STBG FC Rangers 1 Ashridge Park 6
Ashridge Scorers: Reg Ryan (20',40',41'), Marcus Coppen (29'), Bertie Wilson (60'), Jamie Cole (63')
Star Player: Marcus Coppen
This morning we returned to the Sandhurst Memorial Ground, which has been a happy hunting ground for the team in recent seasons, for a game against the bottom side in the division. Despite the overnight rain, the pitch was in decent nick (somewhat surprisingly for a notoriously soggy venue), and was also notable for being one of the bigger playing areas we have encountered, with the width in particular looking inviting for the likes of Dan, Jamie, Bertie and Alex to exploit. With Antonio and Jack still ruled out, and Mason and Dillon also unavailable, we had a bare but strong eleven on show, so the coach was able to sit back and enjoy the game without having to worry about any tactical substitutions!
Ashridge began confidently, with Will and Marcus winning the initial skirmishes in central midfield and Dan and Jamie both making some initial in-roads on the right flank. After a couple of minutes camped around the Sandhurst box, Ashridge were very nearly hit with a sucker punch, as the keeper collected a misplaced cross and launched the ball downfield; the back three were caught out by the bounce and the Sandhurst forward outpaced James Riley before shooting from the left channel around the edge of the penalty area. Joe pulled off a tidy save, but the ball fell straight to the other striker who failed to keep his shot down and struck the crossbar with the goal gaping; Ashridge then nearly fluffed the clearance, the ball squirming across goal before Tim won a key tackle to come away with the ball. This was to prove the only real moment of danger for the visitors in the first half, as thereafter the two Jameses and Tim won the ball back high up the field each time Sandhurst tried to clear, and Joe was only occasionally called upon to come and collect a long ball from the central areas. Chances were soon flowing at the other end; on five minutes a cross from Dan on the right found Bertie at the back post, but the angle was too tight and the shot cannoned off the outside of the post and behind for a goal kick. Will then put Reg through on goal, but Reg's shot was straight at the keeper; then within five minutes a carbon copy set up by Marcus saw Reg pull the ball wide of the left post. A succession of corners saw Ashridge threaten, and Will had a shot well tipped over the angle of post and crossbar by the Sandhurst keeper. The measure of Ashridge territoral domination was demonstrated by the next two efforts coming in from members of our back three: first James Riley picked off a pass in the centre circle before striding through a couple of challenges and firing a shot narrowly off-target to the right; then Will teed up James Roberts following a corner, and James's shot this time screwed away just to the left of the goal.
The breakthrough seemed inevitable, and it duly arrived on the 20 minute mark. This move, as so many did all morning, came down the right flank, with Jamie supplying Dan, who then got past the last man before squaring to Reg in the box; Reg transferred the ball on to his left foot before applying a neat finish to the keeper's right. Ashridge continued on the front foot, and an expansive move saw the ball spread from right to left with Reg finding Bertie in acres of space, Bertie advanced menacingly on goal but then shanked his shot wide of the near post. Jamie started to unveil some of his trickery on the right flank, drawing some compliments from the home crowd, and one had to feel sorry for the left side of the Sandhurst defence, who were also struggling to deal with Dan's pace and strength. Marcus was also enjoying himself in the central areas, gliding past opponents at will, and it was he who was to extend Ashridge's lead just prior to the half-hour mark, picking off a clearance from a corner on the edge of the box, working his way past the defensive cover before lifting the ball past the keeper and into the right side of the net. 2-0 at the break; scant reward for some excellent play in a very one-sided half.
The seond period continued as the first left off, with Ashridge firmly in control of possession and territory. This time however, they were quick to make the dominance count, striking twice in quick succession five minutes in; both goals coming as the ball was turned over just inside the Ashridge half and both set up by passes from Dan to Reg. The first saw a beautifully shaped ball played in behind the retreating Sandhurst defenders into Reg's path, and this was followed by a well-placed finish just inside the left post. The second saw Dan head the ball over the back line, and Reg this time advanced centrally before placing high past the keeper to the right side of the goal. 4-0, and a better reflection of the balance of play established. Further chances came and went; the most notable when Alex split the defence to find Reg through on goal once more, but this time Reg over-cooked the shot to the left of the goal. Dan and Will both slghtly miscued shots from inside the penalty area which were comfortably saved, before the keeper distinguished himself again, turning a goalbound effort around the right hand post.
Mid-way through the half, the visitors went a little off the boil allowing Sandhurst to have a five or ten minute spell where they had the better of proceedings. The defence held firm, however, with James Roberts showing great strength and composure to deal with the opposition's most skilful player on their left flank, and the midfield working hard to provide cover around the edge of the box as required. Joe comfortably held one long-range free-kick and the defence dealt well with a couple of Sandhurst corners, before the home side grabbed a consolation direct from a free kick just outside the box, conceded with a slightly clumsy barge by Reg who had come back to help out. Ashridge were quick to snuff out any thoughts of a late comeback; the four goal adavantage restored within five minutes as Jamie's corner was half cleared to Alex on the edge of the box, Alex miscued his volley to the left of goal but fortuitously found Bertie on the edge of the six-yard box, and Bertie diverted it over the keeper into the opposite corner. Within three minutes Jamie made it 6-1 after being played in on the right flank; his attempted cross into the six-yard box slicing over the unfortunate keeper into the net. Dan, whose performance thoroughly merited a goal, should have made it seven in the closing minutes as he forged into the area in the right channel, and with the keeper for once totally out of position and leaving the near post wide open, Dan fired his shot straight into his grateful clutches. The last seconds were played out in the Sandhurst half, sealing an emphatic win.
Nice to see the flowing football coming back again as a result of more regular games; it is only to be hoped that the Easter break doesn't see us back to the drawing board once more. Some sympathy for Sandhurst who have not played as often in recent weeks, but the reality is that the scoreline didnt flatter us today and indeed could have been much higher. All eleven played well and enjoyed themselves. The back three played an important part; whilst they will face stiffer challenges, they pressed high up the pitch and all three won their individual battles. Will played his usual part in the middle, sitting in front of the defence, picking off the loose ball and playing some good simple balls to release his team-mates, and he also had a couple of efforts on goal. Jamie and Dan gave the Sandhurst defence a torrid time, and Dan in particular deserves a special mention for the sheer effort he put into the game as well as the ability he showed. Reg may have missed a few today, but his hat-trick takes him up to 24 for the season at an average of very nearly two per game, and his pace and footwork make him a handful for any side at this level. Star player recognition goes to Marcus; it was good to be able to play him back in the central areas, where his balance and control on the ball coupled to good vision and execution of his passes provided us with a real fluency which we have been missing in the last couple of games.