ASCOT BEATEN IN COMPETITIVE OPENER

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Fleet strike late to dish out early cup defeat

Ascot United returned from four months of COVID hibernation with a narrow 1-0 defeat against Fleet Town in the Fripp-Smith Trophy on Saturday. Both sides struggled at times, but it was the visitors who edged a tight affair to give them early momentum in the competition.

The competition sees various teams from steps five and six – mostly Combined Counties League sides but with smattering from the Wessex League – compete in a Champions’ League style knockout groups stage leading to a knockout phase in May for the group winners and runners’ up.

Fleet, 7th in the Wessex League compared with Ascot lying 6th in the Combined Counties League at its suspension in December, enjoyed most of the earlier possession. But, with no supporters allowed access to the ground under FA guidelines, the Racecourse had an added air of serenity about it in the opening quarter as neither side threatened their opposition ‘keepers.

Of most note was home captain Louis Bouwers hobbling off in the twelfth minute, joining Josh Masters on the early injury list after he had pulled up even before kick-off forcing a late change to the team sheet.

When the game did warm up, it quickly threatened to boil over as both sides traded tasty challenges – with Ascot’s Ian Davies, Aiden Higgs and James Richardson all involved as protagonists and recipients.

In the best move of the half Richardson would sting Ryan Bone’s palms from a tight angle after Harry Laflin had lofted over the defence – Ed Jabbari subsequently dragging wide after Ben Hodges had recycled the ball – whereas Fleet’s best effort was a lame Matty Pearse effort four minutes before the break although Sam Gray still needed to get down to smother what could and probably should have been the opener.

The second was an uninspiring spectacle. Gray got down well to Jack Howard’s free kick in the 59th minute before Khalid Babikir’s brilliant block denied a well placed Laflin at the other end who looked well set to score.

But it always looked as if a solitary goal would win it and so it proved when Dan Bone found space on the right, cut back onto his left, and curled a precise shot across Gray and into the top left hand corner.

There was still time for Bone to deny Richardson late-on, but The Yellamen drew blank and will look to Tuesday’s home league cup tie with Badshot Lea to bounce back.

Ascot United: Gray, Andrady (Lock 67’), Haworth, Evans, Bouwers (Jabbari 12’), D. Bailey, Richardson, Hodges, Davies, Laflin, Higgs (Berry 67’). Sub unused: Morgan

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