STB&G FC Royals 0 Ashridge Park 1
Ashridge Scorer: Jack Gillingham (31')
Star Player: Jamie Cole
A new year started with a visit to a familiar venue in the Sandhurst Memorial Park to play Sandhurst Town Royals. The teams had fought out a 2-2 draw on the opening day of the season, and indeed Sandhurst had gone on to become the draw specialists of the division, with 5 from 10 matches before Christmas (1 win and 4 defeats). Ashridge came into the game once again short of defenders, with James Roberts away and Marcus unwell, so Tim moved into the centre of the back four (or at least he did 10 minutes into the game having missed the kick-off!) with Will and Alex once again filling in at full-back.
Ashridge started brightly and almost opened the scoring in the first minute as Felix's corner from the right was met with a solid header from Jamie, which flashed just high and wide to the right of the goal. Sandhurst pushed forward in response, but were met with some solid defensive work from Jack G and James Riley, and managed little other than some long range efforts which were gobbled up comfortably by Joe between the sticks. Indeed, the home side's best moments in the first half were almost entirely created by some careless passing from Ashridge, which turned good possession into needless defensive panic, with the situation only being salvaged by some last-gasp clearances. From about ten minutes in, Ashridge began to regain some composure and take a good measure of control of the central areas: Felix was busy, with some good challenges and a few mazy runs, but on a heavy pitch this usually ended with loss of possession; but it was Jamie who really started to catch the eye; controlling affairs from the middle of the Sandhurst half, and spreading play well to Dillon on the right and Bertie on the left, as well as finding some incisive passes into the strikeforce of Jack G and Antonio. Chances started to come and go: Bertie got free on the left of the box but fired his shot over the bar; Felix also worked a couple of shooting chances but didn't catch the shot cleanly, putting one at a gentle pace straight at the keeper, then pulling an even better opportunity wide of the near post. Just past the half-hour mark, as Harry replaced Dillon on the right, Ashridge broke the deadlock. A well-worked move saw the ball moved left to right across the edge of the Sandhurst box, before Jamie spread play to Harry in space on the right of the box; Harry's shot looped up onto the bar (the keeper perhaps just getting a touch), and Jack G had the simplest of tasks to knock the ball into the empty net. A second very nearly followed as Ashridge worked another neat move down the right, resulting in Jamie getting in behind the defence and squaring into the box, where the slightest touch by a defender took the ball just behind Jack G who was waiting for another simple finish; and with Jack just unable to gather it in, Sandhurst were able to clear. No real alarms at the other end, and Ashridge reached the break with a deserved advantage.
If truth be told, the second half was a bit of a non-event - albeit one that seemed to go on for an absolute age. Both teams huffed and puffed, but there was little of any great quality to report, and energy levels really started to sag. With Jack G moving back into central midfield for Ashridge and Felix moving up-front, Ashridge had enough presence in the centre to thwart the majority of Sandhurst's attempts at progress, and once again Joe was able to deal comfortably with any long-range efforts that came in. Conversely, Ashridge perhaps missed Jack's presence in the central forward areas, and whilst there were plenty of raids down the flanks, especially with Felix on the right, and latterly Dillon on the left, most were snuffed out once they reached the penalty area - though Ashridge had numerous corners as a result, the delivery wasn't up to the usual standard. Sandhurst were most dangerous when they were able to counter with pace - the prime example being when the right back surged past Bertie and with a single exchange of passes was able to get all the way to the by-line before being dealt with by James Riley. Alex and Will dealt well with the threats down the flanks, and James and Tim were always on hand to help out if needed. In a half of few real chances, Ashridge again had the best of them, twice putting Antonio through on goal, but on the first occasion the defender got back to him before he could capitalise, and on the second, a risky challenge from the defender just got enough of a toe on the ball (as well as a bit of Antonio's standing foot) to cause the strike to skew wide of the far post. As Ashridge tired and fell deeper, Sandhurst had a couple of late chances: one saw the striker break into the area after a missed clearance, but with James Riley on hand to challenge the ball ran safely through to Joe as the referee waved away some half-hearted penalty appeals; then a shooting chance on the right side of the box saw the ball blazed high and wide. Eventually, after the referee had added on a number of minutes for time lost when the ball was in the ditch on the far side, the final whistle blew to herald Ashridge's first league win of the season.
A well-deserved result, ground out in the closing stages as fatigue set in, but founded on some good work in the opening half. Credit to the defence, with James Riley marshalling things well throughout, and Alex in particular coming off best in numerous challenges on our left flank. Dillon deserves a mention today as he showed some great tenacity and strength in the challenge, allied to his normal intelligent use of the ball; he was involved in several promising moves. Jack G was a great presence today, both up-front in the first half, and in midfield in the second; it was good to see him get on the scoresheet for the first time this season; Harry, too, had some good moments and came up with the assist for the goal. Today's star award goes to Jamie who was the stand-out player in the first half with some good driving and skilful runs from central midfield, and more particularly in the way he ran the show with some really probing passing.