FAWNL Division One South East Sun 14 April Sussex Transport Community Stadium
Ashford Town

Emma Blakely was fully fit again and Becs Bell also earned a recall, with Izzy Glass-Oliver and Katie Cooper taking their places amongst the substitutes, which also included Ellie Keegan.

Ashford had the first sight of goal as early as the second minute, when Anya Kinnane intercepted a Rachel Palmer throw-in and found Ashley Cheatley. The Ash Trees’ top scorer escaped the clutches of Blakely and broke clear before Remmi Gardner took over, only for her to be denied by goalkeeper Lauren Dolbear at the near post.

However, it was the hosts who landed the first blow thanks to a set-piece, conceded by Kinnane, despite her protestations to the contrary that Tibble fired into the net from just outside the top right-hand corner of the penalty area, via the crossbar and custodian Sophie Shults.

Not that the lead lasted for very long, as the visitors hit back less than ten minutes later.

Gardner, released by Ellie Luscombe, was (eventually) denied by Dolbear but her parry fell kindly for Cheatley, on the penalty spot, to knock home a leveller.

An open game continued courtesy of Dani Rowe’s inviting set-piece, curling beautifully towards the far upright and Shannon Albuery arriving on the end of it; coming within millimetres of connecting and regaining the Reds’ earlier advantage.

Midway through the opening half, Captain Rachel Palmer almost effected the same; Kinnane connecting and very nearly heading in at the wrong end. Both the centre-half and Shults breathing a sigh of relief, after seeing RP’s long-range delivery nodded marginally the wrong side of the goalies’ front stick.

Those missed opportunities came back to haunt the home team a few minutes further in, after more dead ball accuracy via the boot of Alissa Down. The Skipper’s delivery, tight to the left-hand touchline, saw Cheatley emerge from a sea of bodies having headed the guests in front.

Vice Captain Aimee Durn threatened to get in on the act moments later, nipping ahead of Sophie Humphrey in the middle of the park then surging towards the target. She supplied Nicole Leys for a final flourish that could have been worse than the comfortable low hold for Dolbear that it ultimately was.

Showing admirable battling qualities as usual – and with the half-time interval looming ever larger – Katie Young played a delightful, very long pass for Albuery to beat the offside trap, hold off Down and lob over the stranded Shults for a quite brilliant equaliser.

Although, it was the travelling team from Middlesex who made the quicker start to the second period. Catching their hosts cold, some fine approach work concluded via Luscombe teeing up Gardner to bury in the top corner to notch her maiden strike in Ashford colours.

It might have been three-one, only for Dolbear to watch Down’s free-kick all the way, as it bent around the defensive wall and divert it to safety.

Around the hour mark,Tibble’s industry and skill enabled her to play a slide rule pass along the right; leading eventually to Quayle getting the better of Giuseppina Carnivale and swivelling to dig out a delivery that Kylin Hays nicked off the toes of Bell.

Quayle soon left Down behind but couldn’t find the finish and Carnevale thought Christmas had come early, though failed to punish Dolbear’s errant clearance.

Having ridden out that particular storm, Town looked for all the world like they were about to make the homesters task that much harder. Gardner sent Carnevale scurrying down the right and the recently introduced Hannah Duncan first-time volleyed over, on the run, six yards out.

To make matters almost worse, Albuery hit the woodwork via a vicious attempt which smacked against the crossbar, within a matter of seconds. Shults’ efforts equally worthy of a mention; the lilac-clad ‘keeper getting a vital touch to ensure her side held onto their slender advantage.

There was no doubt Ashford’s numero uno got hands to Worthing’s next goal bound rocket too.

Seven precious minutes remained on the clock when Tibble faced an identical situation, in relation to the set-piece special that had opened the scoring after a mere five earlier in the day.

Kinnane brought down Humphrey not far outside the penalty area and up stepped the same player to match her achievement from earlier in the day; curling the ball up and over the wall and, in spite of Shults getting both hands to it, the netminder proved powerless to prevent Tibble’s excellent execution bringing the teams back to level-pegging.

Time was almost up, though not without one last link up between Humphrey and Tibble seeing the former make headway along the right flank, allowing the latter to turn and shoot.

Only for a blue and white striped shirt to get in the way and bravely block to ensure the points would be shared. Meaning, third place is now the lowest we can end our debut season in the National League.