RETFORD United welcomed back three first team players on Saturday, but their presence wasn’t enough to stave off defeat.
Dan White, Niall O’Brien and Paul Shaw came back into the line-up for the visit of Ashton United, who went home with all three points after a 2-1 win over Retford.
It was a bright start for Retford, on a sticky pitch that had caused concern earlier in the day after an overnight frost, but the match referee had given the game the go-ahead after an early inspection.
Matt Caudwell sent in an early cross, Michael Blythen rose with the keeper, but it was well held by the Ashton stopper.
Ashton made their first trip into the Retford half, the ball crossed low by Matty O’Neill, Ryan Hindley tracking back to clear the ball.
Blythen was then fouled on the Retford right, a free-kick was floated in by Hindley, but a strong header by O’Neill cleared the danger for Ashton, and it was the midfielder who went closest at the opposite end when his header from a corner floated just wide of the post.
A long throw by O’Brien was cleared setting Ashton on a run forward; Nicky Ellis did well with a strong challenge to clear the danger for his side.
Ashton were having efforts on the Retford goal, Ben Smith’s shot just wide of the upright, but Retford then took the game by the scruff of the neck, Paul Shaw making a run down the United right, his ball forward was only a fraction too far for Blythen to pick up as the defence cleared.
The Shaw–Blythen partnership then combined to carve out another chance, this time Shaw’s effort was cleared by Danny Caldecott, and Shaw was close again shortly after, O’Briens throw was flicked on by Dan White, Shaw unable to beat the keeper to the loose ball.
Retford continued to attack, Blythen chased down the keeper who could only clear to the feet of O’Brien, his effort from distance with the Keeper off his line was off target. United then won two corners, the first taken by Hindley from the left was caught in the air by Terry Smith, then the second led to United’s goal.
Hindley sent in the ball, this time from the Retford right, Smith rose to collect but the ball went through his hands and fell for ex-Ashton player White to smash home from close range, scoring Retford’s first goal in three games in the 36th minute.
Retford then had the bit between their teeth to hold on to the precious lead, playing the ball with more purpose.
Caudwell set off on an attack, playing the ball for Blythen whose cross was too close to Smith, the keeper snatching the ball from the air before Shaw could get to it.
For the first time this season, Retford went in at the break in front, and there was a buzz of optimism around the ground with their destiny in their own hands for the second 45 minutes.
Ashton came out looking for an early goal, Ryan Crowther put his effort over the bar when he could have done better, but the scores were level on 55 minutes, a low freekick by Aaron Burns from the edge of the box squirmed through the hands of Luke Herriott and into the corner of the net.
Retford looked to regain their advantage, a free-kick from Hindley finding Blythen, his shot lacking power and rolling into the arms of Smith.
The game then turned in the 60th minute, the ball sent into the box from the right with Burns in place to stab home his second of the afternoon, despite Retford’s protests that the player was offside, the goal stood and Ashton then took the lead.
O’Neill saw yellow after a foul on Hindley after the midfielder made a run, the subsequent free kick cleared by the Ashton defence.
The ball was played in by Retford, Smith rose to collect, but once again let the ball through his hands eventually falling to Shaw, his shot pinballed in the area, eventually O’Brien had the final effort, but his shot lacked pace and was easily collected by Smith as he tried to atone for his error.
Retford were unlucky to concede a free-kick after Blythen went in for a challenge against Smith, the referee giving the protection to the keeper and awarding Ashton a free kick in their own box, then Blythen once again chased down Smith who was forced into an error giving the United Striker the chance to cross, Hindley’s effort couldn’t get through the crowded box as it was hooked clear.
As time ticked down, Under 19 Striker Theo Ganderson was introduced to the fray, his pace almost catching out Alex Frost, but the ball was ushered out by Smith in the Ashton goal.
It was disappointing for the hosts not to earn something from the game, as they still look for their first home victory of the season.
Next Saturday, Retford travel to Mickleover Sports (3pm), then welcome Eastwood Town in the Notts Senior Cup at Cannon Park on Tuesday 1st February (7.45pm).