Ashridge Park 4 Berks County Pumas 3
Ashridge Scorers: Antonio Baciu (24'), Reg Ryan (33', 46', 65')
Star Player: Jamie Cole
Our first meeting with these opponents since U10s, as the Pumas have spent the interim making their way up to the heights of Division 3 before dropping two divisions at the start of this season fhaving struggled severely last year. They have had mixed results to date, taking a couple of heavy defeats, but also racking up the goals in some of their other games including an 11-0 battering of Pinewood. Ashridge went into the game two points ahead of the Pumas in mid-table on the back of three successive wins. Dan was sidelined having picked up a knock in training, with Mason also absent.
The Pumas elected to play with the low sun behind them in the first half, and started the stronger of the two teams, pressing Ashridge back into their own half and looking to exploit their pace down the right, and trickery on the left flank. Ashridge battled hard, with Jack G and Marcus engaging confidently in the scrap in the middle, and the two Jameses and Tim containing their opponents well. The home side struggled to get the ball forward in the early exchanges despite some really good work from Jamie on the right of midfield, showing great skills as well as commitment to emerge from positions in which he was severely outnumbered; but with Reg fairly isolated in the forward line, the Pumas fairy rapidly retrieved possession. On ten minutes, the visitors started to find some penetration with the deep-lying play-maker launching a ball over the top of the Ashridge back line to release his forwards, and they had the ball in the net following a lay-off to a second striker and a shot just inside the near post, but this was chalked off as the latter player had strayed offside. The reprieve was brief though, as the next attack saw them surge clear on the right flank before firing a shot from a narrow angle which hit the underside of the bar and nestled in the back of the net.
Ashridge gradually began to fight their way back into the game over the middle part of the half, and got their first sight of goal when Jamie once again evaded a couple of challenges before slotting a great pass through a gap in the back line, allowing Reg to break onto the ball before firing a shot narrowly wide. Ashridge repelled a series of dangerous looking corners, before levelling just past the mid-way point of the half when a simple ball over the top from James Riley saw Antonio break through the centre and slot past the keeper into the left side of the net. The Pumas responded and re-took the lead within three minutes when another probing pass from the play-maker saw their goal-scorer break into the box again before falling under the challenge of James Riley; penalty awarded and converted into the bottom left hand corner. Ashridge were not down-hearted and gradually began to get the upper hand as the half drew on, getting some better passing movements going and building up some pressure particularly down the right flank, and winning some corners of their own. The leveller when it came, though, was another counter-attack just past the half-hour mark; Antonio capitalising on a misjudgement of a high ball in the Pumas midfield and slotting a nice pass forward into Reg's path, with the latter calmly finishing into the right-hand corner. The visitors continued to look for the ball over the top, and nearly got in again before the interval, but a snatched shot was well off target. 2-2 at the break and all to play for.
Ashridge moved James Riley up into central midfield for the second half, with Marcus dropping into the back four alongside Jack C. The half began as it was to continue, with play largely end to end, and neither side getting full control of the game. The home side were beginning to look more dangerous, however, with James Riley marauding into spaces on the right and at times playing as an auxiliary striker, and six minutes into the half this paid dividends with James getting to the by-line and sending a cross right over the keeper to the back post where Reg was on hand to turn it into the net and put Ashridge in front for the first time in the game. Ashridge remained strong at the back and held the lead until the mid-point of the half - indeed in this spell both sides had plenty of the ball in the opponents' half without really creating more clear-cut chances. The Pumas had the ball in the net again 15 minutes into the half, but the flag had long since gone up for offside. They did, however, level things up on the hour mark, when Ashridge missed three tackles on a player allowing him to break into the box from where he produced a fine lofted finish leaving Joe with no chance.
The decisive goal came a mere five minutes later, and stemmed entirely from some typical pressing work from Reg; first putting a defender under pressure just outside the box on the right, before dispossessing him, advancing into the box and finishing well into the opposite corner for 4-3. With fifteen minutes left the result was far from done, and Ashridge had to withstand the on-going threat from corners, but they continued to get bodies in the way, and were typically first to the loose ball, so alarms were fairly few. Indeed the home side came closest to adding to the tally after Reg was fouled on the edge of the box; Antonio's well flighted free-kick being turned onto the crossbar by the keeper. Nonetheless, no further addition to the score, and Ashridge continuing the recent run of results with a maximum 12 points from the last four games.
An entertaining game throughout, if perhaps not the best we've played this season. The team worked very hard across the board and continued their recent trend of coming good in the second half - this being the fifth consecutive game in which we've conceded first in a game but have won the second half in each case, conceding only one goal (today's) in the process. Particular recognition for the hard work put in by Jack G in central midfield and by Reg working back from the striker role; both were key in unsettling the Pumas midfield who were comfortable on the ball if given the chance. Good defensive work from both Tim and James Roberts in the full-back roles, whilst Jack C and Marcus continued their good record as a central defensive partnership. Creatively, Antonio had another good game, and it's clear to see the work he has been putting in with his set-piece delivery, as well as the greater confidence he now has in front of goal (now up to 3 goals this season, his best return yet). Today's star player recognition goes to Jamie; especially in the first half he was back to his very best in terms of his touch on the ball, and his ability to work his way past opponents, whilst his distribution and work rate are improving all the time.