Hurst Twyford Hurricanes 5 Ashridge Park 2
Ashridge Scorer: Jack Clayton (7', 19')
Star Player: Jack Clayton
We finally returned to action this morning after a 4-week break due to gaps in the fixture schedule and a rain postponement, for a 2nd round tie in the U14 Plate competition. As we squelched our way from the car park to the pitch at Hurst, it became clear that this game was going to be hard work, with the lower end of the sloping pitch already churning up and making keeping good balance and mobility tricky. We went into the game without keeper and captain Joe once more - now out with a broken toe - and with Marcus also missing again due to school commitments. Hurst, who remain in the division above us, also had a significant injury to one of their main strikers; whilst the player who caused us many problems in the central areas on our previous visit in January had moved on to pastures new. Whlst their league form has not been great (no points to date from three games), we were well aware they had beaten our fellow Division 5 outfit Spencers Wood 11-2 in the previous round, so we were expecting a stiff examination.
With the coach's exhortation to start solidly still ringing in their ears (we had gone 2-0 down in the first five minutes on our last visit), the Ashridge boys went about their business well in the early stages, with Will, Dan and Jamie all getting in some solid challenges, and both Reg and Jack making some fine runs down the sides of the Hurst defence. When the home side did push forward, they were met with the usual solid resistance from the two Jameses on the right of our defence, whilst both Matty and Tim were returning the ball with interest whenever it came their way. The bright start got its reward, with Reg breaking at speed around the right side of the Hurst defence, before playing an exquisite pass, shaped aroud the last defender right into Jack's path centrally on the edge of the box; Jack converting neatly into the bottom right hand corner. Hurst responded and enjoyed a good five minute spell of territorial advantage, but were unable to carve out any really clear-cut chances, with Alex only called into action to collect a couple of overhit passes and to catch one long-range effort, which he did without fuss. We had a few promising moments of our own in this period, with Jamie jinking his way past challenges and Jack showing good commitment and some nice hold-up play on the right, but the Hurst defence did well to clear their lines into touch. Just as we looked to be regaining the upper hand, a clumsy challenge ten yards inside our half gave Hurst a free-kick, which led to the equalizer on the quarter-hour mark; the ball being flicked on centrally and finding two strikers in space behind the Ashridge back line having timed their runs well; Alex was left with no chance as the ball was calmly slotted home.
Not down-hearted, Ashridge pushed forward and within four minutes got their noses back in front; another defence splitting pass, this time from Dan on the edge of the centre circle, again finding Jack on a well-timed run in the right channel, and this time he slotted across the keeper into the left hand corner for 2-1. This time Ashridge continued to hold sway, and further goals could have come; Will slotted Jamie in on the right edge of the penalty area, but Jamie snatched slightly at the shot and it rose over the angle of the near post and crossbar; then Jamie turned provider with a fine first-time pass from the right, again splittling the defence and leaving Reg with a shot from just inside the penalty area, which he unfortunately miscued to the right of goal. As half-time approached, Hurst had one final push for a leveller, a long-range strike having Alex scrambling to his right to push the ball around the post, and from the resulting corner, Alex was forced into another save from close range with the ricochet coming off the outside of the post before being seen to safety by James Roberts.
With the slope now against us, and the conditions underfoot getting more tricky, Ashridge needed a solid start to the second half to consolidate the hard-earned advantage. Unfortunately it was not to be, with an equalizer coming within three minutes in slightly fortuitous fashion; a corner was half-cleared, and came to a Hurst player with his back to goal and well-shadowed by the Ashridge defence; he proceeded to loft the ball hopefully over his head, managing to find the exact trajectory to get the ball over Jamie (now replacing Alex in goal) and under the crossbar for 2-2. Hurst continued to press, and Ashridge began to get a little ragged, with Dan getting a bit over-exuberant in the challenge, and James Riley also mis-timing a couple of challenges. Hurst were looking dangerous from set-pieces, and sure enough after Dan had bundled over a Hurst player about 25 yards from goal, the free kick was struck with weight, took a slight deflection off an Ashridge boot inside the box, and nestled in the left side of the net with Jamie more or less unsighted. Ashridge continued to battle hard, but could make very little impression in the second period; Reg stretched the defence a couple of times, but they always had sufficient cover in place, and the home keeper had a pretty quiet half. With some fifteen minutes to go the resut was put beyond doubt, Hurst opened up some space on the right of the box; Tim got across to close down the shot, but the player instead lofted the ball to the back post, where it was knocked back across the six yard box, and turned goalwards, just squirming over the line as Jamie tried desperately to keep it out. With Ashridge tiring, a fifth followed five minutes from time, again from a set-piece as a corner found its way across the box before everntually being bundled over the line in another melay of legs in what was now a mudbath of a penalty box.
No qualms about the result; Hurst had more in the tank than we did, and used their home knowledge well in electing to play up the slope in the first half; as the players tired and the conditions got heavier underfoot, it became increasingly difficult to clear the ball from our own half as time wore on. Full credit to all for the effort put in, and we must take encouragement from the quality of our play in the first half; in particular the increasing willingness to play the ball around in midfield, and the incisive passes that created clear-cut openings against a useful defence. Shout-outs today for Tim, who cleared almost everything that came his way, and was rarely beaten by some lively attackers; for Will who battled manfully to try to get a grip on the centre of midfield when frequently out-numbered; for Reg for what in my book is the pass of the season so far to create our first goal; with nods also to Dan and Jamie for some similarly incisive play. Star player this time goes to Jack, who put in a fine display of centre-forward play, harrying the defender in possession, holding the ball up well, frequently laying the ball off to runners to get in behind the defence, and also finding his way past his marker on occasions when no other options were on. He is beginning also to see the channels into which to run and is timing those runs well; the key factor in his two goals today.