Ashridge Park 1 Westwood Wanderers Hoops 2
Ashridge Scorer: Reg Ryan (26')
Star Players: Dan Baker & Will Marten
After a gap of eight weeks since our last match against Berks County Jaguars, during which any spells of decent weather always managed to coincide with gaps in our schedule, the weather finally relented sufficiently to allow us to return to action today for a home game against Westwood Wanderers. Ashridge had run out relatively comfortable winners in our first meeing in November, but the long lay-off was a concern given our previous record after breaks of any length. With Antonio's return to the side indefinitely delayed due to a broken arm, we were also missing Tim from the back-line, so Marcus dropped back to fill the vacancy, with Dan in turn picking up the reins in central midfield.
The early exchanges saw both sides venture forward in equal measure, and there were near misses at both ends. Westwood's right flanker, who remained a threat through the game, got in behind the Ashridge cover after five minutes and fizzed a cross right across the six yard box, with no one on hand to get the necessary touch. Ashridge responded in kind, and after Bertie's pass forward to Reg was put behind by the defence, Alex delivered another peach of a corner, bending into the danger area, just needing any kind of a contact to divert it into the net, but none came and the ball curled out past the far post for a goal kick. The bulk of the play remained in the central areas where the pitch was at its stickiest, and the contest was fierce with Dan and Will giving as good as they got from the Westwood midfield. Westwood tried their luck with a few long-range shots, but none gave Joe any real cause for concern as he gathered the ball with confidence. James Riley remained in control of any danger around the edge of the box, winning the tackles and clearing downfield in his usual fashion; whilst on the right James Roberts was also quickly back in his stride with some great tackles and interceptions, despite being on the receiving end of some late challenges. Marcus, too, did well on the left of the defence, holding postion well, and showing his usual vision in releasing the ball. At the other end, Ashridge were mainly relying on the time-honoured through balls to release Reg, and after one effort had been safely gathered by the keeper, the first gilt-edged chance of the game arrived on the quarter-hour, as Jamie freed Reg on the right flank, and with Dan supporting in the centre, a cut-back would have left an open goal, but Reg chose to shoot from a narrow angle and missed the far post by a couple of feet.
As the half wore on Ashridge began to get more on top, but clear chances were hard to find; Westwood had lots of bodies back, and Ashridge took a little too much time to move the ball and open up the shooting chance on the heavy surface. The breakthrough did come around ten minutes from half-time, and had an element of fortune about it; as Ashridge tried to develop play sideways across half-way, a Westwood tackle came in, releasing the ball directly into Reg's path in the left channel. Reg advanced into the area and then struck his shot left-footed to the near post with a little slice, the ball curled onto the inside of the post and in. Ashridge pressed forward again in the last minutes of the half, with Jamie unfurling some of his customary trickery on the right flank, but Westwood again had numbers back and managed to shut down the danger before the killer pass could be delivered. 1-0 at the break, with the home side just about deserving the lead in a tight contest.
The second half was a frustrating one for the home team. Energy levels began to flag early, with even the normally Duracell-powered Alex struggling to keep up with the play. In the centre of midfield Dan never gave up the battle, whilst alongside him Will used his tactical nous to read the play and break-up the opposition's moves; but for all this Ashridge struggled to create much going forward as the final pass went astray too often. What the home side needed most was to preserve the lead in the early stages, but this was not to be as the ball broke free in the box from a Westwood move down the left; Ashridge had plenty of bodies back and time to clear, but the clearance was miscued straight to a Westwood player on the edge of the box, and whilst Joe managed to block the first shot, again the rebound fell to the opposition who forced the ball home to level things up. Thereafter the visitors had the better of the game, without creating too many clear-cut opportunities as the defence continued to battle hard. Mid-way through the half, the tunaround was complete; again Ashridge failing to clear the ball when having time to do so; this time the ball played out from the left side of our defence straight to the opposition on the edge of the centre circle; a clever ball then released the right flanker into the box on the angle, and his well-struck shot beat Joe comfortably. Thereafter Westwood focussed on keeping things tight, and Ashridge never really looked like getting level again; the closest being when Reg worked some space on the left flank and sqaured the ball across the goalmouth but the Ashridge forward line weren't in the right place to captitalise and the keeper was able to scramble across and gather at the second attempt.
No complaints about the result as our opponents lasted the game better than we did, and were well organised on the whole. No lack of effort from the boys either, but the fluency wasnt there - partly because of the surface and partly because of the lack of match-fitness. On occasions we made the wrong choices today when in past weeks a more incisive pass would have opened up a goal-scoring opportunity - that will hopefully come when we get to play more regularly again. Star player this week is a joint award to our two central midfielders: Dan for the commitment and effort he put in (and for keeping his temper under some provocation), often looking the most likely to unpick the visitor's defence; and Will who backed him up by holding a great position throughout and often picking off the loose ball and setting us moving forward again. Well done to both, and hopefully we can get a more postive result next time!