If anyone now thinks that Cambridge City will be in for an easy ride in the East Division of the Evostik South League, they can now think again as Ashford Town arrived at Westwood Road and went home with the points as the Lilywhites suffered defeat on the opening day of the season.
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Manager Robbie Nightingale handed starts to all of the new arrivals from his closed season recruitment. So Niall Conroy was in goal with Ian Miller and Mark Coulson in defence whilst Ryan Towner was in midfield with Tom Knowles out wide and Lewis Wilson and Michael King up front.
Ashford arrived after finishing 10th last season and prolific goalscorer Mark Bitmead captained the side.
City got off to the perfect start inside two minutes when good play from Knowles played in Wilson who capitalised from some sloppy Ashford defending to light the touch paper on the Lilywhites season.
If anything, City looked like extending their lead as the visitors were struggling to contain the pace of both Knowles on the left and Salim Relizani on the right.
However, despite the early domination from the home side there were already signs that Ashford were not going to be any pushovers. First, Daniel Fleming should have done better with a header when a cross picked him out at the back post. Then, Conroy produced a fine save with his feet to deny BItmead.
The match continued to open up as the first half progressed and it was Knowles again who outgunned the Ashford defence, but he couldnt quite pick out Relizani when well placed.
After Wilson had a close range effort saved by Jake Tyler in the visitors goal, Ian Miller was harshly penalised as the visitors advanced once more. From the resulting free kick, Conroy had to tip the ball round the post.
Five minutes after the break, and Ashford were back in the contest. A ball was played in which should have been dealt with by the home defence, but instead of it being cleared it fell invitingly for James Cottee to fire past Conroy.
With City now rocking, Ashford sensed they could get in front and duly did when a loose ball wasnt dealt with and it fell to Jack Beadle whose effort went away from Conroy and into the bottom corner.
Robbie Nightingale shuffled the pack and made a double substitution by introducing Ryan Sharman and Harry Norman at the expense of Michael King and Salim Relizani.
Sharman went close when he had an effort that went wide of the post, and then the same player had a header that was tipped over the bar by Tyler.
Nightingale replaced Ollie Snaith with Josh Lowe in what his last throw of the dice as City pressed for an equaliser and it was Lowe who should have done better when he failed to connect with a header.
With 7 minutes of injury time added on, City almost made it count when Jordan Gent forced a fine save from Tyler, and then there was still time for Miller to head an effort against the bar, but Ashford had done enough to record an opening day victory.
FROM ROBBIE NIGHTINGALE
I dont know where the majority of that performance came from. After about 20 minutes, we took our foot off the gas and were very subdued for the rest of the game. We havent played at a high tempo, and havent moved the ball quick enough. It looked like they wanted it more and it is a big eye opener for us. Credit to them, they have some good players in their team and if you give any team regardless of who they are, time and space to open you up, they will. Whats disappointing is that for certain periods during the game we havent turned up and thats not acceptable.
Tom Knowles did well for us in the first 20 minutes and was giving their full back a rough ride, but he wasnt getting enough of the ball in the second half, but that was the case for many of our forward options and we were restricted from making any clear cut openings.
We rallied towards the end, and you can argue that we were unfortunate not to make one of the opportunities count, but its disappointing. However, we will go again on Tuesday. They got a good point against Hayes today, so I expect another tough opponent.