Ashridge Park 0 Hurst Twyford Hurricanes 5
Star Player: Alex Ayton
Availability issues continued to dog the side as we went into our second game. With Marcus missing once more, and Dillon away this weekend, we also lost Jack C and Will to illness on the morning of the game. With Harry making his debut, we therefore went into the match with just the bare 11 once more. Our opponents, Hurst and Twyford are amongst the stronger teams in the division, and had beaten us on each of the four occasions we have met previously - albeit the last one courtesy of a last minute penalty save.
Hurst dominated proceedings from the off, pushing forward and looking for openings. Ashridge battled well, with the back line staying in good shape, and Joe confidently claiming any balls within his reach. Jack G set the tone in the midfield areas, snapping into some good challenges, and the energy was quickly picked up by Harry alongside him in the centre and Felix on the left flank, with Antonio also keeping the Hurst defence on their toes. Felix perhaps made the biggest impression in this period, winning some great tackles, showing some tidy footwork, and teeing up one or two promising raids for Harry and Antonio. Hurst, however, were fleet of foot at the back and always had numbers where they were needed, and Ashridge were unable to breach their defences.
Whilst under fairly constant pressure, Ashridge kept Hurst at bay until the mid-point of the half, when the visitors struck with a well-taken goal. The move started with a throw on the right, level with the penalty area; the ball breaking off the head of one attacker across the edge of the penalty area where a first time effort was rifled high into the back of the net leaving Joe with little chance. Ashridge energy levels sagged, and more pressure followed, and on 28 minutes a ball over the back line produced a moment's hesitation, and a Hurst forward muscled his way past to stab in a second just inside the left hand post. More damage could have followed as a scramble from a corner led to the ball being headed narrowly wide; and then Joe pulled off a good save from a fiercely struck cross-shot from the right flank. Ashridge's best moment was a nicely worked interchange between Harry and Antonio on the edge of the Hurst box, leaving Harry breaking in on the keeper, only to be pulled up by the linesman's flag as he had gone a moment too soon. 2-0 at the interval
A bit of reorganisation for the second half, with Jamie moving off the right flank into the centre of midfield to try to give him more chance to influence proceedings, Harry moving up front, and Bertie dropping into right midfield. If the break was the chance to re-group and go again, the start to the half rapidly deflated things. In the opening minute, a Hurst midfielder was given the freedom of the Ashridge right to surge to the edge of the box, and with no midfielders covering across, he was able to jink inside Alex and fire a shot inside the near post to make it three. Three minutes later and almost a repeat performance on the Ashridge left, this time the runner evading Tim's last challenge in the box and squaring past Joe to leave a tap in to an empty net. Ashridge now in danger of a real hammering, but to their credit, they began to look more solid again, and just prior to the hour had a genuine shout for a penalty when Antonio and Harry combined, Harry worked his way past one challenge and into the box on the right hand angle, before appearing to be bundled over from behind by the recovering defender. Nothing given, however, and Hurst resumed their pursuit of more goals.
The last period of the game saw the Ashridge defence battle manfully to restrict the damage. The midfield was tiring badly now, and being by-passed easily by surging runs and by simple balls over the top. James Riley repeatedly pushed up from centre back to try to compensate, but this left gaps which Hurst's runners were quick to exploit, and only some wayward finishing kept the score at four. The defence was having to deal with some quite physical stuff at times, with Alex flattened by a forward who just leant on him rather than trying to play the ball, but to his credit he got on with it, ran off the knock and then proceeded to get some crucial clearances and tackles in. James Roberts was also left in a heap after a late challenge from the same player, and he too continued to do a good job. Ashridge managed the odd raid, and when they kept it simple and passed the ball around, managed to look a bit more of a threat, but the Hurst back line dealt well with it, and a deflected shot from Jamie was the most they had to show for it. Hurst finally breached the Ashridge defences again five minutes from time, another well-timed run through the channel, a well-struck shot was saved by Joe, but the ball broke into the path of another Hurst forward who shinned it into the net, just avoiding Alex's desparate lunge on the line.
Although a disappointing result, it's hard to criticise the team given the lack of available players; the effort was pretty good against a team who should be amongst the leaders in the division at the end of the season. The back four were sorely tested today, but all did pretty well in the circumstances; they just need to be sure to maintain their shape even when the midfield are caught too far forward, and they need to call each other out if it's not happening. The midfield had a huge workload to do against a powerful team, but they do need to build fitness so that they are able to support both defence and attack, particularly in the wide areas - today it was either one or the other for the most part. Two players in contention for the star award: Felix was the stand-out in the first half with some great energy, some good skills and nice passing; he looked the most likely to set up something of note going forward; he did however fade in the second period. So the award goes to Alex, standing in for the second match in a row at right back, he put in his second solid, disciplined performance; always to be found in the right position, he broke up a number of attacks, and used the ball well; he soldiered on after being hurt in a crude challenge, and in fact almost redoubled his efforts from that point.