Ashridge Park 2 Teddington Athletic Hurricanes 3
Ashridge Scorer: Antonio Baciu (42', 70')
Star Player: Antonio Baciu
The final weekend of an action-packed season saw the visit of Teddington Athletic Hurricanes to St Crispins on a bright but chilly morning. The two sides had played out a tight game back in September, with Ashridge striking a late winner in a 3-2 victory on a day when Teddington were missing a number of their usual contingent. The visitors had gone on to secure third place in the division, whilst also reaching the semi-finals of the Plate competition, so were expecting a stiff test today. Ashridge were missing four from the squad (Marcus, Jamie, Tayseer and Dillon), but Jack C was back for only his seventh outing of the season.
Given that nothing was riding on the game (both sides being sure of finishing in their current positions), Ashridge elected to have a little fun, and give keeper Joe a run out up front alongside Reg for the first half, with Antonio deputising between the sticks. Ashridge started brightly, forcing an early corner; another good delivery from Alex and headed over by Reg. However it soon became apparent how big a factor the wind was going to be, blowing full in the home side's faces, and making it easy for Teddington to pick off possession as the ball held up from any Ashridge clearances. Ashridge were soon under pressure, and on four minutes fell behind, as a ball was played into the box from the Teddington left flank; Antonio came to try and gather, but spilled the ball; Teddington recycled it quickly to the edge of the box and a smart lofted shot cleared Antonio before he could recover to his line. The visitors surged forward once more, and Ashridge didn't help themselves by gifting possession back to them; James Riley keeping the ball in play on the left midway inside his half, but putting both himself and Tim out of position as Teddington turned over possession, they moved it quickly to create an overload on the left of the box, and a shot was rifled past Antonio to make it 2-0. Ashridge were penned back for much of this period, but dug in to try to keep the score down; Dan and Jack G both put themselves about to good effect in the centre of midfield, as did Jack C in the heart of the defence; however Ashridge struggled to use the ball well, and the strike force became isolated and outnumbered; the brightest moments being when Reg got in behind the defence, but couldn't make the shot count; and then subsequently when he picked up possession on the edge of the centre circle and found a penetrating pass towards Alex's well-timed burst through the centre, but Alex just couldn't reach the ball and the keeper gathered safely.
Just beyond the midway point of the half, things went from bad to worse for Ashridge. Another clearance out of defence held up in the wind and was picked off by a Teddington player, who then went on a mazy run past four Ashridge challenges into the box just right of centre, before slamming the ball high into the net to Antonio's left. Moments later Dan took a knock in a heavy challenge, and after a couple of minutes it became clear that he couldn't continue, and he took no further part in the game. Will stepped in to the vacant midfield slot with Alex moving back to the right, and Ashridge continued to cling on under heavy pressure; Antonio pulling off one particularly fine save, turning another flashing shot from the edge of the area around his right post. No further score before half-time, but Ashridge with a lot to do at 3-0 down.
For the second period, Joe resumed goalkeeping duties, with Antonio moving to the right of midfield, whilst Jack C got his turn up-front; Alex filling in at right back and James Roberts moving into the centre. With the wind now at their backs, Ashridge began at last to make some progress, and one could almost see the relief in their whole attitude. They were back in the contest almost immediately, a move starting down the right, a ball into the box being cleared, but Bertie helped it back over to Antonio on the right, Antonio cut inside and curled a shot to the top right corner; the keeper getting hands on it, but not managing to keep it out. Moments later, it was nearly two, as Jack C and Antonio linked up, with Reg just off target as the ball came in. Teddington were now finding as Ashridge had in the first half that clearing their lines was exceptionally difficult, and Will and Jack G began to get a stranglehold in midfield, whilst Antonio was now brimming with confidence and unveiling some nice trickery on the ball allied to good strength and pacey running. Ashridge's next glimmer was cut off in its prime, as Reg played a superb reverse pass through a gap in the defence to find Antonio's surging run, but the linesman put his flag up (hotly disputed by the Ashridge faithful behind him). On the mid-point of the half, Ashridge were within a whisker again: three touches from one end of the pitch to the other as Joe's kick was cleverly flicked on by Antonio to find Reg running in behind the defence; Reg touched it past the keeper but the ball rolled agonisingly onto the outside of the post and behind for a goal kick.
A strong period for Ashridge gradually subsided, and chances became fewer and further between as Teddington recovered some composure and began to keep the ball on the deck in order to make progress. For the last twenty minutes, whilst possession and territory remained with Ashridge, the chances began to favour the opposition as they found some gaps in the Ashridge back line. Joe came up with a good block after the forward was played in through the centre, whilst two other breaks in behind the Ashridge defence saw the ball pulled wide of either post. At the other end, Antonio got in to good space on the right of the box but hit the shot straight at the keeper, before Reg broke free on the left of the box and drew an excellent save from the Teddington player. Jack G and James Riley both tried their luck from long range but missed the target, before Ashridge set up a grandstand finish ten minutes from the end: a move down the left ending with Reg feeding the ball across the box to find Antonio breaking into space, Antonio's first effort was saved but the rebound broke back to him and he turned it home to reduce the arrears to 3-2. Ashridge kept piling forward and both Jacks made a big impression with their efforts to drive Ashridge on, but Ashridge couldn't find a way through, and Teddington actually had three chances to kill the game with rapid counter-attacks - all of them spurned as the shots missed the target. Time finally ran down on the game, with Teddington deservedly holding on for the win.
Although a defeat, not a bad way to end the season, with the game in the balance right to the final whistle. The opposition showed some good quality on the ball and overall deserved the result, but Ashridge showed some good battling qualities. Not Reg's day today, but he can look back on a great season, finishing on a new personal record of 37 goals, which should put him thoroughly in contention to retain the club's Golden Boot award this season. Mentions for Alex, who played in three different positions today, and made some useful contributions in each; for Jack C who was a handful for the Teddington defence in the second half, and for Jack G and Will, who battled well in the central areas. The stand-out performance came from Antonio: as well as his two goals he was a threat throughout the second half with some strong running and great flashes of skill, and he cemented his place as our third top scorer on 9, just one behind Dan.