Hurst Twyford Hurricanes 5 Ashridge Park 0
Sponsor Performance Rating*: Rogan - some moments of promise, but lacking a real edge
(* in recognition of our new shirt sponsor, the Sultan Balti Palace)
Star Player: Jack Gillingham
The new season opened with a familiar trip to Hurst to play opponents who we have met in both of the previous seasons despite having been a division below them for the majority of that time. Having lost 6-2 in our brief stay in Division 4, two years ago, and 5-2 in last year's cup match, we were expecting a tough game once again. We were glad of our expanded squad of 17, as we had four players missing for a variety of reasons - with both Reg and Jack C missing we were relying on some of the others to step up to lead the line today. Debuts though for Jack G and Tayseer, both of whom have showed great promise in training.
Ashridge had to dig deep to weather a strong opening from Hurst, who came flying out of the blocks with high energy and good pace. The visitors were penned back for much of the opening ten minutes, but some resolute defending from all of the back three helped us avoid any early concession. Jamie and Alex on the flanks also covered well, whilst Jack G provided some real solidity in the centre of midfield, and demonstrated a good eye for the right pass to players in space. Initially Ashridge struggled to link up in the forward areas with Dan and Bertie both gravitating to the more usual wide positions left and right, meaning that Marcus was drawn forward from the apex pf the centre-midfield triangle into more of a forward role, and the gaps between the front three and the midfield grew too large allowing Hurst to dominate the space. As the half wore on thought, Jack G began to fill those spaces, and with Jamie getting forward to support Dan down the right, some glimmers of attacking threat began to emerge. Jack G slightly miscued an effort from the edge of the penalty area, but still drew a save from the home keeper, who tipped it around the left post. Ashridge won a couple of corners, but good deliveries from Dan and Alex both went unrewarded, whilst Will spurned the opportunity of a shot from range as the ball was cleared.
With 25 minutes of the game gone, Ashridge appeared to have fought their way back into proceedings from a territorial perspective, only to be undone by a breakway. With the back three exposed, a ball in behind Tim led to confusion between defender and keeper, allowing the forward to nip between them, take the ball around Joe and turn into the empty net. Ashridge tried to respond, with Tayseer joining the action on the left of the forward line, and quickly making an impact. Good link-up play involving first Marcus and then an exchange of passes with Jack G saw Tayseer in the clear, the defender got back with an initial tackle, but Tayseer won the ball back only to put it wide of the post with only the keeper to beat. It was a costly miss as Hurst exposed the Ashridge backline once more with a long ball over the top; the Hurst player gained about ten yards on the defence to retrieve the ball on the right flank before taking it on and slotting past Joe from a narrow angle. Joe was then called into action, tipping a well-struck free-kick on to the bar following a rash challenge by Marcus. 2-0 at half time, but with the visitors feeling they could have been better placed.
The second half saw the home team reassert their early dominance for extended periods. As Will was tiring he was replaced at half-time, with Mason going on up front and Dan and Marcus dropping back, but the formula wasn't working well, with Jack G being left too much work to do in front of the defence and James Riley having to step up to fill the void, leaving a potential hole in the back line. To try to counter this, Bertie came back on at right wing back, with Jamie moving inside in place of Marcus - this worked to a degree with Ashridge able to hold the Hurst attack at bay, but the out-ball was elusive, and Ashridge's forward forays were restricted to solo efforts from Tayseer and Dan, who to their credit managed to make significant progress before being crowded out. Ashridge held out for 20 minutes before conceding an ugly goal; a ball was spooned miles into the air from the left flank, brushing the crossbar as it came down before rebounding off Joe onto the knee of the Hurst forward into the net. The fourth followed quickly, and in stark contrast this was a quality goal, with the Hurst midfielder breaking through a couple of challenges before chipping the ball over Joe and just under the crossbar.
Ashridge rallied as the home team began to tire a little, and enjoyed a good last 10-15 minutes in which they almost got a deserved consolation goal. Jack G, Jamie, Marcus and Will all got on the ball in good central positions and used it well, but it was Tayseer and Dan who started to provide the biggest threat. Tayseer showed a good turn of pace and some sharp skills as well as a surprising amount of strength, and on several occasions got past his man on the left of the box to create opportunities - the best being a great link-up with Dan, with both playing disguised reverse passes to each other before Dan unleashed a shot towards the far corner, which drew a decent save from the home keeper. Dan looked certain to score after getting on the end of a flick on from an Alex corner, but his effort from inside the six yard box was somehow bundled off the line by the home defence. Tayseer then pulled another effort wide of the far post before Dan was barged over from behind right on the edge of the box as he was bursting clear; the resulting free kick found the target but did not have enough pace to cause the keeper any serious concern. Hurst then broke rapidly on the left to score a fifth from a narrow angle five minutes from time. As the clock ticked down Ashridge were denied a late penalty when Dan's was levered off the ball in the area when jumping for a header; the referee put his whistle to his mouth before apparently changing his mind and playing on.
A disappointing result no doubt, but this was always going to be a difficult fixture given out past record here, and with the absence of our strikeforce. No complaints about our attitude today though, the team applied themselves throughout and really made our opponents work for their goals. Improved fitness is a must though, as this has clearly dropped away over the summer! James Riley was outstanding at the back as usual, and there were good moments for James Roberts and Tim alongside him, though all need to adapt their positions when faced with quicker opponents. Tayseer and Dan looked very lively and we did create a number of chances through their good work; our finishing just needs to sharpen up. Today's player of the match recognition goes to Jack G on his debut for us in central midfield; he lasted the game well, was influential both defensively and going forward, striking an excellent balance between the two, and showed good poise on the ball and an excellent eye for the pass. We look forward to seeing him work with Reg once our top-scorer (4 seasons in a row) returns!