NORTHWOOD FC   Tuesday 21st August 2012   ASHFORD TOWN

Evo-Stik Southern League Central Division

  Northwood 1  Ashford Town 3   

Bellotti 91

Conteh 71, Bitmead 80,
Kazi 92

Team line-up  

  Team line-up
1 James Reading     1 Paul McCarthy
2 Scott Raper     2 Harry Knock
3 Ronayne Marsh-Brown     3 Ed Thomas
4 Brad Hewitt     4 Bairoh Conteh
5 Reece Yorke     5 Jack Mullan
6 Jack Hutchinson (71m)     6 Scott Weight
7 Adamson Ajayi     7 Mark Bitmead (83m)
8 James Fraser (59m)     8 Ashley Lodge
9 Oliver Hawkins     9 Dan Brown
10 Craig White (59m)     10 K Lockhart-Adams (89m)
11 Romaine Walker     11 Perry Luckins (11m)
Substitutes     Substitutes
12 Danny McDonnell)     12 Alex Duffy (11m)
14 John Christian (59m)     14 Joe Bennett (89m)
15 Dean Worman (59m)     15 Samad Kazi (83m)
16 Spencer Bellotti (71m)     16 Jim Mann
17 Garry Senior     17 George Armstrong
      Referee: Mark Mellor; Assistants: Chris Felton & Philip Evans      
  REPORT by Matt Ford      PHOTOS by James Brown  

Northwood and Ashford Town together came into this game trying to restore a sense of normality, after both were subject to heavy defeats on the weekend – Northwood suffered a freak 5-0 defeat at Slough, whilst the visitors were comprehensively beaten by Rugby Town 4-1. Gary Meakin handed home debuts to James Fraser and the returning Brad Hewitt, whilst teenage midfielder Jack Hutchinson played his first league game for the club since February having spent the back end of last season with Barnet’s youth team. Fit again Spencer Bellotti had to settle for a place on the bench as did midfielder Dean Worman; a summer acquisition from Hanwell Town. Meanwhile, the Northwood boss had Reece Yorke available for selection again having completed the last of his mandatory four game suspension (dating back to last season) on Saturday. It was the first meeting between the two sides since that dramatic, entertaining, yet ultimately disappointing Middlesex Charity Cup final back in May, where the Woods suffered the ignominy of losing on penalties having at one stage led by three goals to nil; perhaps exacting revenge was also on the agenda?

The home side were doing their best to establish themselves as the early pace-setters and had a very good opportunity within the opening few minutes. Good neat build-up play down the right hand side released last season’s Player of the Year Oliver Hawkins and he showed terrific awareness to pick out Craig White, who had stormed into the box. However the former Bedfont Town midfielder – who missed most of pre-season due to work commitments – ballooned it over the bar when he should have at least hit the target.

Ashford’s one to watch was undoubtedly young striker Kofi Lockhart-Adams, a man who single-handedly won the Cup back in May with four goals coming off the bench before successfully putting away his spot kick once the game had gone the distance. A quick burst of pace from the aforementioned forward meant Hewitt had to be on his toes and he was, reading the danger and making a decent intervention. Moments later, and the visitors very nearly paid a hefty price having allowed Hutchinson to have a go from 20 yards. Paul McCarthy in the Ash Trees goal got behind it comfortably, yet the commanding goalkeeper needed two attempts to gather the loose ball. Suddenly the momentum had shifted towards the home side, and when Hawkins released Walker, the Woods suddenly looked more threatening, except any hopes of a goal on this particular occasion were dashed when the pacey winger hit his effort straight at the Town keeper, and he did enough to turn it behind at the expense of a corner.

James Reading had to be on his toes too to race out to an attempted through ball intended for Dan Brown and clear the danger, which he did sufficiently. Although as half time approached, Ashford launched a series of deliveries into the Northwood penalty box. The first was punched well under pressure from Reading, and then Fraser had to be alert to block an attempted cross from the right hand side – conceding a corner kick in the process. Then, Paul Burgess’ side should have scored when a well flighted in-swinger found its way to the back post and an unmarked Brown, yet Northwood’s net remained unscathed as the dangerous front man could not get enough contact to steer it home.

Despite a few half chances for either side, it appeared both were equally more focused on not conceding rather than pushing forward in numbers – perhaps a knock on effect from the defeat’s both sides suffered on the opening day of the season? One bright point for Northwood though, was the first half performance of Brad Hewitt – who made several key tackles to break up the play, and extinguished a couple of dangerous breakaways in and behind the Woods back line. Despite the deadlock having not yet been broken, both teams went in at the interval with all to play for – by and large, though, chances were few and far between in a lacklustre but even first half.

The first period was a shadow of the second as both teams showed more urgency after the allotted fifteen minute interval. Brown, off balance and under pressure from Hewitt skied high and wide from the right side of the penalty box after another smart move from the visitors. Northwood were not about to be bossed about, though, and tried to establish the dominance in the centre of the park and a clever advancing run by Hutchinson looked promising but came to nothing when the young midfielder lost his footing on the greasy surface. However, the Woods did maintain possession a little better moments later, and created their best attacking move of the match to date. Adamson Ajayi, showed a deft touch and a turn of pace to beat left back Ed Thomas by the corner flag and then delivered a pin point accurate cross for an unmarked Hawkins, and it had goal written all over it. Unfortunately, the tall striker was always leaning back and subsequently the ball never threatened to break the deadlock. That man Ajayi was in the thick of the action soon after as his deflected effort from distance forced McCarthy to re-adjust and the experienced goalkeeper managed to just about do enough to turn it away from any possible danger.

The game then exploded into life midway through the second half at a frenetic pace. The catalyst for that was an attacking double substitution from the home side: off went James Fraser and Craig White and on came John Christian and Dean Worman – who was now making his competitive debut for Northwood. The latter appeared to give Meakin something different with quick feet and a turn of pace, he certainly had the attributes to cause the visiting defence some problems. After possession had been squandered, Brown unleashed a half hearted effort which was blocked by Hewitt – in truth it was fortunate as it took the sting out of the initial shot. As a brief shower came and went, Mark Bitmead was becoming more of a prominent figure in the game and he had two quick fire efforts from 20-yards; one which flashed just wide of Reading’s post and the other bounced awkwardly in front of the 21-year-old shot stopper who in fairness did well to just about divert it behind.

Then the alarm bells started ringing for the Ash Trees with Northwood upping the tempo and looking more dangerous with every passing minute. The home side saw the best goal scoring opportunity of the match so far come and go and somehow the ball stayed out when it looked destined to come to rest in the back of the net. A free kick from just short of the edge of D was delivered into the box and after Hewitt had beaten his man to the flick on, it missed everyone including the goalkeeper and Hawkins who – had he got even the slightest touch – ought to have diverted it into the net. Then from the resulting clearance – Ashford who looked very threatening when breaking forward in numbers – had a two on one situation as Lockhart-Adams advanced on the area and attempted to place his effort into the bottom right hand corner. Thankfully Reading was alert and having done enough to avert the danger pounced on the loose ball from the rebound.

As is sometimes the way in football, totally against the run of play Ashford broke and forced a corner kick from the left side. The resulting in-swinger was met by a crowd of bodies and – having not cleared their lines – the ball ricocheted around the goalmouth before being knocked into the roof of the net. A soft, soft goal to concede, and one in which Bairoh Conteh will claim but one would think it may be left to the dubious goals panel! Whoever got the decisive touch didn’t matter in truth as Northwood trailed 1-0; nevertheless there was still twenty minutes to play.

A short time after going behind, Ashford were trying to get what may have proven to be a killer second goal. However, this time Brown’s dangerous run down the right came to an abrupt halt as he forced a mistimed challenge from Yorke who in doing so, conceded the penalty. Bitmead then sent Reading the wrong way to give his side a cushion from twelve yards, and within a few minutes Northwood’s hopes of notching up their first success of the season seemed a million miles away having conceded two quick-fire yet ‘soft’ goals. This instigated the third and final substitution, and one final push from the Northwood bench to try and reduce the arrears, as Bellotti replaced midfielder Hutchinson. That change nearly had the desired effect immediately as an instinctive shot on the turn from the former Oxhey Jets striker forced a decent save from McCarthy who had to push it behind. As the minutes passed by it appeared that we may have had to wait until at least Saturday to see the side break their duck (in terms of goals), but Walker – who by his standards had had a quiet game – broke away down the left, looking like the Walker we’d seen numerous times last season and skipped past a couple of Ashford players before squaring his delivery across the box for Bellotti, who reacted quickest to flick the ball beyond McCarthy and give Northwood a glimmer of hope of an unlikely comeback – and made sure that above all else we wouldn’t have to wait until our next game to witness a Woods goal for the first time this season!

Unfortunately, even though it would have probably been too little too late, any lingering hopes of snatching a point were extinguished less than a minute after Bellotti had reduced the deficit. From the kick off, the dangerous Brown skipped away down the right flank leaving – a Northwood side who were playing a high line in a bid to get back on terms – horribly exposed and his vision saw him roll the ball across the box for an unmarked Samad Kazi to put the result beyond all doubt – 3-1 to the visiting side. Northwood did have one final attack – in vain – though despite some good work from Christian, Bellotti couldn’t get there despite valiantly sliding on the wet pitch, in a bid to steer the ball goalwards.

Northwood are still searching for that first win after two straight defeats (though it’s still early days of course), and will get another chance when they have the welcome distraction of playing Spartan South Midlands Premier Division side Aylesbury United away, in the FA Cup preliminary round on Saturday. Following that Woods play AFC Hayes on Bank Holiday Monday two days later – a side they beat 4-1 this time last year in the corresponding fixture, before welcoming the other Aylesbury club – Aylesbury FC – for a home league game in early September. Plenty of opportunities then for Woods to put these two disappointing results behind them in the next week or so!