Rotherfield United Colts 4 Ashridge Park 0
Star Player: Dillon Malabon
With the weeks to the end of the season ticking away we signed up to a Tuesday night game away to Rotherfield in a bid to get at least one of the outstanding fixtures played. This was done with a slight sense of foreboding, as our record outside of a Saturday morning has been truly awful over the seasons, with a 4-0 and a 6-1 drubbing to date. Sure enough, things started to go wrong well before the game. Our original 14-man squad rapidly shrank to the bare 11: Jamie's broken wrist and Alex's calf strain both picked up in Saturday's match depriving us of both first-choice wing backs; and with Tim not recovering from illness and Marcus already known to be unavailable, we were also shorn of all usual options on the left of the back three. What had been forecast to be a bright and sunny evening when we accepted the game, turned out to be a grey and very blustery one making playing conditions more challenging as well.
Ashridge started with Antonio filling in on the left of the defence, with Bertie dropping in to left wing back, whilst Dillon took over Jamie's normal station on the right in front of James Roberts. The first few exchanges did not suggest any great cause for concern as Will and Dan held their own in the central areas, and Reg dropped in to link play up to the forward line, where Jack was looking for openings. However, it took only five minutes for gaps to start to appear at the back; too much space on the Rotherfield right, and a ball played in behind allowed the number 20 to chase down James Riley, who fell on the edge of the box (just a hint of a nudge but not given), leaving the forward to round Joe and prod home. Ashridge should have levelled within a couple of minutes as good interplay in the centre between Reg and Dan opened up space before Reg slotted the ball into the right channel to meet Jack's run, Jack's effort from the angle broke off a defender across the box where Mason had the goal at his mercy, but badly mistimed his swing at the ball, which then cannoned off his standing foot back to Jack who then poked it wide of the left-hand post. The visitors were to pay dearly for the miss as Rotherfield again found their way through a gaping hole between Antonio and James Riley to set up another simple finish. A third followed ten minutes before the break when a corner flicked up off the head of James Riley leaving a simple headed finish at the back post. Further calamity was avoided when Rotherfield again broke through in numbers and got the ball round Joe, only to be denied by Dillon working back to clear. Little to show at the other end for Ashridge despite some neat passing in the central areas involving Reg, Dan, Will and Dillon. 3-0 to the home side at the break.
After a few reminders about basic principles at half-time, Ashridge came out for the second period with a more competitive edge. Antonio and Jack swapped roles, and both were instrumental in the improvement at their respective ends of the pitch. Jack quickly stepped in with authority to shut down some early forays from the home side down their favoured right flank, whilst Antonio, operating on the left of the front three provided a new mobility to support the ever-impressive Reg and provide a significant threat to the Rotherfield back line for the first time in the game. Within a few minutes Ashridge put together a gem of a move, starting with Will and Dan in the centre, the latter combining with Reg to create space on the edge of the box before laying the ball into the left channel, from where Reg stood up a left-footed cross which was met with a peach of a header from Antonio arriving in line with the near post about 8 yards out, the ball clearing the keeper's fingertips and nestling in the opposite corner. The celebrations were cut short as the linesman flagged against the goal scorer - a marginal but probably correct decision; a pity nonetheless as even the home support had been applauding the goal. Once again, Rotherfield made the visitors pay by breaking swiftly to score again, this one coming from a mazy solo run which beat two tackles before the ball was rolled agonisingly just inside the left post. Ashridge came forward again, and just to finally confirm this was not to be their day, Reg struck the crossbar with an athletic effort from a corner, with the keeper well beaten. Some of the energy went out of the game in the last ten minutes with the result in no doubt and Ashridge unable to call on fresh legs. Unfortunatey the main memory of this period of the match will be of some rather petulant challenges by the home no 11, the worst being a lunging two-footed tackle on Antonio, from which the Ashridge player was lucky to emerge unhurt, and the home player was equally fortunate to escape with only a stern talking to. In the latter stages, Rotherfield nearly capitalised on a rare James Riley error, but good pressure from Jack led to a hurried strike which was well off-target. No further addition to the score as the darkness gathered.
Credit to the home team for a solid display against a weakened Ashridge unit - they have been in good form recently with two wins against the league leaders, so we should not be too disheartened at this reverse. Well done to the team for listening at half-time and turning in a much more disciplined display in the second half. A few particular call-outs - to Jack and Antonio for taking on the defensive duties, Jack in particular doing very well there in the second half, whilst Antonio breathed new life into the forward line and was most unfortunate to see his excellent goal chalked off; to Dan and Will for their efforts in the middle; and to Reg, who put in another fine display, dropping deep to pick up possesion, picking out some great passes and showing great energy and commitment throughout. Star player goes to Dillon, who continues to develop, and this evening worked really hard in the wing back role which he has less experience of; he won through a number of tackles and use the simple pass to great effect. On top of that he often popped up deep in defensive situations, in particular saving the day with a last gasp clearance when Joe was beaten.