Losing this month to four promotion-chasing teams exposed the gap between Sittingbourne and the top clubs in the league – albeit just a small one in three of those four games.
But losing to second-bottom Ashford United with a below-par Boxing Day performance was altogether more disappointing and more of a setback.
How Sittingbourne have slumped from second in the table to tenth in less than a couple of months remains a mystery, but they’ve certainly lost their way somewhere.
During that impressive 11-game unbeaten run earlier in the season they brushed aside Ashford on this ground in the FA Trophy while barely pausing for breath.
Clearly Ashford have strengthened their squad since then in a bid to avoid relegation, but they were still there for the taking in this match.
The game might have hinged on a couple of penalty decisions, one given but one not, but Ashford snatched goals at crucial times and eventually comfortably defended their lead.
Sittingbourne kept faith with the team that came so close to holding leaders Lewes on Saturday but a fair-sized crowd witnessed a pretty low-key first half.
Sittingbourne created chances but Miles Cornwell and Kane Phillip shot too high, and though Cornwell found himself a good place to get a shot on goal after an excellent build-up, his finish wasn’t strong enough.
Top scorer Kane Rowland, who sometimes seems wasted in playing out wide or coming in from deep, did break into the Ashford penalty area in the 32nd minute and had his ankles tapped. But he clearly hasn’t been watching enough Premier League action on TV as he resisted the urge to tumble to the ground and tried to keep going. Falling down would certainly have given the referee a decision to make.
Ashford took the lead six minutes later. McLennan played a neat ball behind the central defensive pair and Barnwell hit an excellent left-foot shot from an angle past Harry Brooks and in off the far post.
Up till then, with Ben Davisson pulling the strings in midfield against his old club, Sittingbourne had looked the far more likely side to score, even though the game lacked any of the intensity often associated with a holiday derby.
Sittingbourne did some re-thinking at half-time and changed their formation around and had obviously been ‘requested’ to take the game to Ashford much more.
They dominated early on in the second half and equalised on 52 minutes, though it had nothing to do with any extra-energy attacks. Chris Webber advanced from right-back and just when you were thinking, saying to yourself even, ‘Don’t Shoot’, he let fly from 30 yards with a tremendous shot that flew into the top far corner for his first competitive goal for the club.
This seemed like the springboard to success, but far from it.
Sittingbourne didn’t touch the ball again from the restart before Dalhouse bustled his way to the edge of the penalty area and drew a tackle from Bola Dawodu that saw him crashing to the ground. Up he got and Brooks went the wrong way for his resulting penalty.
Four minutes on and Ashford clinched it when Sal Kisitu was adjudged to have fouled out on the wing and McLennan hit a great free-kick over everyone and straight in at the far corner. Some great goals in a game that hardly befitted them.
Sittingbourne pressed for the rest of the half but didn’t take any of their chances, Dawodu having a header well saved and Rowland blasting wide when he should really have squared the ball across to teammates.
A disappointing performance and an even more disappointing result for Sittingbourne – perhaps they weren’t as good as their 11-match unbeaten run seemed to show previously, but then they’re not as bad as their current five-match losing run seems to indicate.
Ken Medwyn's Photographs
39 mins, Shomari Barnwell Ashford Utd,
53 mins, Chris Webber Sittingbourne,
55 mins, Andrew Dalhouse, Ashford Utd
58 mins, George Mclennan, Ashford Utd
Referee: Graeme Ions
Assistants: David Joseph, Joseph Dann-Pye
Chris Webber (Yellow card),
Jidi Okimeji (Tyrone Guthrie, 61 min),
Ben Gorham (Yellow card),
Kane Phillip (David Smith, 61 min),
Subs not used: Laurence Ball, Chris Elliott, Jordan Carey.
Joe Bingham (Rhodell Gordon, 5 min),
Andrew Dalhouse (Ira Jackson, 76 min),
Shamari Barnwell (James Fitchett, 89 min),
Subs not used: Matt Day, Brandon Williams.
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