Laurel Park Tornadoes 5 Ashridge Park 2
Ashridge Scorers: Jack Clayton (18'), Dan Baker (29')
Star Player: Will Marten
An early start at Laurel Park this morning as we faced these opponents for the second weekend running. Even at 9am, the heat was notable, and grew steadily more intense as the game wore on, and the long grass also proved to be an energy sapper; far from ideal for our high-intensity attacking game. Alex and Tim had recovered from injury and illness to return to the team, though we were without Jamie from last week's triumphant line-up.
The game began with both teams eager to attack the other, and for the first fifteen minutes the game was end-to-end. Dan was in the thick of things from the off, though the home crowd (including some of the coaching staff) took badly to his controlled aggression and started to niggle at him from the sidelines - really quite unnecessary and unwanted from grown adults watching an U14 game, especially as no foul of any kind was being committed (ask the referee..) let alone anything dangerous. Despite some promising build up, neither side produced any chances of note until the home team struck out of the blue some ten minutes in. A corner was cleared by the visitors to some five yards outside the box, from where a long range strike found the right trajectory to dip just under the crossbar, leaving Joe with no chance at all. Ashridge responded well to this setback and pushed forward, with Reg dropping deeper to pick off possession from an unsuspecting midfield, and supplying the central pairing of Marcus and Will, who in turn played some penetrating passes forward to a re-vitalised Jack and the ever-willing runs of Dan.
After James Riley took a knock to the knee, the vistors were forced to re-organise with Marcus dropping into central defence and Antonio coming on to replace him in the middle. Both did really well, with Marcus covering decisively and using the ball well; whilst Antonio showed some nice flashes of skill and began to link really well with the forward line. Ashridge levelled soon after as Antonio worked the ball into Reg on half-way, and Reg released Jack in the right channel; Jack showed good strength and speed to advance to the edge of the box before firing a well-placed shot past the keeper into the opposite corner. Buoyed by this Ashridge remained on top for the remainder of the half, and got their noses in front just prior to the half-hour, as Dan charged down a clearance, and after having his first shot saved, lashed the rebound into the net. Laurel Park created a couple of half-chances breaking through on the left edge of the box, but both shots went wide. Ashridge then went within a whisker of extending the lead when Dan's inswinging corner was met with a glancing header from Reg which rebounded from the inside of the post before being cleared behind again. From the resulting corner a melay ensued, with the ball breaking back to Reg, who fired over the bar from just outside the six-yard box. A third goal also looked on the cards just prior to the break as Antonio resisted some shirt tugging to find Reg, who turned two Laurel Park defenders with a smart drag-back, only to be denied a clear run on goal as the referee had awarded a free-kick for the foul on Antonio. Half-time arrived with Ashridge leading 2-1, and perhaps unfortunate not to be further ahead.
Fortunes were to turn rapidly in the second half. Within two minutes Laurel Park were level with a massive slice of luck: James Riley (back at the heart of our defence) was dispossessed on our right as he ran the ball out of defence, leaving an overload on the Laurel Park left, the striker attempted a cross to the back post which spooned up off the outside of his boot high over Joe's head and into the opposite corner - there was so much spin on the ball from the slice that it didn't even reach the netting, leaving some of the spectators confused as to what had happened. Ashridge were already beginning to tire, and the midfield line was becoming ragged, meaning that the player in possession was having to attempt more ambitious forward passes, with the result that the ball just came straight back at us. The admirable Reg was still full of running, but was now frequently outnumbered as his forward colleagues were some distance away; and whilst he frequently got past one or two opponents, there was always another waiting to dispossess him. Will also remained notable for his efforts to get up and down the pitch whilst a number of his team mates found only the energy for forward runs but were unable to find similar energy to recover their position. Laurel Park pressure built, and soon led to two more goals as Ashridge's inability to defend corners re-surfaced; the first a solid header at the near-post, the second a glancing effort into the same corner of the net. In between, Reg had a fantastic opportunity to level as he broke onto a long ball, but his strike thundered back off the crossbar with the keeper beaten. By the end, Ashridge were out on their feet; Will had to come off with exhaustion, whilst the back three were pretty much left to cope on their own with a succession of counter-attacks. A fifth goal duly arrived some five minutes from time, probably the pick of the bunch as the ball was played into feet on the right side of the box; a smart turrn past the last defender and an excellent strike across Joe into the opposite corner.
So a second fairly comprehensive defeat in a few days, and a significant turn-around from the narrow victory against the same opponents last week. Clearly fitness was something of an issue here, with Jamie greatly missed and Alex not at full-throttle; whilst the rest of the team did not last the pace as well as our opponents in the conditions. High-energy players like Dan will often find it hard to maintain their pace; but the team as a whole need to learn to strike a better balance between attack and defence and conserve energy by letting the ball do the work more often. A few players can take credit from good first-half showings, especially Marcus and Jack (who was much-improved up-front today in his second game back after a lengthy absence). Two players managed to keep going for almost the whole game: Reg was energetic and dangerous throughout, and was most unlucky to be twice denied by the woodwork; whilst today's star player recognition goes to Will for the sheer effort he put in, before finally having to come off ten minutes from the end, bright red in the face and absolutely exhausted.