After a run of three consecutive home wins, Blues have put in a couple of below-par performances of late, which have resulted in an FA Cup exit at the hands of Maidstone United, and two points dropped in midweek after the 2-2 draw with Soham Town Rangers.
It’s hardly a cause for everyone to rush to their panic stations; however, manager Hakan Hayrettin will have been concerned how easily those visitors have scored seven goals past a Blues defence who had previously conceded seven goals in their previous eight matches.
Jack West failed a late fitness test, which meant that Blues played with five across the middle with Joao Carlos and Danny Bunce pushing high up the pitch to support the lone striker James Bunn. Ryan Kirby replaced Grant Cooper in defence, whilst Kenny Beaney was brought into the starting line-up. Joe Sweeney had to settle for a place on the bench, whilst Cooper watched from the stands.
Blues’ fragility in defence was exposed early in both halves, with Jack Paxman scoring after three minutes, and then Frank Atangana after just two minutes of the second half. The visitors didn’t manage to hold on to their leads for long however, as goals from Danny Bunce and Kenny Beaney ensured the points were shared.
The 18-year-old midfielder, Paxman, on loan from League Two side Southend United, followed up his goal against Redbridge the week previously, with a well executed solo effort after coming in off the left wing. Bunce levelled shortly after with his second penalty of the season, firing high into the top right hand corner after Beaney had been fouled on the left side of the area.
Frenchman Atangana put the visitors back in front early in the second half, as he got the slightest of touches at the back post after an in-swinging cross from the left. Beaney then scored his first goal of the season just before the hour, heading in at the back post from a corner.
Both sides had good chances to win the match but the Soham goalkeeper Bircham ensured he was man-of-the-match, making a number of impressive saves, including a excellent one handed effort from a Junior Baker header at the death.
Southern League Division One Central side Ashford Town have a similar record to that of Blues, having won five of their last eight, although they have lost their last two matches. Coming into the game they are currently in 8th position in the league with nine points from their five matches.
Similar to Blues, the Tangerines were convincingly beaten at home in the FA Cup last weekend, losing 6-2 at the hands of Southern Premier side St Albans City.
There isn’t much in life that’s certain, but a goalless draw on Saturday is extremely unlikely, based on the fact that Grays haven’t had one since January – home to Waltham Forest (26 matches), and Ashford since March – home to Marlow (17 matches).
Between them; the two sides have scored 47 goals and conceded 33 from a 21 matches in total this season. Five of Ashford’s goals came in the previous round, as they won 5-1 at Walton Casuals, whilst they’ve also recorded a 5-0 home win against Fleet Town in the league. Mark Bitmead is their leading scorer with eight goals, including five penalties, whilst Dan Brown and Kofi Lockhard-Adams have scored six and four goals respectively.
Elsewhere in the Trophy, there are 11 other Isthmian North Division sides remaining in the competition, and all have a chance of winning through to the next round with no side drawn against another from the division. There are four North / South matches including away trips for Waltham Forest and Brentwood Town at Ramsgate and Walton & Hersham respectively.
There are seven matches against Isthmian Premier sides, including difficult trips for Wroxham (Canvey Island), Potters Bar Town (Wingate & Finchley) and Ilford (Bognor Regis Town), whilst Romford and Thurrock face one another in the Battle of Ship Lane. Thurrock face the shortest journey of the day as they make their way to the away dressing room, with tenants Romford being drawn at home. Blues’ match against Ashford is one of two against Southern League opposition; the other being Waltham Abbey’s trip to Burnham.
There are just two league matches on Saturday, Cheshunt at home to recently promoted Witham Town, whilst Tilbury welcome AFC Sudbury to Chadfields. A win for either Cheshunt or Witham will see them move above Blues in the table, and the same can be said for the Dockers, with all three sides on nine points from their five matches so far.
The FA Carlsberg Trophy First Qualifying Round
Soham Town Rangers v Tooting & Mitcham United
Canvey Island v Wroxham
Chatham Town v Merstham
Ramsgate v Waltham Forest
East Thurrock United v Hastings United
Burnham v Waltham Abbey
Thamesmead Town v Cray Wanderers
Grays Athletic v Ashford Town (Middx)
Wingate & Finchley v Potters Bar Town
Romford v Thurrock
Redbridge v Metropolitan Police
Carshalton Athletic v Heybridge Swifts
Walton & Hersham v Brentwood Town
Bognor Regis Town v Ilford
Isthmian North Division
Cheshunt v Witham Town
Tilbury v AFC Sudbury
|Grays Athletic||Isthmian North Division||3rd||6||3||2||1||14||7||+7||11|
|Ashford Town (Middx)||Southern League Division One Central||8th||5||3||0||2||12||8||+4||9|
Grays Athletic – W D L W W W L D
Ashford Town (Middx) – W W W D W W L L
According to my records Saturday’s match will be the first between the two clubs – if you know otherwise, please let me know.
Defender Brett Johnson started his career with Ashford between 2002-04, before a move to Hampshire side Aldershot Town. He only stayed with the Shots for one year, after which he sealed a move into the Football League with Northampton Town. During his three years with the Cobblers, he only made 26 league appearances for the club, and whilst with them he had a couple of loan spells with Conference clubs. In 2005 he spent a short time with Gravesend & Northfleet, before signing for Blues in January 2006. He made his debut in a 2-1 away win at York City, making 5 appearances in total before his loan spell ended. In 2008 he signed for Brentford, but again failed to secure a regular starting place, and left the following summer. He had a far more successful three years with AFC Wimbledon, winning promotion to the Football League. He then signed for Woking in August of this year.
During the 2010-11 season, Ashford had two ex-Blues in their ranks; Luke Hickie and Tyrone Berry. Hickie joined the Blues in September 2008, making his debut in a goalless draw at home to Lewes, and scoring his one and only goal for the club in an Essex Senior Cup tie against Maldon Town in November 2008. A 1-0 home defeat by Burton Albion was his last outing in a Blues shirt, before being released in January 2009. Its unclear where he spent the rest of that season, however he signed for Dulwich Hamlet in the summer of 2009, before a return to Blues in the December. His stay wasn’t a great one, making three appearances over Christmas and New Year, which resulted in three defeats; two against Ebbsfleet United and one against Crawley Town. He was released by the club for a second time in a year, before signing for Kingstonian. His stay there lasted until the end of the season, after which he returned to Dulwich Hamlet. He signed for Ashford during the 2010-11 season, making 36 appearances, scoring once before another return to Dulwich Hamlet, which is where he currently plays.
Berry signed for Blues in January 2009 shortly after Hickie had left the club, and at just the tender age of 21, he could count Crystal Palace, Notts County, Rushden & Diamonds, Lewes, Crawley Town, Stevenage Borough and Gillingham amongst his former clubs. He made his debut as a late substitute for Ishmael Welsh in a 1-1 draw against Weymouth at The Recreation Ground, before going on to make a total of nine appearances in total, seven of which were from the bench. His final appearance was again from the bench, and although he only lasted five minutes before being substituted himself, he did score his one and only goal for the club. Moves to York City and Forest Green Rovers followed, before his spell with Ashford which saw him scored 3 goals in 12 appearances. Since leaving the Tangerines, he has turned out for Burgess Hill Town and Hayes & Yeading United, before signing for Tooting & Mitcham United earlier this month. At this rate, he will be well ahead of Steve Claridge by the time he calls time on his career!
One time trialist Kane Louis also featured Ashford in the 2010-11 season, scoring twice in his eight appearances.
If you know of any others, please let me know.
Rush Green Stadium, Rush Green Road, Romford, Essex, RM7 0LU
£8 Adults, £5 Concessions and £1 Under 14s. Programmes are available at £2
It will be the first time that referee Adam Bakalarz has been in charge of one a Blues match.
Match updates available via the excellent Non League Live service. You can also follow @graysathscores for updates via Twitter. Join in the chat using #grayslive