Woodley Saints Lions 4 Ashridge Park 1
Ashridge Scorer: Reg Ryan (50')
Star Player: Joe Savory
Another weekend, another defensive crisis! For the umpteenth time since Christmas we went into today's game missing key components of the back line, and trying to figure out whose turn it was to cover! This week we were without James Riley and Jack C in the centre back roles, and also the ever-reliable Will who has helped us plug the gaps so well in past weeks; so James Roberts and Marcus re-formed their central partnership, with Jamie initially taking up the right back role. To make this all the more of a problem, we were up against the increasingly-runaway leaders of the division Woodley Saints Lions, who knew that a win today would all but seal the Division 5 title. Our previous meeting two weeks back had seen us struggle to create chances in a 2-0 defeat, so this time we tried a new 4-2-3-1 formation with the aim of filling the midfield, with the opportunity to counter in numbers and at pace.
Woodley once again stamped their authority on the central areas in the early stages, with the no 6 particularly influential in turning over possession, and the no 10 once again looking to put some probing passes in behind the Ashridge defence. On a bumpy and slightly overgrown surface though, both sides struggled to get the weight of pass right, and opportunities were limited; whilst Joe was the busier by far of the two keepers, he was able to claim many of the through-balls without too much difficulty. Ashridge weathered the initial storm, and after 10 minutes even pressed forward to win a couple of corners on the left. Alex's first delivery was an excellent one to the back of the six yard box, but Woodley were more assertive in challenging for the ball and cleared their lines with ease. The second was a shorter ball looking for a near-post run which never came, and was claimed by the keeper who then set up a quick counter; a long-ball forward found the dangerous no 8 lurking on the shoulders of the back four, and taking the ball on the bounce he fired a clinical strike over Joe and into the left corner of the net.
Ashridge continued to battle hard as the half progressed, but were very much up against it as Woodley continued to hold the upper hand in midfield, whilst any raids into opposition territory were efficiently dealt with by a well-organised and mobile defence. Joe was called into action when the no 8 again broke free on the right of the penalty area, blocking the initial shot well and then turning the follow-up behind for a corner. In the latter stages of the half, Ashridge began to lose their way, however, with passes going astray, players running into blind alleys, and the three forward midfield players getting stranded up the pitch as Woodley came forward. The game was effectively settled on the half-hour mark with two quick strikes: the first an almost exact repeat of the first as the no 8 was quickest on to a ball in behind the back line in the right channel and his strike this time settling low into the left hand corner; then within three minutes, James and Marcus left each other to deal with a ball in behind on the left of the box, and the no 8 pounced on their hesitation to slot past Joe for his hat-trick. Dillon provided Ashridge's best pass of the half, sliding the ball between the Woodley defenders to find Reg bearing down on goal, but the keeper was alert and came quickly out to smother the chance. 3-0 at half-time.
A few shuffles of personnel at half-time for Ashridge with Alex taking over from Jamie at right back, with the latter moving to the right side of midfield, and also Marcus stepping into the holding midfield role with Jack G deputising in central defence. With Woodley's energy levels dropping a little, Ashridge enjoyed their best spell of the game, with some quicker short passes being seen with Jamie, Alex and Dan on the right, and Tayseer, Marcus and Reg on the left. There was better pace on the balls in behind, and Reg threatened to get in on a couple of occasions, winning a corner on the left from which Dan's in-swinging delivery beat everyone and went out just beyond the far post for a goal kick. Ten minutes into the half and Ashridge pulled one back, and this was a close copy of Woodley's third, with Marcus lifting the ball over the defence on the left of the box, and Reg capitalising on some hesitation in the Woodley defence to pinch the ball and slot home at the near post. Woodley began to re-focus, and had the better of the remainder of the game, without ever quite threatening to the same degree as in the first half as the Ashridge defence dealt pretty well with the dangers; a number of long shots were tried but most were miscued, and Joe was able to pick off those that were on target. Ten minutes from the end, any lingering doubt about the result was dispelled when Ashridge over-played trying to clear from the left edge of their own box, conceding possession to the Woodley no 10 who fired the ball over Joe to complete the scoring.
Another impressive display from the champions elect, and despite a good effort all round, Ashridge (in common with most sides in the division) found it difficult to inflict much damage on them. Callouts today for all those deputising in defence, especially Jack G who reluctantly stepped back into the centre back position in the second half, but who did a very good job there nonetheless; to Marcus whose second half display in midfield, whilst not exactly filling the brief of holding midfield player, showed what we have been missing in the past few games when he has been confined to defence; also to Reg, who used his football brain well in the second half by dropping deeper into midfield as the supporting cast ran on, which created different problems for the Woodley defence to unravel. Star player today goes to Joe, who was left with little chance on any of the goals, but who came up with some fine stops to limit the damage, and whose handling throughout the game was without fault.