Ashridge Park 2 STB&G FC Royals 2
Ashridge Scorer: Jack Clayton (35', 64' pen)
Star Player: Jamie Cole
A new season, and some significant changes in the Ashridge squad. We have said goodbye to our top goalscorer Reg Ryan (140 goals over 5 seasons) and also to Tayseer Alam, and welcome on-board Felix for his first game today. With Dan also out with a long-term knee injury sustained in the last game of last season, and Antonio, Marcus and Will all away this weekend, this was always going to be a challenging start for us. A blazing hot September morning at St Crispins only added to the challenge - with only 11 available it meant that the boys would need to pace themselves carefully. Our opponents this morning were Sandhurst Town, promoted back to Division 5 after a year away.
A relatively even start to the game, with the away side showing in the first few minutes, but Ashridge gradually began to win the midfield battle, with Jack G showing particularly strongly, breaking through several challenges but not quite managing to link up with Jack C and Felix who started up front for the home side. As Ashridge pushed forward, Sandhurst looked to exploit the space in behind the Ashridge back four with some long balls from the back, and on ten minutes registered the first serious effort on goal, the forward outpacing the two Jameses at the heart of the Ashridge defence to latch on to the ball, and a decent effort was met with a fingertip save from Joe, who managed to turn the ball on to the right-hand post before it broke back across goal to be scrambled behind by Alex, who was filling in at right-back today. The reprieve was brief though, as the same tactic by-passed the Ashridge centre backs on 13 minutes, and the same forward this time buried the chance into the bottom left-hand corner.
Ashridge continued to hold their own in the midfield battle as the half progressed, with Jamie now prospering in the central areas, showing some neat footwork to find space, as well as some surprising strength in the challenge. Clear-cut chances were still hard to find, with the blues' best moments being confined to long shots: Jack G missing to the right of goal, and Jamie dragging a shot wide to the left, before also trying a spectacular lob from half-way after a miscued clearance from the Sandhurst keeper - this one missing just to the right of goal. Sandhurst had good periods of pressure too, but still looked most dangerous on the counter-attack. On the half-hour another ball over the top caught the Ashridge defence out of position once more, the ball was switched quickly to the left flank, where Alex gamely closed down the attacker, but the ball was squared back to the edge of the box where a Sandhurst player in acres of space drilled a first-time effort low to Joe's right to extend the lead. Ashridge responded well, and a good period of play was topped off on 35 minutes when Jamie led a break through the centre before sliding a well-paced pass to his right leaving Jack C to place the ball calmly past the visitors' keeper to reduce the arrears. 2-1 to Sandhurst at the break.
With the half-time talk used in part to sort out the issues in our back-line, Ashridge began to look much more solid in the second period. With Tim and Alex breaking up the majority of attacks down their respective flanks, and the two Jameses clearing the danger through the centre, there were some early forays into Sandhurst territory. Jamie was again to the fore, showing the Sandhurst midfield a clean pair of heels, and Jack C began to feature with some strong possession around the box; there was however a tendemcy to over-elaborate, and clear-cut chances were few. Sandhurst came close to a third when a corner from the right bobbled around the Ashridge box, with James Riley ultimately rescuing the home side with a clearance off the line. Felix, now playing on the left of midfield (with Bertie moving up front), had some good moments in the opposition half, and almost released Jack C with a clever reverse pass, which just eluded everyone. As the heat took its toll, Ashridge dropped back a little and Sandhurst enjoyed a strong ten minute spell in the middle of the half, winning a number of corners, and keeping Ashridge penned in; the defence was sound, however - both Alex and Tim managing solid headed clearances under pressure.
Gradually the game evened up again, and Ashridge levelled the scores on 64 minutes when Jack C held the ball up on the right edge of the penalty area, before trying to lift the ball over the defender, only to be thwarted as the ball struck the raised arm of the Sandhurst player. The new rules kicked in, with the hand raised above shoulder height, and a penalty was awarded, which Jack C converted fairly centrally to the keeper's left. The game remained fairly even to the end, though Sandhurst were denied a potential winner on a rapid break, as the forward rounded Joe to the left of goal and got the shot away on target, only to be thwarted as Alex flung himself full-length just in front of the goal line to scramble the ball behind for a corner. No more incidents of note, and the game finished with honours even at 2-2.
Given the lack of substitutes and the absence of some fairly key players, this was a good effort to recover from two goals down. Credit to the back four for heeding advice and sorting out the problems seen in the first half, and particular credit to the full-backs Tim, and especially Alex, whose spectacular goal line clearance preserved a hard-won point. Behind them, Joe's handling was sound throughout, and his early finger-tip save was another key moment. Good to see Jack C back in action in his old striker's role, and the return of two goals is a promising sign for the season. Felix showed good energy on his debut for us, whilst Jack G was a real engine for us at the heart of the midfield, showing particularly strongly early in the game, and again at the end as others were beginning to flag. Today's star player recognition goes to Jamie, who showed more quality than anyone on the pitch today; some dynamic runs with really good touches of skill, and a key assist for our first goal.