Short Lane is most definitely not the easiest place to get to if, like me, you don`t drive. A brisk walk from Ashford train station kept me warm on a sunny but chilly evening just inside the M25 and in the shadow of Heathrow Airport. The ground has a small entrance way but a well stocked bar and ample parking. Before jumping headlong into the match report I would like to express a huge thank-you to the players and officials of Ashford Town, especially Gareth Coates and Brett Cooper.
Prior to starting this venture I emailed all the clubs concerned, explained what I was doing and that I had a t-shirt featuring all the home teams and would it be at all possible that a player could sign the t-shirt as I was going to auction it off at the end of the season and any money made would go towards Cancer Research UK. Many clubs have been fantastic and have agreed, some have not replied as yet and one refused point blank *cough* Spurs *cough*. But Gareth not only said they would be delighted to help but also asked me to pen a short explanatory article so that they could include it in their match day program. I was quietly happy when Gareth informed me, after I had got to the ground, that they had used my article. Then I met right sided defender/midfielder Brett who wasn`t playing that day but who had started the three previous games. He was happy to sign my shirt, although he seemed to think I may be a little crazy, or perhaps he was worried Noel Edmonds would jump out shouting "Gotcha!" I stupidly didn`t get a picture of myself and Brett but I will learn for next time.
Hendon started with a flurry and quickly had a corner and Ashford keeper, Craig Ross, made a great save from a header. However throughout the match the ref would see things no-one else did, particularly in the penalty area and particularly corners. Someone should have informed him that basketball is non contact, not football. The first half was fairly open, both sides using the channels and probing away. For Hendon much of their play was coming through number 2, Dave Diedhiou, who supported his midfielders, retained the ball well and was happy to use the ball in a constructive manner.
One thing you notice when you are right next to the pitch and the crowd noise doesn`t drown everything out, is the amount that footballers shout at each other, in fact the amount of crap the shout at each other. They are just like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, instead of saying "Mine" however the most common expressions are "here", "yes" and the ubiquitous "Dave". More concerning is that every player shouts "here" at the same time, even when they are clearly in a poor position to receive the ball, shouts from the keeper, "Head that ball" are just as strange as I am sure the defender wasn`t thinking "Hmmmm, best leave this one, I haven`t been told to head it by that guy 20 yards away, he`s got a better view than me, phew got out the way, oh…..they`ve scored".
Whilst I was mulling this over Hendon created a great chance when vociferous attacker, Peter Dean, found himself 12 or so yards out with only the onrushing keeper for company, unfortunately for Hendon he didn`t keep his composure and Ross was able to easily collect Dean`s toe poke. The star up front for Ashford was big centre forward Byron Harrison, deceptively quick and with good ball control he made a number of openings but was either denied by some great last ditch Hendon defending or else was unable to quite beat new Hendon keeper, James Reading. A number of times the ball was flashing around the Hendon area but no Ashford player was able to get a definitive touch.
With planes taking off in the distance the second half kicked off with Ashford again enjoying large amounts of possession. Much of their build up play was coming from their own right back, Vinny O` Sullivan. Ashford were relentlessly pressuring Hendon and had four or five corners in a row. Each whipped in ball caused mayhem in the Hendon box but Harrison headed wide on one occasion and Hendon managed to keep out Ashford for the others.
Then a break up field and it was 1-0 to Hendon, Dean had been fed from the right wing but Ross had got a hand to it, then keeper, Dean and an Ashford defender all steamed in attempting to pounce upon the loose ball, it ended up in the back of the net, claimed by Dean but it was initially thought to be an own goal, one for the dubious goals panels methinks! Ashford were unlucky to be a goal down, they had bossed the second half but so far hadn`t made their possession count. They started launching wave after wave of attack upon Hendon and were awarded a free kick a few yards from Hendon`s area. A fantastic free kick from captain, Paul Johnson, was well saved by Reading but the resultant corner was headed in emphatically by defender Billy Jeffreys.
Ashford pushed for the win and will have felt aggrieved when it appeared that a Hendon defender handled the ball in the area, somehow the officials came to the conclusion that young sub Malachi Bulley had fouled the defender. Quite how they came up with this I do not know because if it wasn`t a penalty then it was certainly not a foul. Just prior to this James Reading had made another good, low save from an Ashford attack. Overall I think Ashford deserved more than a point but against a strong Hendon side I don`t think they will be overly concerned, unlike my legs who were not looking forwards to the two mile walk back to the train station.
Build Up - Game Eight: Dagenham & Redbridge v Lincoln City
Dagenham & Redbridge have a convuluted history. Although formed in 1992 they can trace their heritage back to four different clubs; Ilford (formed 1881), Leytonstone (formed 1886), Walthamstow Avenue (formed 1900) and Dagenham (formed 1949). In 1979 Leytonstone and Ilford merged to become, unsurprisingly, Leytonstone Ilford. Then in 1988 they joined with Walthamstow Avenue and changed their name in 1989 to Redbridge Forest. After reaching the Conference in 1991 they merged with Dagenham in 1992 to become the club they are today, Dagenham and Redbridge. Known as 'The Daggers` they don`t seem to have any great rivalries though Leyton Orient would probably be the most likely.
Dagenham and Redbridge stayed in the Conference until 1996 when they were relegated to the Isthmian Premier. They regained promotion after the 1999/2000 season and were extremely successful for their first three seasons almost attaining promotion in the 2001/2002 season. The club then had a number of mid-table finishes and jointly hold the record for the highest defeat in the Conference, a 9-0 hammering at the hands of Hereford United in 2004.
Dagenham gained promotion in the 2006/07 season to reach the Football League for the first time. In a mirror of the match we will be seeing, Dagenham achieved their first win in the Football League against Lincoln City, at home on the 1st September 2007. Last year they finished a highly respectable 8th.
Season so far;
The Daggers suffered their first league defeat at the weekend to newly rejuvenated Notts County. However they have scored 10 goals in two games at Victoria Road (old name of the ground) and are currently second in the league on goal difference.
Conference National Champions: 2006-07, Runners-up: 2001-02
Isthmian League Premier Division Champions: 1999-2000
FA Trophy Runners-up: 1997
Essex Senior Cup Winners: 1998, 2001, Runners-up: 2002
Tube; The ground is a few minutes walk from Dagenham East station on the District Line. However, there is repair work which means the line closes at Barking. There is a replacement service but this may take a while. If you wish to go leave enough time.
Tickets should be bought prior to the 29th. They are a little cheaper and you can collect on the day.