Ashridge Park 5 Wokingham & Emmbrook Rangers 2
Ashridge Scorers: Reg Ryan (5',23',62'), Jamie Cole (9'), Tayseer Alam (79')
Star Player: Marcus Coppen
Sponsor Performance Rating*: Biryani - mostly ordinary with occasional outbreaks of quality
(* in recognition of our current shirt sponsors, the Sultan Balti Palace)
After the relatively mild start to the season, this morning came as a bit of a shock as temperatures dropped to near-zero, and some remnants of surface frost covered the field as we arrived at St Crispins for this first meeting with local rivals Wokingham & Emmbrook Rangers. We were hoping to follow up our goal-fest at Spencers Wood with another emphatic performance against a team who were propping up the table after five games, having yet to register a point. Some issues for us in the spine of the team though, with Jack C and Will both missing.
Having come back from a three-goal deficit in the last game, we were hoping to start the game better this week, but it was not to be. With little over a minute on the clock, Ashridge conceded possession on the right edge of their own penalty area, a shot came in that Joe could only parry back into the danger area, where an orange shirt was on hand to calmly put the chance into the empty net. The home team were quickly back at their opponents and were level within three minutes when Marcus played the ball in beind the back line and Reg was quickly on to it, just getting enough contact on the ball for it to beat the retreating defender to the line and nestle in the left corner. The turnaround was rapidly completed on nine minutes when Marcus picked up possession in the centre circle, neatly side-stepped his man and played another sweeping pass through the visitors' defence to find Jamie on the right edge of the box; Jamie lofted the ball over the keeper, finding the same corner (and just beating Reg's attempt to get something on it into the bargain!). There was little fluency to proceedings in the following period of play, with many sliced clearances, and many mazy dribbles ending in cul-de-sacs. Ashridge had to clear a couple of corners, whilst at the other end, Ashridge got Reg in through the centre twice - on the first occasion he pulled his shot wide to the left of goal; and on the second tricked his way to the left of the last defender, but on his weaker foot could only slice the ball wide once more.
Gradually, Ashridge began to get a better grip on midfield, with Jack G winning numerous challenges, and driving forward on some surging runs, whilst Marcus continued show great quality on the ball, and put some searching passes through for Reg, Antonio and Tayseer to work with. Pressure began to build on the visitors' goal, and Ashridge got their reward just past the mid-point of the half, when Antonio's corner from the left was headed firmly home by Reg for his second and Ashridge's third. Ashridge began to pass the ball more freely, and enjoyed a prolonged spell in the opposition half, but too many moves broke down, or ended with an over-hit pass which the keeper was able to collect in comfort. As half-time approach, mistakes began to appear again, and Wokingham and Emmbrook began to see more of the ball; and whilst they didnt create too much of their own, they were presented with a lifeline when a corner wasnt dealt with, Jack G miscued the ball across the six yard box and Alex in attempting to clear the danger sliced the ball into his own net. 3-2 at the break and the game still in the balance.
Ashridge adjusted the formation at half-time, switching to four at the back to try to reassert control on the game; Marcus dropping back alongside James Riley, and Jamie moving across into centre midfield. Defensively, the idea worked, with better cover in the central areas allowing Tim and James Roberts to shut off any supply on the flanks. Initially, though, Ashridge struggled to get good possession in the midfield areas, and with Dan looking subdued upfront alongside Reg, chances for either side were at a premium. The early injection of energy from the visitors as they attempted to find an equaliser gradually subsided, and Ashridge began to take control once more, with Jack G particularly influential, and Antonio starting to make inroads on the right flank. Indeed it was Antonio who first came within a whisker of restoring the two goal advantage with a delightful chipped free-kick from the edge of the box which struck the top of the crossbar with the goalkeeper scrambling to get anywhere near it. Just past the hour mark, Ashridge made the game safe, and again it was Antonio who started it, picking up possession on the right on half way, and shaping a great ball in behind the defence for Reg to break on to; Reg controlled well initially, but his second touch to create the angle to beat the keeper was heavy, driving him wide; nonetheless he managed to get there and sneak the ball past the keeper and inside the right post to complete his hat-trick and make it 4-2.
The game was largely played out in the Wokingham and Embrook half, bar one ball downfield where a miscue took James Riley out of the play and left the visitors' striker bearing down on goal until he was unceremoniously taken out by Marcus, who was fortunate to escape without sanction. The resulting free-kick went high and wide to the right, and Ashridge breathed again. In the latter stages, Ashridge put the seal on the result when Reg dropped deep just inside the opposition half, before sliding a well-weighted pass through a gap in the back line to find Tayseer's run; Tayseer gathered himself well before sliding the ball past the keeper into the right hand corner. Seconds later the final whistle went to leave the home side victorious at 5-2.
Not a classic performance, with too many errors and too many moments where opportunities were wasted with players wanting to beat one more opponent before releasing the pass. Nonetheless, what quality there was in the game came from the home team, and the result was deserved. Mentions today for Jack G who was immense in the centre of midfield where absences meant we were heavily reliant on him, and also for Antonio and Reg who both provided good assists for goals. Reg's hat-trick takes him to 11 in 7 games so far, well on course to match his previous seasons' tallies. Today's star player was Marcus, who showed genuine quality on the ball, displaying great balance and close control, but above all had the vision to play some incisive passes through the visitors' backline to create our first two goals, and other chances besides. Dropping back into defence in the second period he provided good cover, and helped to shut the opposition out again - in fact we still havent conceded this season in any of the periods where Marcus has been in the back four.