Ashridge Park 0 Binfield Bullets 1
Star Player: Jack Gillingham
A cloudy but mild October morning at St Crispins saw our first league meeting with Binfield since the U11 season. This Binfield side was in transition with several new players joining a core that had finished at the foot of the Division 4 table last season, and started the day level on points with Ashridge with one draw and two defeats from the opening three fixtures. For the first time in a league game this season we were able to call on more than just the bare 11 players; just Dan, Bertie and Jack C missing from the 16-man squad.
Binfield opened the game on the front foot, passing the ball around in midfield and defence with a neat precision. As was to be the case for both sides through much of the game, there was little end-product though, with a couple of hopeful through balls picked off by Joe, and a speculative shot from outside the penalty area shanked wide of the left post. The Ashridge defence dealt comfortably with their opponents, with James Riley notable with some composed interceptions and passes out from the back. After an initial five minutes of finding their feet, the Ashridge midfield began to establish control, with Jack Gillingham winning most balls, and breaking through numerous tackles; whilst alongside him Marcus put in an equally energetic display, topped off with some nice turns to create space for himself. On the flanks, Jamie began to stride forward into good spaces, whilst on the left, Alex was creating some good linkage from the defence into the forward areas with some intelligent passes. Like their opponents, Ashridge struggled to make good use of the ball in the final third; Felix and Antonio often picking up possession too deep and too wide to be able to create a goal threat; indeed Ashridge mainly lacked the player who would act as an out-and-out striker. A few half-chances were created - Jack G found a good ball in to Antonio on the right side of the area, but Antonio blazed his effort well over; Antonio slotted a ball into Harry's path, but the keeper was out quickly and Harry stabbed his effort wide of the right post. Antonio also came crashing to the ground in the box after working his way past a defender, and the Ashridge players turned hopefully to the referee but were waved away. Ashridge's skills on the ball were drawing some fouls in dangerous areas, and Jack G swung one free kick from 20 yards out on the left angle of the area just a little too high and wide of the far top corner; then from an almost identical spot, Alex's teasing delivery into the box just evaded Jack G's head and was gathered by the keeper. Late in the half, Felix broke past two tackles on the tight of the box, but sliced his shot across goal, but no Ashridge player had attacked the danger area, and the chance was gone. For the most part Binfield looked and sounded demoralised, with plenty of chirping at each other, but they enjoyed a late flurry, and almost capitalised on a mix up at the back, sending a shot from a narrow angle on the left just across goal and out of play. Goalless at the break.
Ashridge continued to hold the balance of possession and territory at the start of the second period, with Binfield mainly playing on the break. There was little change in terms of end product though. Jack G won and took another free kick on the right angle of the box but again cleared the bar with his shot; Jamie won and took another from a wider angle, but his cross cleared everyone and ran to safety. Alex tricked his way into the box on the left and again seemed to be brought crashing down after the ball had gone; again Ashridge's appeals went unanswered. Jack then teed up James Riley just outside the box, and James's thunderous drive was well-turned round the post by the Binfield keeper. Gradually the game returned to stalemate, and an ugly side began to emerge as Binfield's chirping began to be directed more at the official, with numerous appeals for decisions and questioning of those made, unfortunately those on the sidelines also joining in. Ashridge initially avoided being drawn in by this, but in the latter stages concentration started to wander, and mistakes began to emerge in the back line; first Tim miscuing the ball across his own area, leading to a chance stabbed wide of the right post, and then the crucial moment in the game five minutes from the end: after a missed clearance from Marcus, James Roberts came across to the left to cover, and appeared to be impeded by the Binfield forward as he attempted to recover from the first challenge, leaving a big space for a second Binfield player on the edge of the box to control and strike from the edge of the box, the ball just evading Joe's dive and nestling in the bottom left corner. Ashridge frustrations began to boil over as James Roberts tried to take a quick free-kick only to be blocked by a Binfield player standing two yards away, and then found himself penalised for picking the ball up to re-take, and earning himself a long-talking to for questioning it. Ashridge became quite ragged in the last seconds, and almost conceded a second at the death as a cross from the right was headed goalwards, but Joe came up with a good block on the line (met with more disputes from Binfield trying to claim it was over the line). An unfortunate atmosphere to conclude the game in.
Hugely disappointing for Ashridge who were by no means the weaker team in this game, but we have yet to solve the striker problem after Reg's departure, and especially when Jack C is also out. Antonio, Felix and Harry all tried hard, but naturally all are supporting strikers or midfielders, and too often gravitate to deeper and wider positions, leaving us without significant presence in the box. Plenty of effort all round today; several players showed good moments, but overall this was a scrappier display than in the past couple of weeks. Star player today goes to Jack G who, especially in the earlier parts of each half, was the dominant player in the middle of the park, showing good strength and ability on the ball, and looked most likely to break through the back line. If he can add an earlier pass into his game, and also hone his shooting further then he will have a great season.