Report: Whyteleafe 3-4 Ashford United
A real winter warmer at Church Road on Tuesday evening when Leafe entertained high-flying Ashford United in an often-pulsating match. Certainly, in the second half it was end-to-end cup tie stuff with both sides looking for that decisive knockout blow.
Most watchers of the BetVictor Isthmian South East would put Ashford up there with Hastings United as potential league winners this season and although our visitors had been badly clipped at home to VCD Athletic (4-1) on Saturday they can never be taken lightly.
Indeed, with former Leafe winger Laurent Mendy starting and popular ex-midfielder, Hassan Ibrahim, on the bench, Ashford lined up looking like a very strong, powerful side. However, as we they did against Hythe, Leafe came tearing out of the blocks and Harry Hudson’s men almost scored in the third minute with a shot from Junior Aikhionbare (back from injury) and then the lively Corie Andrews having the follow up shot also blocked with that rebound, in turn, picked up by Matt O’Donoghue who drew a great save from Ashford keeper, Sam Mott. A proper scramble and a promise start for Leafe.
However, Leafe were 1-0 up inside eight minutes thanks to a good move down the right that saw Matt O’Donoghue unselfishly pass to Aikhionbare who tucked the ball away after a very neat turn to evade his marker. Another great start. Could we keep it up this time?
Corie Andrews, playing in tandem, with Junior, up front (no Ronnie again sadly) was giving his opposing centre back a very tough time and in the first half, in particular, was impressing with his good touch and hold-up play. Everything positive was coming via Andrews.
However, with real quality throughout their side, Ashford soon settled and began to make inroads into the Leafe defence. They were level after 22 minutes when centre forward David Smith burst through to equalise after a mix up in the home defence. The rest of the first period was pretty even with both teams asking questions without really threatening to gain an advantage.
Ashford began the second half very strongly and a sustained period of pressure saw a shot from the left by Mendy hit the unfortunate Leafe skipper, Nathan Campbell’s left boot and flew into the top corner, leaving keeper Tyler McCarthy completely stranded. In all honesty, there’s no blame at Nathan’s door, as the ricochet could just have easily ended up on the railway line behind the goal as in the net.
So, 2-1 down with a purposeful Ashford side, looking for a third, Leafe showed great resolve and didn’t buckle. Mind you, the visitors did almost grab a third shortly after, with Tyler McCarthy producing a superb diving save to deny Ashford midfielder, Tom O’Connor (no, I’m not going to make any ‘Name That Tune’ puns here!), that looked distinctly goal-wards bound.
I think the loss of Antonio Walker-Barth at half time due to a tackle he’d taken in the first half knocked Leafe off their stride, slightly, as although substitute and another injury returnee, Martin Sontan tried hard, he himself was replaced in the 87th minute by Helge Orome. A lot of our positive play was coming through young Ant.
Whyteleafe, to their credit, continued to search for the equaliser and almost got it through the marvellous left-foot of full-back Peter Wedgeworth. I mentioned in the Hythe report that his free-kick and corner taking abilities have made a real difference and a stunning free-kick in the 59th minute avoided everyone before hitting Ashford goalie Mott in the chest, more by luck than anything else, and going for a corner.
The resulting Wedgeworth corner was met by a firm header from Junior Aikhionbare that thudded the crossbar. So close to 2-2.
Whyteleafe’s period of pressure was making headway though. Just a minute later Aikhionbare, who was causing real problems for Ashford’s centre-backs, was brought down on the edge of the box, dead centre of goal. Some said it was inside the area, others, including the referee, decided it was just outside. Free-kick, it was, then.
Up stepped that man Wedgeworth, with a beautifully placed left-foot free-kick that two goalkeepers wouldn’t have stopped let alone the helpless Sam Mott, who could only watch it arc up and over the defensive wall and into his net like a comet!
That goal for Peter Wedgeworth has been coming. Let’s hope more follow, or at least his wonderful free-kicks and corners provide assists with more goals. I think that the Ashford game was just his fourth start for Leafe in all competitions, but what a great signing he already looks.
Leafe were so close to taking the lead in the 63rd minute. Another great piece of centre forward play by Aikhionbare, with a superb turn and shot, only for it to be straight at Mott. By now, Whyteleafe fans really felt a winner was coming. A very enjoyable match, though.
Up at the other end, meanwhile, a flashing header by the always dangerous, Ashford striker, Jay May went inches wide with Tyler beaten. However, in the 73rdthey did take the lead. May’s strike partner, Smith, grabbing his second of the night. A scrappy goal albeit, but one that counted. 3-2 Ashford.
Now it was our visitors turn to be in the ascendency again and in a moment of comedy in the 75th, the ball hit the Leafe crossbar twice, bouncing and spinning around like a loose Catherine Wheel, before McCarthy managed to scramble back to his feet and grab the bouncing ball. Leafe fans put their hearts back in their mouths!
More unbelievable drama followed in the 81st minute when another successful Leafe raid down the Ashford left resulted in another goal-mouth melee and saw Nathan Campbell heading home another equaliser to make it 3-3. However, after initially allowing the goal, the referee disallowed it for offside only for the linesman to step in. After a brief discussion, the goal was given, to make it 3-3.
At this stage, I felt that the match still had another turn left in it. I did feel it would end 4-3 but wasn’t sure which way it would go. Unfortunately for Whyteleafe, it was Jay May powering home a winner with his head in the 87thminute. Delight for Ashford; despair for Leafe.
In spite of the result, Hudson and his young team can take many positives from this one. Their never say die attitude and pleasing football for a start. Once they learn how to be more ruthless when an opponent is behind, they’ll surely become even more dangerous.
This Saturday, November 16 (Church Road – 3pm), Whyteleafe entertain (fairly) local rivals East Grinstead Town FC, who make the 18-mile trip up the A22. They may be bottom of the BetVictor South East table, at the moment, but Harry won’t be taking them lightly, that’s for sure.
LINE UP: 1 Tyler McCarthy 2 Matt O’Donoghue 3 Peter Wedgeworth 4 Nathan Campbell (c) 5 Ricardo Thompson 6 Corey Holder 7 Mannie Mensah 8 Bentley Graham (sub 76’ 15 Adam Aziz) 9 Junior Aikhionbare 10 Antonio Walker-Barth (sub 46’ 17 Martin Sontan sub 87’ 14 Helge Orome) 11 Corie Andrews
Subs Not Used: 12 Jamie McGeoghegan 16 Tre Daley