Ashridge Park 1 Laurel Park Hurricanes 4
Ashridge Scorer: Reg Ryan (55')
Star Player: Jamie Cole
The new season began on a bright September morning at St Crispins with the visit of one of the three Laurel Park teams in our division this year. Somehow we had managed to avoid playing the Hurricanes over the past seasons despite having only been one division apart, so they were something of an unknown quantity for us - though one suspects they will be amongst the stronger teams in the division this year. Ashridge went into the game with some concerns over the centre of midfield - with Antonio having left since last season, and Will unavailable for this game, the news that Marcus was also struggling with a sore foot was something of a blow. The rest of the squad were raring to go fortunately!
From the kick-off the blues were quickly into their stride. Some neat, short passing was in evidence in midfield, and both Jamie and Dan showed some nice touches on the ball to see us threaten down the right flank, and pen Laurel Park back in the early stages. Marcus was unable to run off his soreness, however, and we were forced into an early re-shuffle, with Dan dropping back beside Matty in the centre, Alex picking up the linking role behind the striker and Jack joining the strike-force with Bertie moving to the left. The pattern of the game remained the same as the visitors' clearances were picked off by Matty, Dan and Jamie, and Ashridge returned to the attack without being able to find the killer final ball. Bertie and Alex worked a lovely combination on the left, ending with the former's backheel getting the latter in behind the defence, only for the cross to be cut out and cleared for corner. The golden chance did arrive around the ten minute mark as Reg worked himself some space on the right of the penalty area and put over a teasing ball which Jack got on the end of, but fired over the bar. Shortly afterwards Dan was impeded as he was driving towards the visitors' box, but Jack's free-kick was very slightly miscued and went wide to the left of goal.
Unfortunately, this was about as good as it got for the home side, as the early impetus began to fade. Increasingly, players began to drift out of position as recovery runs became more difficult, and as the boys found themselves under more pressure on the ball and with fewer options, the early snappy, quick passing began to transition to hopeful long balls that were almost always overhit. Laurel Park began to enjoy the bulk of possession and took a particularly strong hold on the centre of midfield. Approaching the half-hour mark, the game turned on a couple of key incidents. First, Ashridge came close to opening the scoring, when Dan's corner was met with a great header by Reg, only to be denied by a superb save from the Hurricanes' keeper, tipping it round the right-hand post. Within moments the visitors led, a slick move ending with a neat through ball to release the striker, who finished smartly to Joe's left. 1-0 became 2-0 at half-time when Ashridge conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box, and a direct strike found the net.
Ashridge re-organised at the break, with Marcus now ok to resume, and joined by Jamie in the centre of midfield whilst Dan took a rest. This restored a bit of equilibrium in the game, though Ashridge began to look vulnerable to attacks down the flanks - the opposition's pacey striker proved adept at latching on to long balls in behind James Roberts and Tim, with James Riley doing well to cover across on numerous occasions, using his strength well to see off the attentions of his opponents. Laurel Park did grab a third when possession was conceded in the centre circle and a couple of well-judged passes left a simple finish into the left-hand corner. They also missed a couple of further breakaway opportunties and tested Joe out with some long-range efforts which he dealt with comfortably. Ashridge reduced the arrears mid-way through the half as a ball in behind the Laurel Park back line allowed Reg to eat up the yards to get past his marker and finish to the keeper's right. Ashridge pushed on again and some of the earlier neat passing returned with Jamie, Dillon, Marcus and Dan all linking up nicely, without being able to find an opening; whilst Dan showed some nice trickery on the right to beat his man and get a dangerous looking cross in. All of this only ended with Laurel Park extending their lead with a devastating solo break from the rangey forward, who out-paced Tim and then James before rounding Joe, then checking back to fire the ball into the top right-hand corner. Reg was to have one more break on goal, but this time fired wide to the left; and Jack also had a decent effort near the end, turning his man on the edge of the box before connecting well, but missing low to the right of goal.
A deserved win for our opponents today, as they were well on top for large periods of the game, and showed a good touch in front of goal. Brief glimpses of quality from Ashridge, but we will need to sustain this over the course of the game in order to get results; there needs to be more quality in the final pass to give our strikers the opportunities to convert as we know they can. Mentions today for James Riley who impressed the opposition coach with his defensive qualities as well as his ability to carry the ball out of defence, for Matty who stuck well to his task in a new position in centre midfield before being forced off with a knock at half-time, and for Dan who looked as likely as anyone to unlock a stubborn defence when playing behind the front two. Star player today was Jamie, who battled throughout, and was always involved in our better moments, showing lovely skills on the ball - we just need to work on that final pass!