Ashford Town (Middx) 1 - 2 GAFC
By Chris Jones
Grays ensured an away trip to Whitehawk in the next round of the FA Trophy after beating Ashford Town (Middx) 2-1 in Tuesday night’s replay.
Grant Cooper was recalled to the starting line-up in place of Junior Baker, the only change to the team that started on Saturday.
Grays started the better of the two teams as they looked for an early goal to put pressure on the home side.
In the 5th minute a cross for the right was headed towards the bottom corner of the goal by Jack West but Paul McCarthy was down quickly to push the ball away. The rebound was pounced on by Joe Sweeney but his shot was well blocked and the ball eventually cleared.
Both teams exchanged weak efforts from twenty yards that were easily saved by the goalkeepers before Grays made the breakthrough on 16 minutes.
Jake hall picked the ball up outside the area and created a yard of space to get his shot away. The attempt was heading for the bottom left corner and a comfortable save for McCarthy before the ball hit West on the heel and deflected into the opposite corner out of the reach of the stranded keeper.
Ashford almost replied straight away as a free kick by Mark Bitmead from twenty yards was fired over the wall and Jake Larkins in the Grays goal could only watch as the ball flicked the top of the crossbar and went over.
Grays almost doubled their lead in the 26th minute as a cross from the left hand side was played to the back post to West who headed across goal to Sweeney. His volley was heading for the bottom corner until an Ashford defender got a block in to clear the ball.
Jake Hall picked up the first yellow card of the night in the 33rd minute as he chased down a loose ball but his challenge was late and caught an Ashford defender.
The away side again almost extended their lead in the 39th minute as Grant Cooper played his way out of defence to thread a neat pass to Lee Flynn on the left wing. His cross was played into the feet of West who held off a defender to turn and shoot but the shot went narrowly over the bar.
Grays did finally get the second goal they were searching for just two minutes before half time as Hall collected the ball outside the area, drove hard into the area and fired into the far left hand corner of the goal for fifteen yards, a fine solo effort.
The second half started with Grays looking to get a third goal to kill the game off and Ashford looking to get back into the game.
In the 50th minute West received the ball in a central position on the edge of the area. He again held off a defender before a smart turn and shot looked to be heading for the corner of the goal only for McCarthy to make a full stretch diving save to deny West.
Grays had another chance to all but see off Ashford in the 54th minute as Carlos played in Joe Sweeney down the right hand side. He attacked into the area and his low shot went across goal and inches past the far post.
Ashford almost got a goal back on the hour mark as a corner from the left was played to the back post before being headed towards goal by Bairoh Conteh but his header was cleared off the line by Craig Pope.
The home side didn’t have to wait much longer to get themselves back in the game as in the 62nd minute a through pass between the Grays defence and goalkeeper was seized upon by Kofi Lockhart-Adams who got the ball just before Larkins to flick the ball into the net.
Grays looked to restore their two goal cushion and almost did in the 72nd minute as Sweeney was again played through on goal, this time by Hall but his shot was well saved by McCarthy with his feet.
Grays made two late substitutions as they replaced Danny Bunce and Joe Sweeney with Junior Baker and Tyrone Scarlett respectively.
Ashford almost made Grays pay for their missed chances with just three minutes remaining as a free kick from the right mas played into the Grays area and Russell Canderton rose highest to flick the ball goal wards but Larkins was alert to collect the ball.
Both Baker and West had late chances to extend the score line but Baker shot wide from close range and West fired over at full stretch from closer.
Grays fans watched on anxiously as the referee played four and a half minutes of injury time before finally signalling the end of the game.
Grays now travel to Whitehawk in the next round on Saturday 27th October. Their next game is this Saturday at home to Needham Market in the league.
Grays Athletic: Jake Larkins, Craig Pope, Grant Cooper, Ryan Kirby, Lee Flynn, Joao Carlos, Jake Hall, Kenny Beaney, Danny Bunce (Junior Baker 82). Joe Sweeney (Tyrone Scarlett 86), Jack West
Unused Subs: Leon Lalite, Luke Marshall, James Bunn.