Laurel Park Hurricanes 8 Ashridge Park 0
Star Player: Bertie Wilson
The season came full circle as we travelled for the third successive Saturday to Lower Earley, this time to face the Division 5 champions, Laurel Park Hurricanes, who were also are opponents on the opening day back in September. The Hurricanes were worthy 4-1 winners that day, so we knew we were in for a tough morning. James Riley returned to the Ashrigde line-up, but we were still without Jamie with his broken arm, and Will also dropped out with illness.
The opening ten minutes were comparatively even. Ashridge weathered a strong start by the home side, before responding with some useful attacking moves of their own, with Reg and Bertie looking particularly lively on the left, with good support arriving from Dan and Marcus in the centre. We were unable to break through a disciplined defence however, and Laurel Park returned to the attack. The first damage came when Marcus conceded a free-kick for a shove on the Ashridge right. The ball was delivered into the area past a static back line (Alex the honorable exception on the back post) to be nodded home just inside the right post from close range. Ashridge were not immediately thrown off their stride, but some five minutes later the Laurel Park no 16 entered the fray and the game changed immediately. Ashridge had no answer to his pace and close control, and the home side began to run riot. The second goal came almost immediately as he retrieved a lost cause of a ball on the right by-line, centred into the box where a combination of a home and visitor head sent the ball goalwards; Jack and Joe got somewhat in each others way, with the latter heading the ball backwards off the post and crossbar into his own net. The third came with a simple break through the middle and good control to round Joe and tap in to the empty net; and the fourth another calamity for the visitors as Joe came to collect an overhit through pass, slipped as the no 16 bore down on him at speed, allowing the ball to go past him, leaving the Laurel Park player to collect it and walk it into the net. In between, Ashridge had two great chances to score: firstly with Reg robbing a defender, taking it round the keeper on the left, but with a narrow angle, he chose to cut it back, but wasnt on the same wavelength as Bertie, allowing the defence to get back to clear; and secondly after some nice build up down that same left flank, the ball was laid back to Alex in the centre, who took a touch before firing a shot just wide of the left post from 25 yards, with the keeper scrambling across to cover.
The pattern of the second half was consistent throughout. Ashridge huffed and puffed, but frequently the player in possession was outnumbered and support was too far from the ball. Laurel Park were content to defend deep and hit quickly on the break, and goals came at regular intervals as they penetrated a high Ashridge line, leaving Joe facing numerous one-on-ones with little hope of success. Even the intervention of the linesman's flag wasn't sufficient as the referee over-ruled on the seventh goal; and the eighth came despite a great save from Joe from the initial shot, as he was beaten to the rebound by an alert forward. Glimpses of goal went begging for Ashridge: Reg created another opportunity with a good cross from the right which struck Mason in front of goal rather than the player getting a proper effort on the ball; Dan fired over after a good run; Jack dwelled slightly on a chance in the box and the block came in, then finally Dan surged through the centre again, got to the ball before the keeper but knocked it just wide - only to find the referee had bizarrely ruled for a foul against him in any case, a decision which mystified the Ashridge crowd.
A disappointing way to end a generally good campaign, which saw us finish fourth behind two Laurel Park teams and Rotherfield - and that feels about right. Congratulations to the home side today for a very proficient performance and they are worthy winners of Division 5, and should give a decent account of themselves at the next level up. A hard call for star player today given the circumstances - Dan, Marcus, the two James's and Reg all showed a good level of fight when some heads were dropping, and Jack also put in a good effort despite the obvious disappointment of putting through his own net. The recognition today goes to Bertie who was lively in the first half, playing the right sort of game for the conditions with some good incisive short passing, and he too kept going to the bitter end.