Oxford rain on Ashford's parade
Goals from Shane Smith and Andy Sonden fail to keep Ashford afloat in heavy rain, going down 2-3 to visitors Oxford
The now familiar availability conundrum was again the build up to this home fixture versus Oxford. Ashford welcomed back Robert Forster, unusually at left back, while Andy Sonden made his first appearance in the 3s frontline alongside Shane Smith and Lewis Baber. However, illness meant captain Chris Lunn would take no part, vice-captain James Berressem stepping in to lead the team.
In contrast to the heatwave in which last week's game at West Hampstead was played, the mid-morning weather at Short Lane had a more apocalyptic feel as driving wind and heavy rain persisted for the full 70 minutes – sadly these climatic conditions did limit gate receipts for the game!
From the off Ashford took control with short passing and smart interplay between the midfield and forward line. David Merchant Jnr repeatedly made in-roads down the left hand side, releasing Andy Sonden to use his boundless energy to roam across the Oxford defensive line. Commanding the play for 20 minutes, the home side took the lead through centre forward Shane Smith sniping around the penalty spot (1-0).
But Ashford's lead was short lived. With a move stemming from the restart, Oxford exploited the home team's lapse in concentration to waltz down the Ashford left side and level with a clean finish from the top of the D (1-1). This immediate setback shocked Ashford in to a more direct approach to retake the lead. However, as attacks broke down the visitors were offered the chance to counter and by the end of the first half Oxford's players had established themselves in the game.
For the second half the weather deteriorated further but this didn't hinder the pace of the game. Errors beset both teams as they battled to take the lead in conditions which comprised players' footings and made weighting of passes tricky. As a result possession passed from side to side continually and attack was followed by counter-attack. And it was an Oxford counter-attack that yielded the third goal of the match. In a moment out of character for Ashford's midfield and defence Oxford were allowed to bear down directly on the top of the Ashford D. Keeper Andrew Ritchie quickly advanced from goal to close down the threat only for the strike to pass unfortunately between his legs (1-2). Oxford added to their lead with another breakaway go and opportunistic strike which the Ashford keeper wrong-footed on whereabouts of his far post (1-3).
Now chasing the game the home side threw everything into attack and pulled a goal back thanks to Andy Sonden lifting the ball over the Oxford keeper after a pen-corner goal-mouth scramble (2-3). For the remaining 7-8 minutes Ashford besieged the Oxford half inducing repeat offences from the visitors outside their D, but creating few telling outcomes in their D. What possession Oxford had they smartly used to close out the match and claim the points.
After most players had dried off and while Pavi and Rob tried to find novel new means to dry their kit the team elected Andy Sonden MoM, who played like a man with a point to prove. Thanks to umpires Chris and Sherpa for standing in such grim conditions.
Next week the 3s will look to get back to winning ways when they host Wycombe at Short Lane. Bring an umbrella if you're coming to watch!