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Dartford 5 Ashford Town (Middx) 4
An amazing comeback victory saw Dartford reach their second cup final of the season after a last gasp 5-4 London & South East Regional League Cup semi final win over Ashford Town (Middlesex).
Trailing 0-2, 1-3 then 2-4 with half an hour left, Dartford somehow managed to find the three goals needed to win without needing extra time. Both teams created a host of chances throughout, which made for a thrilling match and a great advert for the league.
Ashley Cheatley made an immediate impact for the visitors, racing clear to score the first before setting the second for Jade Johnson inside the first quarter of an hour. Dartford recovered from this double setback quickly, halving the arrears on 17 minutes when Rachel Stevens drove the ball home from 12 yards after good work down the left led to a low cross.
The pace rarely dropped in breezy conditions, with chances at both ends. It was an Alissa Down corner which restored Ashford's two goal cushion, an inswinging effort deflected in off a defender on 37 minutes.
Dartford had the second half breeze in their favour and started well with a fine solo goal from Caitlin Hurst, picking her way through the Ashford defence before placing a low shot past keeper Gracie Perkins, who had replaced Lauren Restel at the break.
Ashford were always lively in attack and Lavana Neufville did well to beat the defence on 53 minutes to tee up Cheatley for her second low finish of the day. This simply spurred the home team to greater efforts with the backing of their vocal supporters. A corner was met with a powerful Verity Snow-Burgess header on the hour to give the hosts hope. Within a minute, Emily Read, who otherwise had a fine match, shot wide of an unprotected goal after beating the keeper as Dartford poured on the pressure.
Perkins saved well from Stevens, Shauni Griffiths hit the bar with a fine header and Read was just wide with a far post volley as Dartford dominated but could not find the net. Finally, it was Griffiths who equalised on 86 minutes, timing her run perfectly to meet a free kick with a glancing header.
Ashford found a second wind with their lead now whittled away and home keeper Jade Charlton had to be alert to deny Cheatley her hat-trick and late pressure ending with a snap shot over the bar.
Just when it seemed that extra time was inevitable, the home side found a winning goal. A cross from the left led to an almighty scramble in the six yard box and Hurst's foot managed to get the last touch as the ball bobbled around.
The final whistle led to lengthy Dartford celebrations as an LSERL Cup final appearance was added to the Kent FA Cup Final already booked against Aylesford on March 26th. Ashford had contributed hugely to a cup classic in their first season at this level but it was the Darts who made 'double top'.
Dartford: Jade Charlton, Rebekah Burnham, Verity Snow-Burgess, Jamie-Lee Cartwright, Shauni Griffiths, Emily Read, Elizabeth Adams, Alicia Gibbs, Laura Susarta, Rachel Stevens, Caitlin Hurst. Subs: Sarah White, Michaela Hill.
Ashford Town (Middx): Lauren Restel, Nadia Peters, Lucy Potter, Holly Symons, Ashleigh Harte, Charlotte Baker, Lavana Neufville, Jade Johnson, Alissa Down, Charmaine Benham, Ashley Cheatley. Subs: Hannah Pearson, Rozalia Sitarz, Vicky James, Chloe Farrell, Gracie Perkins.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Rozalia Sitarz up against Dartford duo Lauren Restel and Shauni Griffiths
(middle) Jamie-Lee Cartwright challenges Ashley Cheatley
(bottom) Jade Johnson tries to hold off Rachel Stevens
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