Pinewood Panthers 0 Ashridge Park 5
Ashridge Scorers: Antonio Baciu (7', 80'), Tayseer Alam (44'), Reg Ryan (60', 63')
Star Player: James Roberts
Familiar opponents, but a new venue to us as we travelled to the Great Hollands ground to play Pinewood. As there was a Park Run organised for the same time, parking near the pitches proved difficult, and meant that we started the game without not only the central defensive pairing of James Riley and Jack C who were unavailable, but also without leading scorer Reg, who appeared just as the game was underway. In their places we used James Roberts and Marcus in the middle of the back four with Will once again deputising at right back, whilst Antonio and Tayseer struck up a new partnership up-front.
The game opened with Pinewood perhaps shading possession in the first few minutes, but Ashridge successfully containing their attacks on the flanks, with no immediate threat to Joe's goal. Jack G and Dan soon began to make their presence felt in the central midfield areas, and with Antonio showing some good touches on the ball early on, the visitors soon began to mount a threat on the Pinewood goal. On seven minutes, Ashridge got their noses in front: Jamie winning possession on the right flank, and instigating a nice interchange with Dan and Antonio, before the latter put Jamie in the clear on the right edge of the box; Jamie looped a ball in towards the back post, where the keeper fumbled, leaving Antonio to prod home from close range. Ashridge remained on top, and looked to be about to extend the lead close to the quarter hour mark when Tayseer was played in behind the Pinewood defence only to be shoved to the ground by the chasing defender on the edge of the box as he was about to finish; this earning the Pinewood player a stern talking to but no card (as it should be in youth football where no undue violence is involved). The ensuing free-kick was on-target but with little venom and was comfortably claimed by the keeper. Pinewood briefly threatened as the Ashridge defence left a striker unmarked in the box as the ball was squared from the right, but a great defensive block put paid to that moment, and other than this and a dangerous inswinging corner which Joe managed to claw away, Ashridge's lead rarely looked under threat in the first period. The blues themselves mounted a number of threatening raids; Reg (on for Tayseer on the quarter-hour mark) prominent in most of them as he set about terrorising the Pinewood back line with his chasing down and runs in behind, but the visitors; finishing was a little below par, with a left-foot effort from Reg slicing wide and several other efforts not seriously stretching the keeper. 1-0 at the break, and more work to be done yet to secure the points.
A reminder from the coach at half-time about the reverse fixture in October, where Ashridge squandered a narrow half-time lead and domination of possession and territory in a 3-2 defeat, and this spurred the blues into early action in the second half. Tayseer returned to the forward line in place of Antonio, and the combined threat of our two speedsters proved a constant headache for the Pinewood defence. Four minutes into the half, the two combined to extend the lead, Reg threading the ball through from the centre circle to find Tayseer's well-timed run, and Tayseer advanced to the edge of the area before slotting home to the right of the keeper. Shortly afterwards, Tayseer beat the offside trap again in the right channel, but pulled his shot wide of the left post, making the linesman's incorrect flag (Reg was in an offside position in the centre but not involved in the play) irrelevant. Pinewood attempted to respond and enjoyed a brief spell around the Ashridge box, with Joe getting in a good block with his legs when a runner broke through on the right of the box; and the resulting corner again swung dangerously in towards the back post, but a combination of Joe and his defence scrambled it clear. On the whole, the Ashridge back line remained in command, with Marcus sweeping up well, and James Roberts emphatic in the tackle and letting very little get past him. Ashridge continued to threaten with some swift counters, and with Reg clearly feeling that his personal goal drought of a game and a half needed to end, a few opportunities were squandered - most notably when Reg declined to slot a pass to Tayseer to his right in favour of trying to beat the last two defenders himself, with inevitable consequences; whilst Dan nearly lit up proceedings by trying a first time lob from the centre circle after the keeper had come out to intercept another through-ball to Reg; the ball just clearing the angle of post and crossbar.
The third goal was always going to be crucial in killing the game, and it finally arrived on the hour; Ashridge developing play down the left with Tim finding Bertie, and then Reg and Bertie linking up on the left edge of the area before Bertie played Reg in with a neat reverse pass, and Reg steadied himself before slotting past the keeper on the near post. Pinewood heads went down, even the linesman stopped flagging for offside at every hint of danger, and it became a matter of how many the visitors would score. The fourth arrived rapidly as one of many surging runs from Jack G saw him break through on the right of the area before pulling his shot across goal, Reg managed to retrieve it before it went behind, stepped back inside and slotted home from a very narrow angle. Chances came and went at regular intervals: Jamie broke through in the same right channel but blazed wide of the near post; then Reg was slotted in through the centre again only for the keeper to make a smart save, with Alex somehow managing to poke the rebound wide of the right post with the goal gaping. Pinewood had one last opportunity, with Joe turning a shot from the edge of the box round his right post, before Ashridge moved back on to the attack once more. Antonio returned for a ten-minute late cameo with Dan making way, and in that spell had three opportunities: missing with a shot; then getting on the end of a fierce cross from the right from Reg but unable to keep it down; then finally converting a chance he made himself, picking up the ball on the left of the penalty box, beating one man, just keeping it in before it ran behind, and then cutting back past another challenge before finishing from a narrow angle. No time even for the restart as Ashridge ran out comfortable 5-0 winners.
A relief in some ways to get the result this week given that we'd dropped all three points against these opponents early in the season having dominated the game, and it was particularly satisfying to do so in emphatic fashion and by keeping a clean sheet despite the absences this week. The midfield pairing of Dan and Jack G were in control for most of the game and enjoyed good support from the wide players; whilst Antonio and Tayseer were both near their best form, causing the Pinewood defence numerous problems to add to the threat they were probably expecting from Reg (both sides knowing each other quite well). Given that this was our first clean sheet of the season, particular credit goes to the defence this week; Will made another good showing at right back (though he will no doubt be happy to return to midfield when we have enough defenders on duty!); whilst Tim looked happier again this week in his preferred left back role. Marcus put in another mature display in the middle, covering danger well and carrying the ball forward when opportunity arose; but star player this week goes to James Roberts, playing his first full game in the middle of a back four. Up against an opponent who was roughly twice his size, he nonetheless won almost all of the challenges between the pair, he cleared the ball emphatically with head and feet alike, and even showed confidence on the ball, carrying it out of defence and finding passes into the channels - a great effort which played a big part in making the victory a comfortable one.