Ashridge Park 4 Spencers Wood Hurricanes 3
Ashridge Scorers: Reg Ryan (2', 80' pen), own goal (19'), Dan Baker (77')
Star Player: James Riley
Another catch-up game this morning, with the original fixture having been called off due to snow in February. With the Easter holidays underway, the absences were significant: with Jack G, Antonio, Tayseer, Jamie and Dillon all missing, our attacking options were limited, but with Jack C returning for his first game of the term, and James Riley declared fit after multiple hospital visits for an infected insect bite, we were at least able to get eleven players on the pitch. Spencers Wood were also without substitutes, and they came into the game still in last place in the division despite some slightly improved results in recent weeks.
The goals started flowing right from the off, though not necessarily as a result of any quality football being played. In the opening minute, Spencers Wood attacked down the Ashridge left; the defence seemed to have numbers in place to deal with the ball into the box, but some indecisive play and a poor touch saw the ball ricochet across the area; Joe then fumbled the pick-up as the forward closed in, and the ball broke for a Spencers Wood player to turn it towards the goal, just beating the desperate attempt to clear it off the line. Ashridge levelled immediately; a break down the left saw Alex lay the ball off to Reg on the edge of the area, and Reg cut neatly inside a defender to open up a shooting chance, his swinging effort towards the near-post saw the goalkeeper get both hands to it, but only manage to push it into the net. Both sides continued full of attacking intent; for Ashridge, Marcus was playing almost as an auxiliary forward and saw plenty of the ball around the edge of the box, but the final pass for the home side kept going astray; whilst Spencers Wood were able to make use of the central spaces Marcus had vacated to launch some counter-attacks of their own. On eleven minutes they re-took the lead, winning a corner on the right which was swung in to the back post, where a free-header somehow found its way between Alex and the post he was guarding. Ashridge responded and found some searching balls through the Spencers Wood defence into the right channel were Bertie was making some good runs; however our diminutive no 7 lacks the pace of our usual forward line, and the defence was able to get back to recover the ball. Just before the half-way point of the half, Ashridge finally did put in an incisive move, with Reg finding Dan on the edge of the box, and Dan sliding the ball through for Bertie to check back and slot across the keeper, but the ball instead of nestling in the corner thudded against the post; Ashridge were slow to follow in, and Spencers Wood were able to hack the ball clear. Ashridge were level within a couple of minutes, though, a corner from the right was fired in to the box by Dan, eluding various players and squirming to the back post where Marcus got something on it, before a Spencers Wood player slid in and put the ball past his own keeper with Marcus waiting to pounce.
Not much change to the pattern for the remainder of the half, with Ashridge pressing forward at regular intervals, but with Reg often dropping deeper to link play, very few clear-cut chances emerged; Dan perhaps having the best of them as he found his way through on the right of the box, but pulled his shot wide of the opposite post from a tight angle. Spencers Wood continued mainly to look for the long ball to launch counter-attacks, and Ashridge gradually started to get to grips with the tactic and clear their lines; although they nearly imploded again just before the break, when three chances to clear the ball were spurned, with the last breaking back off another Ashridge player to leave the Spencers Wood forward in on goal, fortunately his snatched shot skewed across goal and well wide. 2-2 at the break.
The visitors suffered a significant blow at the start of the second half, with their most reliable defender forced off with a shoulder injury, leaving them a man short. Ashridge pushed James Riley into central midfield with Marcus joining Jack C in the centre of defence. Ashridge became dominant, and play was encamped in the Spencers Wood half. There was an early sight of goal for Reg, as James Riley played the ball in behind the defence, but our top scorer slightly sliced his effort and it went wide of the right post; shortly afterwards the favour was returned, with James breaking through in the left channel but taking his shot early and missing to the right of goal. Other chances came and went: James broke free on the right of the box and fizzed the ball across the box, but too fiercely for Reg to get on the end of it; Bertie had a shot comfortably saved by the keeper; and Will had another effort easily saved after a corner broke to him in the box. All of this ended roughly half-way through the half with Spencers Wood taking the lead again from a rare attack, breaking with pace down the left, Ashridge seemed again to have covered the situation but the ball broke across the box and was forced home by the arriving forward, again just beating the despairing lunge from the last Ashridge man on the line.
Ashridge continued to have the better of possession as they searched for a third equalizer, increasingly pushing either Jack or Marcus further up the field to supplement the midfield. Chances continued to come and go; Dan blazed over from a tight angle on the edge of the box; Reg also snatched at an effort from a similar position. Inevitably, the home team were vulnerable to swift counter-attacks as they pressed, and were grateful for some slightly wayward finishing from the no 9 who got into shooting positions on a couple of occasions but missed the target. With ten minutes to go, Ashridge had a strong shout for a penalty as Reg was felled as he cut inside from the right edge of the area, but the referee ruled it was just outside the box, and Reg fired the resulting free-kick over the bar. Bertie conclusively proved it wasn't his day when a corner from the right found Will, whose effort was blocked only for the ball to squirt out to Bertie on the left angle of the six yard box, and his first time volley on the turn looped up and hit the top of the crossbar. Finally with the clock ticking down, a lofted ball from the centre circle found Dan breaking into the box just right of centre, Dan held off the defenders challenge before slamming the ball into the top right of the net to level at 3-3. Ashridge continued to push forward, and in the final minute the ball was played again into the path of Dan's run on the right edge of the box, he headed the ball past the first covering defender and was about to do the same to the next man when the defender levered the ball away with his forearm - penalty given (to the audible disgust of the Spencers Wood staff and players). Reg stepped up and side-footed home centrally with the keeper diving away to the left. Barely time for the restart, and Ashridge scraped home 4-3.
For all the action and goals in this game, it was not a high quality affair, with too many misplaced passes and defensive errors heavily contributing to most of the goals. A relief then to come away with the points, rather than any huge satisfaction. Very good to see Jack C back in action after so long, and he gradually got himself back into the swing of match play with some good tackles and clearances, and some good carries out of defence. Good to see Bertie have the chance to play a full 80 minutes and he did his utmost to support Reg in the forward line today, getting into some good positions; he was most unfortunate to be denied by the woodwork twice. Dan was his usual energetic and influential self; whilst Will and Alex both did some good covering work when the central midfield pairing got into advanced positions. Today's star player recognition goes to James Riley for his second-half contribution from central midfield; he helped us to dominate the possession and territory in this period, and carved out some good opportunities for the team.