You don’t always get what you deserve. Ashford and Cambridge are two capable attacking sides, one point separating them, a 3-3 draw in August; entertainment was promised, although it was unlikely to be a rout for one team.
The new signings of Mayzee Seymor (Harlow Town) and Bella Simmons (Cambridge City) were announced with about an hour until kick off, with both joining the squad for the game – Simmons starting on the left wing.
Marden and Naylor joined Simmons behind striker Sarah Wiltshire; Otten and Edgar the regular midfield duo; Griffin, Jackson, Kosky, and Davies in the back four, and ever-present Webb in goal.
From the off, Cambridge looked dangerous going forward as they so often do against all but the best sides in the league. Unfortunately, Ashford’s defenders, sitting deep, were up to the challenge, blocking a string of shots at source in the opening few minutes as United worked the ball into the box.
Simmons was impressing with driving runs and evident technical ability, seemingly just what you want in a winger. She created a chance for Wiltshire by neatly turning her marker on the touchline, before driving inside with pace and laying it off, but the striker was forced wide and shot narrowly over the bar.
United opened the scoring 23 minutes in. Following a set piece, they worked the ball round from Simmons wide left, via Wiltshire, to Gisela Otten whose shot hit the bar and rebounded kindly to Sydnie Naylor.
While prepared to sit back at times, which had let Cambridge onto them in the opening stages, Ashford were also willing to harry United higher up the pitch to force mistakes. Even from the other side of the pitch, Darren Marjoram could be heard lamenting the ever-widening gap between defence and midfield as they struggled for a consistent outlet from the back.
Ashford got their equaliser from the second of two successive corners. As I said, you don’t always get what you deserve. Whilst Ashford were good value for their equaliser, Rachel Kosky will feel her goal-line clearance from the first corner didn’t warrant the second to be whipped so close to the near post that it bamboozled the defence and goalkeeper to creep over the line.
Nonetheless, the away side were getting on top towards the end of the first half. They continued to pick off loose United passes and continued to prove a set-piece threat – if not for an offside flag, a late free-kick routine would have put Ashford in front at half time. It remained 1-1.
Both sides became more open as the second half began. Ashford looked to move the ball forward quickly to an aggressive front 4 or even 5 but left space for numerous Cambridge chances. Perhaps due to tired legs, long balls began to find their way through to Wiltshire more often. One long up-and-under from Griffin bounced through unimpeded to Sarah, who somehow fired wide one-on-one with the keeper.
Ashford weren’t done either though. Capitalising on a rare off-day from Edgar, one Ashford player’s lung-busting run almost took her into the box if not for a desperate poke away from Kosky.
Yet, Cambridge had begun to look like the more likely side to win it – they began to dominate possession, but from their own corner, a quick Ashford counterattack unleashed Elizabeth O’Callaghan, who beat Lauren Webb to the ball and slotted past her coolly.
From that moment, Ashford largely shut up shop. Their bold aggressive style had worked to get them the lead and so they sought to frustrate United with 9 players behind the ball, only pushing O’Callaghan forward to run onto forward passes.
Simmons and Wiltshire continued to lead the charge as Cambridge turned the screw, but to no avail. Twice Wiltshire had the ball in the back of the net – one a cross nodded home; one a beautiful finish on the swivel, both provided by Simmons, neither stood.
A 2-1 loss to start the year, but it could have easily been a 2-1, 3-1, 4-2 win; of course, Ashford will say if they’d scored a second before half time it could have been the same to them. There was no shortage of attacking endeavour and the goalkeepers must take credit for keeping the score down.
Ashford overtake the U’s into the top half despite being newcomers to the fourth tier this season. They’re a very capable team who managed the game well having attacked ferociously for the middle third of the game. United’s problems were compounded by neither Otten nor Edgar hitting the levels they’ve shown this season leaving the defence vulnerable to quick counter attacks.Going forward however, United look to be building some real depth. Goal scorer Naylor is still relatively new, and Bella Simmons an obvious choice for the player of the match adding to an impressive roster of attacking talent as it is. Simmons carries the ball very well with body feints and pace to beat a player, and she also tracked back increasingly well throughout the match. Reason to stay positive ahead of a trip to Actonians on 22 Jan.