Ashridge Park 4 Sandhurst Town B&G FC Rangers 2
Ashridge Scorer: Reg Ryan (6',19',24',31')
Star Player: Reg Ryan
This morning saw the visit of recently-promoted Sandhurst Town Rangers to St Crispins. Both teams had started the season with a defeat followed by a draw, so both were looking to continue the upward trend and put that first vital win on the board. Following some overnight rain, the grass was holding a fair bit of water meaning that the ball would run heavily initially, but occasionally skid on; but the underlying surface was good and conditions became ideal as the morning wore on. Ashridge were without Marcus today, so the key central midfield area was a potential area of concern once more.
The game started at a good tempo with Dan and Will getting the upper hand for Ashridge in the early central exchanges, and Jamie and Alex making some early territorial gains on the flanks. Behind them, Tim quickly intervened when Sandhurst looked to move the ball on their right, getting in some solid clearances upfield; whilst James Riley imposed himself quickly on any threats through the centre. The early promise turned into a lead on six minutes after Alex and Bertie made progress on the left, and the ball was played forward to Jack centrally in the box; the defender forced him wider to the left, but Jack used his strength well to retrieve possession, before turning inside and squaring across the six-yard box where Reg was on hand to divert the ball past the keeper. Ashridge continued to hold the upper hand for the most part as the defence re-buffed all advances; James Roberts now coming to the fore on the right side winning the aerial ball for the first of many times in the match and linking up well with Jamie, who began to exhibit more of his skilful dribbles and put the Sandhurst defence under pressure. Ashridge won a couple of corners in this spell, with both Alex and Jamie putting excellent deliveries into the box, but the defence was keener in the challenge than the attack, and the danger was cleared.
Ashridge extended the lead just past the mid-point of the half. Jamie picked up possession on half-way and slotted a pass through the right channel, allowing Reg to break on to the ball, accelerate past the defender into the box, before firing a confident shot across the keeper into the left corner for 2-0. Almost immediately, Sandhurst were to strike back as the Ashridge defence were caught a little off-guard for once, and the ball skidded off the surface leaving Tim's touch a little heavy, and allowing the Sandhurst right-flanker to open up the angle before placing a shot across Joe into the left corner. Ashridge responded well, and within four minutes re-established the cushion with a classic Reg Ryan goal; James Riley playing the long ball in behind the defence; and Reg using his pace to break clear and place past the keeper to complete his hat-trick. His, and Ashridge's fourth was not long in coming, this time the ball breaking back after a Sandhurst clearance and finding Reg on the left centre of the box, this time the finish just poked under the keeper into the centre of the goal. 4-1 at half-time.
Ashridge made a couple of changes at half-time bringing Matty and Mason into the game for the first time, and resting the hard-working Dan and Jack. Sandhurst had also received a bit of a stern team-talk at the break and come out with more positive intent. As a result, Ashridge struggled to re-assert themselves on the proceedings, and the game became scrappier, with the home defence still managing well, but unable to find the outlet to take us back into opposition territory for long. Joe began to be called upon to gather long-range efforts, and also had to race from his area to clear into touch when a long-ball to the striker had the defence struggling for pace. At the other end, there were some neat moves with Dillon at their heart; breaking past challenges before finding neat passes to Jamie and Reg, but the end product wasn't quite there, and Sandhurst were able to clear the danger into touch. Mid-way through the half, Sandhurst began to carve out clearer opportunities as Ashridge's defence began to tire; first a break right centre was followed by a decent shot which brought a full-length diving save from Joe, and then the arrears were reduced when a speculative long-range effort caught Joe just a bit too far off his line, and the ball dropped into the left corner of the net for 4-2.
Sandhurst continued to push forward in search of further goals, but Ashridge's defence were in stubborn mood this week, with James Roberts getting his head to everything, and Tim and James Riley continuing to win their respective battles, with good cover in front of them. Ashridge reinforced the midfield with Dan, Alex and Jamie all returning to the action to help restore the balance of possession for the last ten minutes; and there were few genuine alarms - Sandhurst's best opportunity coming when a very rare handling error from Joe saw a long range effort bounce back to the Sanhurst striker, whose effort fortunately missed just to the left of goal. Other than this, the best opportunities came to Ashridge, with Bertie htting a rising effort over the bar from the left edge of the penatly area; Jamie skewing a shot wide to the right when played into space on the right of the box; Will glancing a header just wide of the left upright from Jamie's cross; and finally Reg striking the inside of the post with a lofted ball from the left after his corner had been cleared back to him. No further addition to the score, however; and the long-awaited win secured.
No doubt a relief to get over the line after the late loss of two points in last week's match at Berks County. To be fair to Sandhurst, we were less in control of the second half of this game than we had been in the previous week's match, but we had done enough in the first half to deserve the result, and the boys had taken on-board some of the advice on how to manage the game out. Quite a few call-outs this week: to Jack for bringing some of the work on hold-up play from training this week into the game; to Dan who filled in well in central midfield in the absence of Marcus, to both Jamie and Alex who put in a lot of work in the stretching wing-back role to protect the defence as well as support the attack, to James Roberts who probably headed the ball more times in this game than the rest of the side did last season(!), and (seemingly inevitably) to James Riley for dominating proceedings at the back for us. There can really only be one man-of-the-match decision in this game, however: Reg's four goals settled the match, they were taken efficiently and confidently and backed up his usual effective all-round display up-front.