Windsor Youth Harriers Gladiators 5 Ashridge Park 2
Ashridge Scorers: Dan Baker (50'), Antonio Baciu (63', pen)
Star Player: Dan Baker
A first visit to Windsor for the team this morning, having only previously played these opponents (twice) at St Crispins, with Ashridge victorious by a two-goal margin on both occasions. Both sides went into the game on the back of good wins, with the home side having triumphed 4-1 at Hearts of Teddlothian, whilst Ashridge won at the previous leaders Westwood Wanderers Greens. The visitors had some significant availability issues, with Marcus and Tayseer both away, Jack C still unwell, and Jack G having limped out of training the previous evening, so there was a slightly makeshift look to the back line in particular, with central midfield also a concern.
Windsor opened the game with greater confidence, pushing Ashridge back, and rapidly exposing some uncertainty in the back four. With Tim moving inside to partner James Riley at centre back, and Alex deputising at left back, it took a while for any understanding to form, and Windsor were able to make good progress on their right, winning a couple of early corners. With most of the confident headers of the ball missing today, these deliveries caused a level of havoc; Reg doing well to clear one over his own bar, whilst another resulted in a real scramble in the box before a combination of James Roberts, WIll and Jamie managed to clear the ball out to the right touchline. Ashridge survived and gradually began to work themselves into the game, with some tidy passing movements emerging especially on the right where, Will, Jamie, Dan and Antonio began to link up and find spaces. The visitors began to create opportunities, with a ball over the defence releasing Antonio on the right of the box, but his shot was blazed well over the bar; then Reg again found Antonio with a pass into the channel, but Antonio this time fired wide of the right-hand post.
The game remained end-to-end and goalless for the first twenty minutes, before calamity set in. Ashridge lost possession in the centre circle, with the midfield out of shape and stranded up-field; Tim stepped out but missed his tackle, and Alex was also quickly by-passed as he tried to cover the runner and the wide player at the same time; the rest of the defence stood off, allowing the Windsor player to loft a shot over Joe who was some distance off his line. The home side wasted no time in adding a second, an angled ball from the right found its way past a static defence, and with Joe this time staying back closer to his line, the forward nipped in for a simple finish. Ashridge responded and created half-chances for Dan and Reg, but both shots lacked power and left the keeper with simple saves. Windsor won a throw on the left deep in Ashridge territory, which Ashridge initially dealt with, but a terrible clearance went straight to the Windsor danger man, who struck a well-placed effort over Joe once more into the opposite corner for 3-0. A fourth soon followed as Windsor built again down their left, two more missed tackles followed by a cross, and with no-one closing down, the Windsor player had a simple task to slot past Joe once more. Ashridge finished the half well, creating a couple of chances for crosses on either flank, but the ball could not find the men in the area and the visitors went to the break with a mountain to climb.
A few shuffles of personnel were made at half-time, with Tim returning to his favoured left-back role, James Roberts trying his hand at centre-back, and Will once again picking up the right back position in which he'd played the last two matches; Jamie joining Dan in centre midfield. This was a more successful set-up, and Ashridge began to dominate possession and create possibilities from the outset against a Windsor back line who were now beginning to show signs of uncertainty themselves. The finish was still elusive though, as shots were not cleanly struck and the keeper was untroubled in picking them off. This all changed ten minutes into the half as Ashridge developed play down the left with Tim finding Bertie, then Jamie took over after Bertie was closed down, and the ball finding its way across the box where Dan struck a first-time shot low into the bottom left hand corner to reduce the arrears. Ashridge continued to press, and the Windsor challenges became more desperate, with the visitors winning several free-kicks around the edge of the box; unlike last week however, we failed to make the most of these with James Riley (twice) and Reg both hitting balls straight at the keeper without the necessary degree of power. Eventually, the pressure was bound to tell; Antonio went on another foray on the right of the Windsor box, beating a couple of players before stumbling in the challenge; but remarkably he managed to retain control of the ball and get back to his feet, working a shooting chance which was rudely denied by a trip. Penalty awarded, and Antonio himself stepped forward to fire a powerful effort high into the left corner, and bringing the score back to 4-2.
The one-way traffic continued with Dan winning almost everything in the central areas and driving Ashridge forward. They came close to a third when another break down the left saw a good cross played into centre, finding Reg just on the edge of the six yard box, but although he connected quite well, he couldn't keep it down and the ball cleared the bar by some distance. Another mazy run by Antonio saw him beat several players (or possibly the same couple of players several times) on the right wing, with the ball eventually finding its way across goal where Bertie could only shoot straight at the keeper; then a decent corner from the left by Alex saw the keeper spill the ball, but it didn't fall kindly for Ashridge and Windsor hacked it to safety. As the game went on, with Ashridge pressing so high, Windsor began to seize the opportunity to counter, not least when a re-taken free-kick on the edge of the Windsor box saw Antonio try to lay the ball sideways to James Riley, but with James on his heels Windsor were able to pick the ball off, speed downfield and whiz a shot narrowly over the bar. Ashridge were also grateful for James Roberts throwing himself into the path of a shot after a break down the left had seen Windsor with men over in the middle. Five minutes from the end, with Ashridge still pressing, Windsor settled matters when a ball in behind the back line found their man narrowly onside, and he was able to find the net to make the final score 5-2.
In some ways a strange game, because for two-thirds of the first half the game was an even contest, so to find ourselves four down at the break seems a bit extreme, but the simple truth was we did not defend or compete well enough in that spell, and Windsor were able to take advantage. Much better in the second half, and pride was at least restored even if we couldn't undo all the damage done. Undoubtedly we missed our absentees today, and it is to be hoped that we get as many of them back on the pitch as we can for the next outing. On a day when we needed someone to step up and show the fight necessary to get us back into the game in the second half, two players stood out: Jamie really brought some stability to the centre of midfield and set up a number of attacks with his determination and control; but clear winner of star player today was Dan who won so many balls that he was second favourite for, who drove us forward with some powerful running and good use of the ball, capped by a well-executed strike for his seventh goal of the season.