A bumper crowd of nearly 1800 people turned out to see Salisbury progress to the semi-finals of the FA Vase.
It also means the Whites have now won 15 games in all competitions.
The Whites could have been 1-0 up after just three minutes had Kane O’Keefe gone down following contact with the defender, many said he was ‘too honest’, pending which side of the diving debate you fall on!
Salisbury continued to press though and could have scored several in the first half, particularly when a pin-point pass from Tom Whelan found Dan Demkiv, whose shot trickled wide before anyone could get on the end of it.
Ashford’s goalkeeper George Kamurasi went down injured soon after sending his goal-kick straight into the path of Sam Wilson who couldn’t capitalise.
The home side did eventually did take the lead though through Kane O’Keefe, when Whelan controlled an Eddie Perrett throw in and took a shot at goal which hit Sam Wilson and deflected nicely into the path of Kane O’Keefe who blasted home.
Ashford had their best chance of the match after 34 minutes when John Pilbeam’s fantastic delivery met the head of Paul Booth, who only had to get it on target and the game could have turned out very differently.
Then 2 goals on either side of half time from Salisbury ended the game as a contest.
Firstly, from seemingly out of nowhere some nice play from Sam Wilson just before the whistle lined up Roberts for the shot and his curled effort beat the outstretched Kamurasi into the bottom left corner.
Then just after the second half began, despite a double substitution from the visitors Kane O’Keefe got on the end of a Roberts cross and saw his sliced shot trickle into the bottom left of the goal.
It meant Salisbury were in cruise control for the remainder of the match, and other than in the 54th minute when Calum Hart cleared the ball off the line, they were never in danger of a semi-final place.
The draw for the semi-final takes place live on TalkSPORT radio at 11:30 am on Monday, with the two-legged tie taking place on the 12th and 19th of March.
Ominously, Ashford looked very nervous from the start of this game. The visitors’ short passing was tentative and inaccurate, and longer passes appeared to be hurried, in an attempt to get rid of the ball before being caught in possession by Salisbury’s pressing game. Ashford barely managed to string two passes together for the first half an hour. Salisbury did little that was extravagant during this period, but everything the players in white did was neat and composed. Ashford’s work, in contrast, was made to look ragged.
Another ominous sign early on was that Salisbury’s left-winger, Taurean Roberts, soon showed himself to be the best player on the pitch by some distance, and he was obviously too good for full-back Adam Cuthbert, being able to run around the Ashford No.2 with ease. Roberts roasted Adam’s nuts for the entire time that the pair were on the pitch, and he was to be responsible for the game’s first shot on target, in the 15th minute. Up to this point, it had been the home side playing the controlled football, with Ashford having their opportunities with a handful of corners and free-kicks. Roberts’ chance came about as a result of the visitors giving the ball away carelessly in midfield; the Salisbury No.11 sent in a low shot from just outside the Ashford penalty area, and George Kamurasi had to dive low to his right, to save at the near post.
In the 24th minute, shortly after Ryan Palmer’s high, looping free-kick had landed harmlessly on the roof of Salisbury’s net, Roberts again dribbled around the outside of Adam Cuthbert, and sent a high cross towards the far post. The header across the face of goal invited someone to turn it into the net, but nobody was able to administer the vital touch.
From the resulting goal-kick, George Kamurasi hit the ball straight to Sam Wilson, but the young centre-forward was unable to capitalise on the unexpected opportunity. Big George must have kicked the ground, or something, as he needed treatment before the restart, which was largely responsible for the three minutes of injury time that were played at the end of the first half.
Soon after, in the 26th minute, Salisbury took an unsurprising lead. Tom Whelan attempted a shot from long range, which was blocked, but skipper Kane O’Keefe was there to turn the ball into the net.
On the half-hour mark, Taurean Roberts again rounded Adam Cuthbert, forcing Adam to commit what seemed to be an inevitable foul – and the Ashford defender might have been a shade lucky not to see a yellow card. Seconds later, after a Salisbury corner, Roberts found himself in possession on the edge of the Ashford area, and sent in a low shot, but Josh Woolley was comfortably able to clear off the line, at the far post. But the danger was not cleared, and Shaun Welford was soon heading the ball away from his own goal line, after a sliced clearance from an Ashford defender looked like it was going in.
Whilst The Whites were looking the better side, and Ashford were being largely restricted to hopeful flick-ons from long balls, the visitors did show themselves to be capable of creating the odd chance, in the first half. In fact, Ashford had two clear-cut opportunities to score. The first, and best, of these chances came in the 35th minute. Ryan Palmer picked the ball up on the corner of the Salisbury penalty area. He jinked inside and sent in a curling cross which found the head of an unmarked Paul Booth, just six yards from goal. The Player-Coach’s task was to cushion the ball past goalkeeper Charlie Searle and into the net, but, instead, he directed his header just wide.
Ashford’s second chance came in the 44th minute, and was created by a neat one-two involving new signing Jon Pilbeam and Paul Booth. This gave Pilbeam the opportunity to bear down on the Salisbury goal, but he pulled his shot, from inside the home side’s penalty area, wide of the goal.
Prior to this, it had become obvious that George Kamurasi was struggling with some sort of injury, as his kicking was all over the place and Pat Kingwell was having to take Ashford’s goal-kicks – but, in the 39thminute, George did well to save a shot from Taurean Roberts that had deflected, in a looping arc, off Kingwell, who had come across to make the block.
Referee Dean Treleaven had been fairly lenient with a number of late tackles during the first half, but his patience ran out in the 40th minute, when he yellow-carded Shaun Welford for a late one on Eddie Perrett. Worse was to follow for the visitors, however, when Salisbury increased their lead, in the first minute of first-half injury time. The goal came at a time when it appeared that, in spite of being outplayed, Ashford had hopes of hitting the home side with a counter-punch – provided that they could make it to half time with just a one-goal deficit. It was not to be, however, as Luke Cuthbert, one of United’s outstanding performers at Dunston, just two weeks ago, gave the ball away in defence. The ball was picked up by Taurean Roberts, who played a one-two with Sam Wilson, before hitting the ball low, into the net, from just outside the penalty area. I suspect that it was not by chance that the ball was placed just inside the far post, just beyond the reach of the diving George Kamurasi.
So Salisbury went into the half-time break with a two-goal lead that was a pretty fair reflection of the difference between the two sides in that first half, and Ashford were faced with having to repeat their feat of the previous round in pegging back a two-goal deficit.
Whereas Player-Manager Danny Lye’s contribution in midfield up in Gateshead was a key factor in Ashford’s victory there, his self-selection had not proved to be as successful here at the Ray Mac – and he appeared to acknowledge this in as much as he replaced himself with Mikey Dalton for the start of the second period. At the same time, he replaced 39 year-old Paul Booth with Chris Saunders, with the obvious objective of sacrificing experience for pace and energy. This ploy actually seemed to work, as the visitors made a lively start to the second half, at last discovered their passing game and (annoyingly, almost) they had their best spell of the game for the next 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, a sloppy pass at the end of a promising move, as early as the 47th minute, set Salisbury up for their third goal, which effectively put a seal on the game. The ball was actually given away to Taurean Roberts – which was a bad idea ! – who then proceeded to beat Adam Cuthbert, (not once, but twice), before carrying the ball to the edge of the Ashford area. His cross found Kane O’Keefe, who neatly guided the ball into the net, at the near post.
It is to the credit of Danny Lye’s team, however, that they continued to try to play fast, bright football, even though it now looked to be in a lost cause. Pat Kingwell tried to lead by example by confidently bringing the ball out of defence, but he over-did it a little in the 54th minute, when he was caught in possession, leaving the Ashford back line exposed. This error put Tom Whelan through on goal, but Luke Cuthbert came across to cover.
Just as Taurean Roberts clearly appeared to be Salisbury’s outstanding player, Ryan Palmer, (recently engaged to be married), stood out as Ashford’s star man. In fact, he was the one man in a green shirt, this afternoon, who looked like a Salisbury player, showing that he could retain possession of the ball and move it around the pitch, dribbling past the white-shirted titans if he wanted to. [ Memo to the future Mrs Palms: You may sleep with our hero for the remainder of the current season, but, on the night before a match, he keeps one foot on the floor at all times ! ].
Palms played a major part in setting up Ashford’s best chance in the second half. This came in the 55th minute, when he combined well with Jon Pilbeam, down the left flank. He made his way into the Salisbury penalty area, near to the by-line, and nearly succeeded in forcing the ball into the net from an acute angle, but was foiled by a combination of goalkeeper Charlie Searle and centre-half Callum Hart.
Ashford’s momentum was stifled in the 60th minute, when the game was stopped because of Adam Cuthbert going down with an injury. Danny Lye replaced him with George Savage, and Steve Claridge took the opportunity to substitute the injured Dan Demkiv with Claudio Herbert. After this lull in the play, the game gradually went to sleep, with the home side looking secure at the back and happy to just play out the remaining half an hour. The visitors continued to look for a consolation goal, but, in truth, Charlie Searle had a very easy time of it in the Salisbury goal. The only thing that the good number of Ashford fans who had made the trip had to cheer was a yellow card for substitute Herbert, for a silly tackle from behind on Mickey Phillips.
A minute later, there was applause from both sets of fans, as Taurean Roberts was replaced by Sam Roberts, receiving a well-deserved ovation as he walked off the pitch – although Salisbury’s official Man of the Match was named as Tom Whelan.
So not the open, attacking game between two evenly-matched sides that Steve Claridge said that he was anticipating, before the game, but I’m sure that he was delighted with what was a very comfortable victory for his side, who now march into the semi-finals of the competition. Elsewhere, Hereford also made it to the semis, as expected – although many will have been surprised that The Bulls only squeaked through with a goal in the last minute of extra time, to win 3-2. It’ll be interesting to see how the bookmakers frame the market for the competition now, as it appears that it will take a very good side to beat Salisbury.
The body language of the other manager, Danny Lye, suggested that he was not overly perturbed by today’s defeat. Hands in pockets, by the dug-out, doing little more than offering gentle encouragement to some of Ashford’s younger players, Lye gave the impression of a man who had, by now, come to terms with the fact that Ashford’s FA Vase adventure was to end here, in Wiltshire. Having consistently emphasised that promotion to the Ryman League is his priority, the news that Greenwich Borough had dropped two points away at Croydon probably more than compensated for the pain that he felt from today’s defeat, at the hands of a better team.
The teams: –
Salisbury: Searle, Colson, Perrett, Whelan, Walker, Hart, Demkiv, O’Keefe (Capt.), Wilson, Young, Taurean Roberts. (Subs: Jarvis, Sam Roberts, Herbert, Matthews, White).
Ashford United: Kamurasi, Adam Cuthbert, Woolley, Luke Cuthbert, Kingwell, Palmer, Phillips (Capt.), Lye, Pilbeam, Welford, Booth. (Subs: Hassan, Dalton, Fagg, Savage, Saunders).
Match report by Phil Barham, owner of Ashford Town Blog
Video courtesy of South Coast Journalism
Photos within the article: Ian Claxton
Please also visit their website http://www.southcoastjournalism.co.uk/