FA Trophy preliminary round replay (after extra-time)

Witham Town’s brave attempt to book their place in the first qualifying round of the FA Trophy fell just short as they were finally edged out by Ashford United in a preliminary round replay at the Simarco Stadium.

Having drawn 2-2 down in Kent at the weekend, the two sides went head to head again in midweek.

Witham had been impressive in that first game and battled bravely against a United side that is flying high in the top three of BetVictor Isthmian League division south east, but in the end the Kent side had a little too much.

The game – which was reduced to ten-a-side after a double sending-off in the first half – went into extra-time after it finished 0-0 after 90 minutes, but Ashford scored twice in the extra period to set up a first qualifying round tie against Barton Rovers.

There was just one change for Witham from the side that had started the first meeting a few days earlier.

That saw Jacob Cleaver return to the line-up in place of the unavailable George Bugg.

Witham had earned the replay thanks to a headed goal from Pat Ahern and, after they had fallen behind through two Jay May strikes, a last-gasp equaliser from Lewis Hewitt in a 2-2 draw in Kent.

That finish had been a huge boost and the hosts were keen to carry that into the replay.

There was an early sight of goal for Witham after Scott Kemp had battled to win a corner in the third minute and a looping effort from Joe Skeels had to be tipped over by Ashford keeper Samuel Mott.

From the ensuing corner, Jake Thompson then headed just wide, but with no early breakthrough coming, Ashford started to see a greater share of the possession in the Witham half.

They were unable to turn it into goals, though, and the game settled down after the busy opening spell, although the pace of the action was unrelenting.

The closest the visitors came to unlocking things was from a long-range effort that was drilled into the Town area and keeper Rhys Madden had to get down well to make a block.

His opposite number then had to make a smart save on 18 minutes when Cleaver broke clear after the ball rebounded into his path and his shot was parried by Ashford keeper Mott.

At the other end, United full-back Jerald Aboagye dragged a shot into the side netting of the Witham goal as the fast-paced game continued to flow from end to end.

The outlook of the game was changed on the half-hour mark, though, as both sides were reduced to ten men.

An altercation between Witham’s Dan Smith and Ashford’s Danny Walder saw referee Thomas Hancock brandishing red cards to both midfielders and their teams were left to battle with ten apiece.

Witham appeared to react to the double sending off better and Mott had to tip over a Marcus Bowers header from a corner, but Ashford quickly settled again and it was an even finish to the half.

That continued after the restart, but it was Witham who almost went ahead in the 52nd minute.

A free-kick from the right found its way to Ahern at the back post and the Witham captain looked certain to add to his goal from Saturday’s encounter, however, Mott somehow managed to recover his positioning and claw the ball away with a stunning save from point-blank range.

It was then Ashford’s turn to threaten and Liam Whipps had to head off his own line from a corner to make sure it stayed goalless and tense for both sides.

With only 20 men on the pitch, there was plenty of space for both sides to exploit and play continued to flow from end to end as the two teams took it in turns to press for an opener.

It was so close to one for Witham on 71 minutes when a neat interchange with Hewitt allowed Kemp to push into the Ashford box and he drilled a shot across the goal that Mott scooped away to safety.

Ashford also had more than enough chances to settle the tie, but a combination of disciplined Witham defence and a lack of a clinical edge from the visitors meant it stayed goalless after 90 minutes and an extra 30 minutes were required.

In the sixth of those, Ashford finally broke the deadlock when the ball fell to Hassan Ibrahim 20 yards out and he composed himself before planting a low drive past Madden for a precious 1-0 lead.

It was an advantage that Ashford held on to quite comfortably throughout the first period of extra-time and they went close to doubling it twice in quick succession at the start of the second.

First, Witham had Madden to thank for a great save from a shot by May and there was then a gilt-edged chance for Ashford to put the tie to bed in the 110th minute but, with the goal gaping, May hit the crossbar from just a couple of yards out.

It meant Town stayed just a goal behind, but they were struggling to get clear of their own defensive third and the pressure finally told in the 113th minute when Ibrahim scored his second of the night as Witham bowed out of the competition.

Witham Town: Rhys Madden, Elliott Capel, Liam Whipps, Pat Ahern, Jake Thompson, Joe Skeels (Kye Jude 106), Dan Smith, Ollie Bell (Declan Nche), Jacob Cleaver (Shamido Pedulu 64), Marcus Bowers (Lewis Hewitt 64), Scott Kemp. Subs not used: James Askew.

Referee: Thomas Hancock.