Spencers Wood Hurricanes 3 Ashridge Park 9
Ashridge Scorers: Dan Baker (19', 29'), Reg Ryan (23', 60', 63', 69'), Jamie Cole (34'), James Riley (50'), Antonio Baciu (74')
Star Player; Dan Baker
Sponsor Performance Rating*: Madras - energetic display with plenty of fire in front of goal
(*in recognition of our current shirt sponsors, the Sultan Balti Palace)
A short trip over to Spencers Wood this morning to play the Hurricanes, a team against whom we completed the double last season, but who had got off to good start this season, with three wins and a draw from their opening four league games, and no goals conceded in their two home games. The pitch was small, especially in width, with only a couple of yards from the edge of the penalty area to the touchline on each side. Conditions were blustery, with a major downpour greeting us as we arrived at the ground, though this did subside as the game got under way. For the second week running we had a full match day squad of 16 available, with only Mason away this week, whilst our opponents had to manage with no substitutes,
We stuck with the 4-4-2 formation that had been more successful in the second half of last week's cup tie, with Jack C and James Riley starting at centre back, and Jack G and Will in the centre of midfield. Up front we were looking to attack with pace, with Dan lining up alongside Reg. Ashridge opened strongly, getting some early control in midfield, and moving the ball well to the flanks, where Antonio on the right in particular had some early success against his opposite number. A couple of early shots missed their mark, whilst the through-balls looking to get the strikers in were a little too strong, and with little space to play with on the short pitch, were comfortably mopped up by the Spencers Wood keeper. Five minutes into the game and a couple of warning shots were sounded as a speculative long shot from the left nearly caught Joe out, and he had to scramble across to push it round for a corner, which in turn was met with a good header that brought a second save from Joe; then another shot from the edge of the box narrowly cleared the bar. This was to prove the prelude to a disastrous ten-minute spell for Ashridge. First a long ball down the middle was volleyed out by James, but Jack C had also gone for the same ball, and James's clearance simply rebounded off him into the path of the Spencers Wood striker who calmly slotted past Joe for the opener. Almost immediately the lead was extended with a well-worked goal; another ball forward to the front man was neatly turned round the corner to find a well-timed run and another calm finish past Joe into the corner. Then on fifteen minutes, another poor clearance from a ball into the box went directly to a Spencers Wood player on the right edge of the box, who fired a fine shot over Joe into the opposite side of the goal. Ashridge 3-0 down and looking like they could be in for a hiding.
Fortunately the response was not long in coming, and it was the two Ashridge strikers who led the way with some determined chasing down of the ball creating some prolonged pressure on the home goal. A well-constructed move down the right released Antonio into the box, he cut neatly inside his player before being brought down, only for the referee to wave away the appeals. Undaunted, Ashridge piled forward again and got themselves on the board when Reg squared to Dan on the edge of the penalty area, Dan shifted the ball to his right before placing a well-struck shot to the right of the keeper. Crucially, the visitors struck again within four minutes when Reg chased back and dispossessed the Spencers Wood midfielder some 30 yards out, before cutting inside a second player and unleashing a fabulous strike from the angle of the box over the keeper and high into the net. The home team were rattled and Ashridge pressed on in search of an equaliser, which came just prior to the half hour mark; when Dan latched on to a loose ball just inside the Spencers Wood half and right of centre, advanced to just outside the box before drilling a low shot across the keeper into the left corner of the net. Ashridge were not done yet, and continued to press forward. Reg tried his luck once more from the edge of the box, bringing a fine finger-tip save from the keeper who tuned it onto the top of the bar - the referee slightly denting the credit he should have had by giving a goal kick! Dan also tried his luck once more but skied his effort well over the bar; but Ashridge did finally get their noses in front when Jack G made great progress down the left flank fending off two or three challenges, before turning it back to Tayseer, who in turn found a good ball across to Jamie in the penalty area; Jamie got the shot away towards the left-hand post only for the keeper to be left stranded as a defender's foot deflected it past him into the centre of the goal. There was still time for Ashridge to be denied another penalty when a clumsy tackle from behind brought Tayseer crashing down on the right of the box when poised to shoot, but the referee once again signalled play to continue. An extraordinary half of football came to an end with the visitors 4-3 to the good.
With the game still in the balance, Spencers Wood tried to re-group for the second half and came forward with more purpose again in the opening stages. Ashridge now had James Riley in midfield alongside Dan as Dillon had a run out up front alongside Reg, with Jack C and Marcus now at the heart of the back four. It was a combination that looked very solid, and with James Roberts also impressing against the most dangerous of the home forwards, Ashridge soon snuffed out the rally, and began to dominate both possession and territory. Another goal was needed to put the stamp on this authority, and this arrived after ten minutes of the half when Reg dropped slightly deeper to link play on the edge of the centre circle, and released a well-weighted pass into James Riley's path as he broke through the centre, held off the challenge of the last defender and prodded the ball past the keeper into the bottom right-hand corner. The home side were only getting occasional glimpses now, but came close to pulling one back when a dangerous inswinging corner from the left evaded everyone but just went beyond the far post. Ashridge wrapped things up on the hour when a corner of their own from the right broke from a challenge in the six-yard box, and Reg reacted with lightening speed to force the ball over the line for 6-3.
The fight had now gone from the home side, and it was now becoming a matter of how many Ashridge would score; indeed Marcus and Jack C were both so under-employed that one Ashridge move found Jack bringing the ball out past half-way with Marcus offering an overlap on the left wing! Ashridge were able to move the ball with freedom, and soon released Reg into the box to complete his hat-trick, taking the ball around to the left of the keeper before slotting home. The eighth soon followed as a move down the left culminated with Reg taking the ball to the by-line before almost walking it past the remaining challenges and slotting into the opposite corner. Satisfied with his haul, Reg dropped deeper into an almost quarterback-like role, launching various passes into wide-open spaces on the right where James Riley, Antonio, Jack G and Will were all to be found marauding in search of more goals. Opportunities came and went, with Antonio dragging the clearest of them wide of the left post, before Spencers Wood almost got another consolation out of nowhere; James Riley dropping deep into his own box to thwart a rare raid down the Ashridge right, but trying an over-confident backheel, which went straight to the home side's danger man, but his decent strike struck the top of the crossbar and away to safety. Ashridge completed the scoring with just over five minutes to go, when great work from Jack G saw him ghost past two defenders on the right of the box before cutting the ball back to Antonio who controlled with his back to goal before pivoting and hitting a left-foot shot which snuck in just inside the far post despite the keeper's parry.
A very welcome second win of the season which could scarcely have been imagined after the first quarter of an hour. Really good to see the side getting stronger as the game went on (for the second week in a row in fact) as this has so often been the point in the game when this side have come unstuck. Today's victory speaks volume for team spirit and refusing to be down-hearted in adversity, and whilst the whole side deserves credit, there was real on-field leadership from two individuals in the key moments at 3-0 down. Reg stepped up his energy and effort and put real pressure on the Spencer's Wood midfield in a classic display of defending from the front - his first and Ashridge's second goal being the prime example of what can happen when you do this, and that goal was a dagger through the heart of the home side coming so quickly after the first, sowing the first seeds of doubt in their minds. Our usual turn-to player in difficult circumstances is Dan, and today was no different; he was the first to find a different gear when we needed it today, and capped a good all-round display with two fine strikes, and for this reason he takes the star player award.