Ash United 3 – 1 Guildford City

CITY suffered a heart breaking reverse in fortunes in this frustrating match which ultimately meant they finished in the bottom three of the CCL Premier Division on goal difference.  Needing just a point to make sure of survival, Guildford started well but gave away a penalty enabling their hosts to go 1-0 up.  Their odds were looking good at half time however as even though fellow strugglers Wembley were beating Cobham by a similar scoreline (and would eventually win 3-0), Chessington and Hook were down to ten men and looking unlikely to secure the three points they needed against Bookham to have a chance of survival.  The outlook was even better, early in the second half as City levelled the scores, yet they catastrophically conceded twice, whilst Chessington somehow scored twice, to condemn the Guildfordians to a 20th place finish on goal difference.

As so often this season, the day started with such high hopes.  Guildford were a point from safety and Chessington, without a win in 5 matches and playing away at a decent side, appeared likely to be relegated.  With our ‘fun’ 9 mile sponsored walk to Shawfield Road ahead of us and the prospect of a few pub stops on the way, we were all pretty excited about the day ahead and hopeful (nay, perhaps even fatally confident) that we would be celebrating come 5 o’clock.  We must have made an amusing sight as we set off from Guildford carrying an inflatable killer whale and with Matt B dressed as a pirate, Matt H in Bermuda shorts and the most ridiculous pair of red sun glasses you have ever seen.  To cap it all off, Dan had decided to paint himself entirely red (and dye his hair green for some reason!)  After taking nearly two hours to get out of Guildford we then made good time, stopping off in Wood Street village before picking up Sir Lagerlot in Normandy and Joe P and Tom Q in Ash itself.  Knackered but excited we trooped into the ground and were extremely chuffed to receive a cheque for £100 from Ash United towards our charity – Sport4life – a big thank you to everyone at United who contributed to this impressive donation.  With minutes to go before halftime, we set ourselves up with flags and explosive confetti products (?!) near the half way line.

Guildford made a good start, gaining a freekick in the opening minutes on the edge of the Ash United area but unfortunately Craig Moore could not trouble the keeper.  The hosts responded, winning a foul of their own in a similar position but their kick went wide of the post.  The first decent chance did fall to the home side, however, a good cross finding the livewire and former City player, James Blason in the box, however his chip went well over the bar.  Ash again went close moments later when Jack Smelt had to paw a corner kick over the bar to prevent the ball going into the net.  Guildford responded, winning a freekick on the edge of the area after a push on Harrison Carnegie.  Moore’s shot curled perfectly towards the bottom corner of the net but Adlam was equal to it and pushed the ball wide of the post.

It was the home side who drew first blood however.  In the 17th minute Blason out-jumped Jamie Thoroughgood to flick the ball on to Lydon who was brought down in the box by Graham Tydeman.  The verdict among the visiting fans was that it was an almighty dive but in the ref’s defence, the City defender did appear to tackle him from behind.  Blason stepped up and sent the spot kick into the bottom corner of the net, Smelt diving the right way but not quickly enough.  As usual, the Guildford players did not let their heads drop and Danny Elgar went extremely close moments, later firing just wide of the post after a mazey run.  Both sides preceded to make further chances – the pick of them being a good run from Blason which was let down by a weak shot and another superb freekick from Danny Elgar – the ball going agonisingly close.

The whistle blew for halftime and despite the 1-0 deficit, things were still looking good for Guildford.  Unbeknown to us, Wembley were predictably 1-0 up against bottom placed Cobham, however we knew (courtesy of our mole at Meadowbank) that Chessington looked dead and buried with their score at 0-0 and down to 10 men.  So with confidence undimmed we headed into the clubhouse for a drink and with two cricket balls in tow.  We had not just robbed a sports store but had gained these courtesy of some hot shot batsmen on the pitch next door who had hit two boundaries and sent the balls onto the pitch during our game.  For the rest of the afternoon, Lofty, king of Sp(a)in, was giving us all bowling master-classes, much to everyone’s amusement!!

City began the second half strongly, with super-sub Joel Greaves joining the fray at the expense of Aneel Azeem.  The visitors won a freekick in a dangerous position, which they were unable to convert and a corner followed after Adlam suicidally came out and missed a delivery from Danny Elgar, however two shots on the edge of the box were blocked and the ball cleared to safety.  Ash then had their own chance on the break, a United forward powering into the box but his shot was straight at Smelt and the ball was hooked to safety.  In the 55th minute Guildford finally made their pressure count – a Carnegie throw-in being crossed into the box.  Jamie King, with a wonderful piece of skill, controlled the ball and took it past his marker, allowing him to flick it over Adlam from a few yards out.  Things looked very good now but City almost let it all go – United counter-attacking and Smelt being forced to push the ball behind for a corner which was easily claimed.  Yet City almost immediately had the chance to make it 2-1 – Greaves hassling his marker well and forcing a corner from which Craig Moore, lurking on the edge of the area, hit the bar before the ball was cleared.  This was the high point of the game for the visitors, however, as little by little Ash got back into the game.  On around the hour mark, City had a huge let off when the ball was slipped out to Smith on the left wing whose cross/shot beat Smelt and his team-mate Lydon who was sliding in to meet it in a cloud of dust.  Luckily the ball rolled wide of the far post.  Guildford’s response was unconvincing – Carnegie shooting weakly wide of the post before Lance bravely charged down a pass to the keeper but failed to react to it before Adlam claimed it properly.

The precariousness of Guildford’s position was confirmed moments later when Matt H received a text from his friend at Bookham to say Chessington were 1-0 up – the goal ironically scored at the same moment Jamie King was making it 1-1.  Guildford thus were staying up but suddenly our position was looking less strong.  And in the 68th minute, following another mazey run from Carnegie with no end product, we were really in the doo-doo – an excellent cross from Huggins, finding Blason who finished with aplomb.  Desperately we tried to get the message to the players that a defeat would not be good enough but frustratingly nothing seemed to be going right as moments after the goal Lance earned himself a yellow card for a foul on Bonner.  Both Bantom-Brown and Carnegie were finding space and get chances down the wings but on the rare moments when crosses went in, there was no-one in the box to finish them off.  At the other end Ash had a chance to increase their lead, a header being saved at point blank range by Smelt.

Just when things didn’t seem like they could get any worse, they suddenly did.  Matt received news that Chessington were 2-0 up and apparently heading for victory, meaning Guildford HAD to get a point; the news that Bookham had brought scores back to 2-1 shortly afterwards not proving much of a consolation.  We were desperately clinging to the slim possibility of Cobham getting a win against Wembley but by this point they were losing 2-0 and almost certainly defeated.  Chances continued to come to avert the disaster however, and Danny Elgar really should have done better with a freekick in a dangerous position in the 80th minute – the ball flying harmlessly into the mitts of Adlam.  Guildford were having more possession at this point but the home side always looked dangerous going forward.  Still, no-one was at fault for Ash’s quite spectacular 3rd goal in the 85th minute.  Lydon received the ball about 30 yards out and hit a fabulous chip which Smelt couldn’t quite push over the bar.  3-1 down and time was running out.  To be honest we had given up on City getting a point, despite an excellent freekick from Danny Elgar in the dying minutes of the game which Adlam had to be on top form to push behind for a corner.  As the whistle blew we waited, hoping that Bookham might be able to get an equaliser but (despite apparently missing an open goal) this was not to be and we trooped off miserably to the clubhouse to drown our sorrows.

In excitement terms alone, this season has beaten the hugely successful 2007/08 one hands down – four incredible games where we salvaged 2 draws and 2 wins when 2-0 down (including twice against league leaders); amazing injury time goals and the cruellest of all relegations on goal difference on the last day of the season.  Kevin Rayner and his squad cannot be held responsible for City finishing in the bottom three – in his fifteen games in charge his team gained 20 points – five wins and five draws as well as five defeats and it is possible that having dominated many of these games we could have picked up more points.  Incredibly during that time the team have scored and conceded an identical number of goals – 18.  The seeds of Guildford’s destruction were laid in those thumping defeats at the start of the campaign – too many to list here – where the team capitulated 5-0; 6-1; 4-0…. and of course most embarrassingly of all, 7-0.  At least Rayner made these sort of horror shows a thing of the past with the team he brought in – only two originals surviving the cull.  Yes we were gallant failures, but many thanks must go to Kevin, Roly and all the lads for the work they have put in since the beginning of March.

City’s plight may be in the lap of the gods but whichever league we are in next season, we the fans will be there to cheer them on.  COME ON CITY!!!

ASH UNITED: A. Adlam; P. Hibbert; A. Hanning; L. O’Donnell (sub T, Mukabaa, 56); C. Atkins; P. Bonner; J. Blason; J. Huggins; S. Lydon; R. Thompson; T. Smith

Subs not used: L. Whiddett; S. Cannie; M. Everard; C. Baker

GUILDFORD CITY: J. Smelt; T. Penson; C. Knight; J. Thoroughgood; G. Tydeman; C. Moore; A. Azeem (sub J. Greaves, 45); J. King; L. Bantom-Brown (sub P. Gough, 75); H. Carnegie; D. Elgar;

Subs not used: T. Chaplin; S. Sheppard; E. Massey