AN eventful afternoon eventually saw a repeat of last year?s 5-3 league victory over Ash. In contrast to a comfortable victory at Kingsmeadow where Ash netted two late consolations, this was a see-saw encounter where the match was in the balance until the last five minutes.
As far as team news was concerned compared with the previous cup clash, Joe Sheerin returned upfront with Steve Gibson restored at right-back and Lee Sidwell in front of him. Lee Carroll came back in for Matt Martin in goal (it was a league game after all) and, with Gavin Bolger out suffering from a cold, Darren Dobinson underlined his versatility with a start in central midfield.
The excitement to come seemed unlikely in the first-half. Ash?s goal was under almost constant siege from the start. A succession of corners lacked the customary penetration and some valiant rearguard actions from the home side kept the scoresheet blank for 30 minutes. Kevin Cooper rounded the keeper on 20 minutes but only rolled a low shot goalwards and Woodhouse managed to slide the ball clear.
The Dons dominance at this stage was so total both full-backs were involved, Gibson heading a Harvey cross wide after good work by Dobinson.
The breakthrough goal came courtesy of some of the sweetest football seen this season from the boys in yellow and blue, ironically on the break after a rare Ash attack. Dobinson fed Sheerin out wide who slid a low ball into the box for Ryan Gray to sidefoot home and sprint to the corner flag for a celebration almost as stylish as the goal.
Ash had failed to threaten but managed to go in level at the break with an equaliser totally against the run of play. Not having conceded a league goal in his first 582 minutes of playing for the club, one can only assume Lee Carroll decided to end that streak on his own terms as he shanked a clearance into Musgrove?s legs. The surprised Ash man took advantage of what the football cliché gods demand is termed ?an early Christmas present? at this time of year and slotted it gleefully home.
Turning round level was scant reward for such dominance but the second-half saw an increasingly confident home side threaten more in attack. Further corners came and went without incident of note until a long ball set Cooper free on 56 minutes. He rounded the keeper once more and this time his shot just eluded two lunging Ash players and rolled inside the post for 2-1.
Almost immediately Ash hit back. A crude challenge from Gibson gave the referee no option but to award a penalty and Woodhouse calmly beat Carroll for 2-2. Four minutes later, the Dons trailed in a league game for the first time since Merstham on August 20. A Dons corner was cleared and Sidwell was unable to control the ball on the half-way line. Barr-James sprinted clear and beat Carroll at his near-post.
The equaliser came from Michael Harvey. Running through at pace he really should have squared the ball for a simple Sheerin tap-in but, still hungry for his first goal, he hammered the ball home low at the near-post and wheeled away in well-earnt celebration.
With the score still level, Ash sensed a chance to repeat last season?s home win and the nerves among the spectators grew. In contrast to the first-half, every red-and-green attack seemed threatening. A long clearance from Carroll set Cooper free once more but play was called back as the assistant referee flagged to indicate the Dons keeper had carried the ball outside the box. Carroll saved well from the resultant shot.
The Dons took the league once more through Oakins. He let fly from fully 30 yards and a fairly innocuous shot bounced level with the penalty spot. The spin and bounce left the hapless Jez Jukes as bemused as an English batsman facing Muralitharan as the ball looped up and over him into the top corner for 4-3.
Clinton Moore came on for a ten minute debut cameo, replacing Sheerin, but the fifth goal rewarded a combative and creative display from Dobinson. He was upended as he looked to latch onto a Sidwell pass in the box and the referee pointed to the spot for the second time in the afternoon. Cooper made no mistake to give the Dons a much-needed cushion and allay the nerves for the last five minutes.
There was still time for Blason to get his marching orders following an ugly clash with Harvey, the aftermath of which saw both Tony Calvert and Danny Oakins acting as peacemakers. Moore had Jukes well-beaten with a header but saw it rebound off the post.
Following a game not short on excitement, the visiting fans left well-pleased with the afternoon?s entertainment and credit should be given to Ash for their willingness to attack. However, the visiting BAT Sports manager will have left happily for two reasons. First, he had a winning Golden Goal ticket and secondly, he will have known that a similar defensive display on Sunday will see the Dons in grave danger of exiting the Vase.