WITHAM Town manager Mark Ashford said he was proud of his players' performance at Aveley at the end of a tough week when very little went right for his side.

A difficult few days led up to Witham's trip as a departure on his coaching staff, injuries to players and losing a member of his starting line-up a couple of hours before the game all made for a tough run up to the fixture.

In the end, though, Witham acquitted themselves well against one of Bostik League division north's key promotion hopefuls.

They took an early lead through a Johnny Ashman penalty and only a second-half comeback from the hosts, with two last-gasp goals, earned Aveley a 3-1 victory.

Ashford said: "It was a difficult week.

"We had had the defeat by Soham and I then had to go away on business but no sooner had I stepped off the plane than I found out that my assistant manager (John Sussex) had left to become the Basildon manager. "You can't stand in someone's way when something like that comes up but it came out of the blue for me.

"I know he was working there as number three at the start of the season so he had ties with the club and I thought it made it a possibility that they may be interested in him but it was tough having to deal with that from abroad.

"We then had several players with injuries or illness and that impacted our preparations for a tough game at Aveley, but we then had the news that Alfie Cerulli had joined Braintree.

"Alfie had been due to start at Aveley and I was on my way to the game on Friday night when I found out.

"Fair play to (Braintree Town manager) Danny Searle as he has since been in touch to apologise as there was a breakdown in communication.

"At the time, though, I was only alerted to it through what I'd seen on social media and that was the first I'd heard about it.

"I was fuming.

"It couldn't have been worse timing; Aveley is a tough place to go at the best of times, but we had a weakened team through injuries and then losing another one meant having to change things around at the last minute."

As it was though, Ashford was pleased with how his players rose to the challenge against an Aveley side sat fourth in the Bostik League division north table.

He added: "We set up to have a defensive block and to play on the counter-attack, stopping Aveley playing the way they wanted to and exploiting space ourselves.

"Despite everything that had gone on, we started very well and probably deserved the lead we had at half-time.

"We felt there was something for us in the game, but Aveley stepped up in the second half.

"It's difficult mentally and physically to play that defensive block and it gradually started to unwind as we tired.

"They got the equaliser and then got ahead late on, but just before they got their second goal we'd hit the post when the keeper made a good save from Johnny Ashman. "Maybe it is had been us going ahead we would have gone on to win it but those are the things that go against you when you're down there.

"The substitutes that Aveley were able to bring on made a difference and their third was a top class free-kick.

"It was a difficult game, but our players put in a really good performance and that was one thing we could take away from a tough week. "We had come so close and we kept our track record going of playing well against top sides."

Another positive to come out of the trip to Aveley was seeing youngster Fergal Looney making a senior Witham debut.

Ashford added: "Fergal was able to come on and make his debut and that was a real positive.

"I have been really impressed by him.

"He has all the attributes and is someone who is eager to learn so he will be training with us now.

"It also shows once again that the club want to bring these young players through and I'm very happy for him."