Ashridge Park 3 Windsor Youth Harriers Gladiators 1
Ashridge Scorers: Reg Ryan (12', 59' pen), Dan Baker (78')
Star Player: James Roberts
An early afternoon kick-off turned out to be a blessing as the morning rain eased off to leave relatively mild conditions in its wake for our game with Windsor. The pitch was a little sticky following the downpour, which contributed a little to the scrappy affair that was to follow, with both teams finding it tricky to play flowing football. Whilst Ashridge were on a run of four successive wins, our opponents were finding points hard to come by having had a run of games against the division's better sides, and they found themselves in tenth place at the start of the day.
Windsor started marginally the better of the two sides, getting a foothold in the central midfield areas and looking to exploit the flanks. With Ashridge starting with a back three, there was some early threat on the Ashridge left as the flank player showed some nice skills on the ball and managed to ghost past both Alex and Tim on a couple of occasions without producing an end product. On the other flank they also produced a couple of swift breaks, but James Roberts was on hand to pressurise the man on the ball and clear his lines into touch. Initially Ashridge struggled to get clean contact on the ball with a number of skewed clearances and misplaced passes, and with the front three pushed further forward, Windsor were often able to turn over possession on half-way and push forward again. For all this, they had only a couple of off-target long-range efforts to show for the early possession, and Ashridge came the closer to breaking the deadlock when Jack G's effort from 30 yards caught the keeper out of position but just cleared the bar. And it was to be Ashridge who struck first on twelve minutes as for the first time some passes were strung together; Alex picking off a loose ball and spreading play to the right flank, where Antonio showed a good touch to take the ball past his man to the by line, before laying the ball off to Marcus who swept a dangerous ball into the six yard box where the keeper failed to hold it as Reg closed in on it; the Ashridge striker recovering first to force the ball over the line.
Confidence now started to flow for the home side, and the next few minutes saw a wave of blue-and-white attacks bear down on the visitor's goal as Ashridge finally got the ball down and started to play. Jack G, Antonio, Marcus and Reg were all prominent, and with Bertie and Jamie finding room on both flanks, Ashridge threatened to extend the lead; Bertie just failing to get enough on a shot having been played in on the left of the box, and Antonio just clearing the bar with another shot from the edge of the box. But as had been the case with the opener, the next goal came against the run of play, with a swift Windsor counter-attack finding a way through the Ashridge back line on the right of the box, the forward jinking past Joe as he came out of goal, and tucking the shot back into the opposite side of the net to level at 1-1. Again the goal bred confidence, and Windsor pushed the home team on to the back foot again, almost taking the lead with a break on the left side of the box, with Joe not managing to gather the ball as he came out, but fortunately the attempt from a narrow angle missed to the right of the goal. The introduction of Dan and Tayseer helped to provide fresh impetus to the home side and Ashridge finished the half the stronger, with some neat link-up play in evidence involving Tayseer, Reg and Dillon in particular, but no clear opportunities were fashioned and half-time arrived with the scores level.
A pre-planned switch to 4-4-2 followed for the home side, with Marcus dropping in alongside James Riley at the back to hopefully provide some additional pace and cover against the trickier Windsor forwards. Unfortunately Ashridge appeared to have fallen asleep at half-time as they were all at sea in the first ten minutes of the half, with a lack of energy and organisation. Windsor poured through various holes in the cover, always seeming to have a man over, but the finishing was wayward with shots not only missing the target but often being sliced hopelessly wide of the mark. A very narrow escape then followed as Windsor worked a throw-in on the left near the corner flag to the angle of the penalty area; good footwork saw the striker evade a couple of challenges to create the space for the shot which was shaped nicely to the far top-corner, the ball striking the angle of post and crossbar before being cleared. This finally seemed to wake Ashridge up, and Jack G and Dan began to get a better grip of midfield, and the home side started to threaten with Reg and Tayseer finding some good spaces, and Dillon again providing some intelligent and simple link play. After a couple of such moves had been thwarted by some last-gasp defensive work, Ashridge re-took the lead just prior to the hour mark as a sweeping move initiated down the right with Dan eventually saw Tayseer released into the box on the left, and as he sought to trick his way past the last defender he was brought crashing to ground by a clumsy challenge. Penalty awarded, and Reg stepped forward to net to the keeper's right.
The remainder of the game saw Windsor huffing and puffing to get back on terms but with very few incidents of real danger - most moves were broken down in their infancy with Tim on the left getting some good interceptions and clearances; Marcus and James Riley now looking solid in the centre, and James Roberts doing a particularly fine job on the right, winning his battles emphatically. Ashridge were still looking dangerous on the counter, with Antonio back in the fray and showing some determined running allied to some lovely footwork and good awareness of the runs being made by Reg, it seemed more likely that the home team would be the ones to strike next. The goal did eventually arrive just two minutes from time; a razor-sharp through ball from Reg from the centre circle setting Dan in behind the Windsor defence, and he came up with a measured finish to the keeper's right to settle affairs at 3-1.
Not quite up to the standards set over the last few weeks, as we struggled for the most part to get our passing going on a slightly sticky surface, and at times the basics of getting a good strike through the ball and of being properly organised and communicating each other were all missing. Nonetheless, the team showed good fighting qualities to scrap out another win - the fifth in succession - despite not playing well. Today's plaudits go to Jack G for another solid game in the centre, and inevitably to Reg whose two goals take him to 18 in 9 appearances this season, and whose pass to Dan was probably the best moment of the game; also to Dillon whose cameo this week included some good touches and excellent link-up play, and to Antonio who likewise showed great close control and worked extremely well with Reg in particular as a strike pairing. Tim had another good game at the back, but was pipped to the star player award today by our other full-back, James Roberts, who typified the battling qualities on show today with a succession of tackles won and interceptions made.