversially leaving City for Ash in the summer. The best he could come up with was ‘Cannie give us a wave’ – hardly the sort of intimidating, Rio-Ferdinand-returning-to-Eland-Road-with-Man-United sort of reception he may have intended. Still there would be plenty of time (and yes, City goals) to perfect these songs during the second half. Meanwhile I was helping out in the snack bar as Georgia had been unable to make the game due to family commitments. The rain was starting to come down at this point and pretty much all the fans (with the exception of the hardcore Ash supporters previously mentioned) made for the shelter of the stand.
Mindful of the way their opponents had torn into them in the first half, City began the second with real intent, winning a freekick on the edge of the Ash United penalty area in the opening minute. Unfortunately Loyza, rising unmarked, could only head over. This profligacy only gave the visitors their chance to get back into their stride and five minutes from the re-start they were 3-1 up – Richard Thompson getting what appeared to be a lucky offside (lack of) decision from the linesman to go through and slot easily past Tidy from 6 yards. Things really were looking bad for Guildford now and (as if someone up there really didn’t like them) Josh Heather – who had only just taken to the pitch – was stretchered off four minutes later and replaced by the indomitable Andy Wylde. Meanwhile (largely unnoticed by the fans), Wayne Noad had had a bust up with one of his teammates and left the field – an act which earned him not only a yellow card but also the ire of his manager. Full credit to City, however, they picked up the pace again and were soon dominating possession and forcing their opponents back into their half. Yet again though, the final ball was missing and when the chances did come they just could not be put away – another header being put wide from a corner in the 62nd minute. Unsurprisingly this positive play only left gaps at the back and Ash could have added to their lead three minutes later – Andy Wylde pulling off a characteristically well timed tackle to deny an onrushing forward and concede a corner – the ball dribbling wide through a packed penalty area from the resultant set-piece.
Back came the home side but they just could not find that elusive pass to give their strikers the chance to grab a goal back. John Hamsher, almost out of desperation, tried a long range shot in the 67th minute but it sailed over the bar. Gaps did start to appear however and two chances presented themselves in quick succession two minutes later – Loyza heading straight at the keeper and then Craig Moore spooning a long range shot over the bar after some promising build up play. This was followed by an unsuccessful penalty appeal when Wylde appeared to be brought down in the box. Time was running out to find the goals the home side needed and it seemed as if luck was not with the home side. Suddenly however the tide turned. An excellent break down the right in the 76th minute allowed the ball to be fed to the unmarked Matt Grave who was lurking 10 yards out. The City striker made no mistake, firing low past Fitzpatrick to reduce the deficit.
The visitors were clearly rocked and Guildford now had the momentum – Si Sheppard almost finding his way through in the 82nd minute but for an excellent tackle which gave away a corner. Guildford then had 5 corners in a row but despite the ball ping ponging around the penalty area on numerous occasions, no-one in red and white stripes could put it in the net. Another chance presented itself in the 85th minute but Matt Grave could only head wide a ball lofted high into the penalty area. The pressure was gradually wearing Ash down however and finally City levelled the scores – the visitors being unable to clear their lines and the ball falling to Joe Loyza who powered into the box and curled the ball expertly past the Ash keeper. The whole stand seemed to erupt with Guildford fans hugging each other and waving their scarves around, however the drama was far from over. In the 90th minute Jack Dillon broke well down the right and put the ball through to James Blason who appeared to be several yards offside. The linesman did not flag and the Ash striker tore into the box, beat the defender, who had desperately run back to cover, as well as Dave Tidy and fired laconically home from about 6 inches out. Now it was Ash’s turn to celebrate as the jubilant player ran the length of the pitch with his team-mates jumping all over him. The City fans meanwhile were boiling over with indignation at what they saw as an appalling miscarriage of justice.
Somehow though, the whistle never blew and the referee (no doubt with the long period required to treat Josh Heather on his mind) allowed play to continue. In the 6th minute of stoppage time, Paul Fitzpatrick spilt a ball which had been pumped upfield, allowing John Hamsher to slot home from the edge of the penalty area and hand City an unlikely draw.
GUILDFORD CITY: D. Tidy; P. Bartholomew (sub J. Heather, 45; sub A. Wylde, 55); M. Burns; C. Moore; W. Noad; M. Beard; J. Hamsher; L. Passmore; M. Grave; J. Loyza; S. Sheppard
Subs not used: A. Azeem; A. Smillie; A. Vine
ASH UNITED: P. Fitzpatrick; W. Hall; M. Ralls; L. O’Donnell; A. Roberts; S. Cannie; J. Blason; M. Fifer; R. Thompson; G. Evans; N. Sowden (sub J. Dillon, 78)
Subs not used: T. Mukabaa; A. Hanning; P. Bonner