Ashridge Park 2 Spencers Wood Hurricanes 1
Ashridge Scorer: Reg Ryan (13', 64')
Star Player: Joe Savory
The crazy season of weather continued as we arrived at St Crispins in zero degree temperatures in what is now supposed to be Spring, with a bitter wind howling across the pitches and making it feel several degrees colder. The pitch, fortunately, was in quite decent shape, so we were able to notch up our third game of the term. Today's visitors, Spencers Wood Hurricanes were lying second in the table, but having played quite a few more games than the teams around us - we found ourselves eight points behind them in fifth place at the start of the day, with five games in hand. Availability was a major issue, however, with Marcus, Will and Antonio all missing from central midfield, and Jack and Mason from the forward line; so for the first time in many seasons we found ourselves taking to the field a man short.
As play got undeway, the snow began to fall, steadily at first, but then more heavily, and for the first 45 minutes of the game, the wind driving it across the pitch made conditions fairly unpleasant for players and spectators alike. An indication of the challenge ahead came in the first minute as Alex tried to loft the ball down the left flank for Bertie to chase, only to find it hold up in the wind and drift back over his head, forcing Tim to have to step in and clear hurriedly. The game remained quite even, with the Ashridge defence snuffing out most of the visitors' moves around the penalty area, and Joe commanding his area and claiming any balls played in behind with some assured handling. Moving forward, Dan and Jamie started to establish a measure of control in the centre of midfield, and with Reg always lively ahead of them and Bertie finding some good spaces, there was a hint of threat from the home team; however the Spencers Wood no 3 was a solid presence who generally managed to clear the danger. Corners at either end seemed the most likely source of a goal initially, but both defences did well and closed down any shooting chances before clearing their lines.
The breakthrough came just prior to the quarter hour from the home team. A period of good territorial advantage got its reward as play was built up on the left with Dan, Bertie and Alex, before the latter squared the ball to Reg in the centre just outside the penalty area; Reg quickly worked the ball on to his favoured right foot, before launching an accurate strike which beat the keeper's finger-tip parry and found the top right hand corner. Ashridge consolidated the lead, with the pattern of play as before, and few chances of note arising at either end, though as the snow got heavier more mistakes were in evidence, and one or two challenges were slightly mistimed on either side - James Roberts emerging with a nasty gash on his leg following the worst of them. Spencers Wood had a decent five-minute spell just before half-time, working some half-chances; James Riley getting a timely challenge in on the no 9 at the expense of a corner after he got free on the left of the box; before Joe was quickly out to clear following another break by the same player. The midfield and defence continued to close down well on the edge of the box, and half-time arrived with the 1-0 lead intact.
The second half began with the visitors pushing forward in search of an equalizer, with Ashridge continuing to look solid. James Roberts was the epitomy of the effort the defence was putting in, coming out of numerous tackles with the ball, and surging out to take on the tricky left-flanker when danger threatened. Tim was equally obdurate on the other flank, and James Riley as usual was always on hand to clear up should either be by-passed. The midfield four of Dillon, Dan, Jamie and Alex were also providing great cover, but despite some neat interplay from all four, the out-balls were proving harder to find as the extra man started to tell for the visitors. Sure enough, they were to level some ten minutes into the half, as the left flanker got in behind James Roberts and then also managed to slip James Riley's challenge, and his cross broke off the defensive cover to a spare man in the centre who side-footed home for the equalizer.
Following on from last week's turnaround against Westwood, there was now a real danger that this game would follow the same pattern, especially as the Spencers Wood centre back was now taking the opportunity offered by their man advantage to advance further up the pitch. A couple of decent chances did fall to the visitors' striker as gaps started to open up behind the Ashridge central midfield, however with Joe closing down the angle well, both were missed to either side of the goal. Gradually Ashridge began to restore order, and in the latter stages of the game started to push forward themselves; Dan and Jamie at the heart of much of it, especially down the right flank. First Jamie attempted a cross-field pass towards Dan who was in space (but offside) in the left channel, but again the ball held up in the wind, and fell to Reg to the right of centre. The referee correctly ruled that Dan was not active, and allowed play to continue despite the linesman's flag, but Reg's shot was straight at the keeper. With ten minutes left on the clock, Ashridge worked a nice move on the break, starting with Dan and Alex in the centre circle, before the ball was worked to Reg on the left edge of the box; Reg (finding his path to goal blocked) then moved the ball to Bertie in the centre, but just as Bertie was about to pull the trigger, another great block came in from the Spencers Wood defence. Ashridge were not done, however, and with six minutes left the winner arrived. Jamie led a break through the centre, breaking a couple of tackles on his way, before the ball was played forward into Reg's path to the right centre of the box; Reg got to the ball ahead of the advancing keeper, and took it around him to the right before slotting home for 2-1. Spencers Wood could not find a response, and Ashridge kept the ball in the opposition half for much of the remaining time, sealing a really gritty win.
This was a really hard-fought win against the odds, with all ten players putting in a massive effort to secure the points despite being a man down, and having to contend with slightly the worse of what were fairly awful conditions for both teams. A game of few chances, sealed by two very different goals from the ever-reliable Reg, who led the line outstandingly given the additional workload placed on him today. Jamie and Dan were also outstanding in the centre of midfield, putting in a major shift, and still having the reserves left in the last fifteen minutes to push us back onto the attack and secure the win. Dillon, Alex and Bertie all played their part too, judging well when they need to help out defensively and when to go forward, and all showed some good touches on the ball and some neat passing. The back three of James, James and Tim were all impressive, and managed to keep a free-scoring team down to a very few clear-cut chances. Today's star player recognition goes to Joe - on a day when being a keeper would have been a real challenge given the biting cold, he was on his toes throughout, quickly out of his goal to gather any through balls, giving quick and clear calls to his defence to take charge of the situation and handling without fault throughout the game. A real leader's performance from our ever-popular captain!