Rotherfield Utd Colts 2 Ashridge Park 0
Star Player: Felix Galla-Taylor
One of the longer trips in the fixture list as we made our way into the Oxfordshire countryside to face a Rotherfield Utd team who were back in Division 5 after one season at the level above. Once again we were limited on numbers - in fact we have yet to be able to make a substitution in the league this season! This week we had Tim and Harry unavailable, whilst Bertie joined Dan on the injury list and Jack C was unwell once more. After a night of incessant rain, the pitch was heavy, making life all the tougher for the eleven who would have to last the full 80 minutes.
Rotherfield pushed forward in the early stages, demonstrating both a strong physical approach and some good skills in possession. At times the former spilled over into some slightly reckless tackles, but the referee was quick to intervene without the need to resort to cards. When they did play their football there was much to admire, with some good driving runs from deep and some neat passing movements in the midfield areas, but Ashridge defended in front of the penalty area extremely well, and restricted Rotherfield to long-range shots, which Joe gathered nicely and without fuss. Going forward, Ashridge had limited opportunity, but Jack G and Will were able to find some balls in behind the Rotherfield back line which Antonio and Dillon were able momentarily to exploit before being well closed down by the recovering defenders; whilst both Jamie and Felix on their respective flanks escaped their opposite numbers on a couple of occasions without being able to find the killer pass at the end of the move. Jack G had Ashridge's best opportunities striking two shots from the edge of the box after lay-offs from Antonio; the first miscued and gathered comfortably by the keeper, whilst the second was ballooned well over the bar.
The dynamic of the game began to change just beyond the mid-point of the half as the workload on a heavy pitch began to tell on the Ashridge midfield, and Rotherfield began to cut their way through with some simple passing moves. The Ashridge back four really began to come into their own in this spell, with Marcus and James Riley covering well for each other and getting in some effective clearances, whilst both Alex and James Roberts in the full back positions kept the home wide players at bay, coming away with the ball and setting Ashridge counter-attacks on their way. Rotherfield, however, began to come closer, and after Ashridge scrambled the ball behind as a striker threatened to break through and round Joe, the resulting corner from the left was headed powerfully on to the top of the crossbar and behind. After another shot from the edge of the box went well over, Rotherfield finally broke the deadlock on 31 minutes: a move down their right flank saw the ball just kept in play, then pulled back from the by-line across the box, where Ashridge half-cleared to the left edge of the six-yard box, from where the striker cut back in and tucked the ball inside the left hand post. Ashridge responded as Felix tricked his way past two players before crossing from the left angle of the box, to the back post where Dillon had sneaked in unnoticed, but the ball was agonizingly out of his reach and went behind for a goal kick. Rotherfield had the ball in the net again just before the break when a free-kick was flicked on, then controlled and bundled home, but the striker had run offside and the goal was ruled out. A dominant half from the home team but good defiance from the Ashridge rearguard meaning that there was still all to play for.
The second half began in much the same way as the first ended, with Ashridge resisting fairly constant pressure. A series of corners were won, and just about resisted despite the height advantage enjoyed by the home team. Ten minutes into the half, however, the decisive goal came - inevitably from a corner this time on the right, and with Ashridge marking the bigger players, it was one of the more diminutive forwards who ghosted in to nod the ball down and into the left hand corner. Ashridge had to endure further alarms: first as a neat interchange saw them in on goal, only for James Roberts to somehow get back to challenge and emerge with the ball; and then as they broke through on the right of the box, and rounded Joe, only for Jamie to get in an astonishing block to deflect the ball behind for a corner. Felix also came to the rescue in a more inadvertent way when a thunderous shot from outside the box just right of centre caught him full in the midriff, leaving him in a heap on the ground for a minute or so.
The game then went into a bit of a lull with fewer outright chances; both teams having moments to break on the other from the midfield areas, but neither managing to outwit the other's defence with a decisive pass. As the game entered the last 10 minutes, the home side began to tire and ease off the pace, and Ashridge enjoyed a better spell; Will and Jack G beginning to win more ball as they kept the central areas tight, and Jack also prospering in some forward raids with Antonio; but again the final pass just lacking the quality needed to cut the defence open. Jamie too started to find space on the right flank, and on one lovely run left two defenders in his wake, but the cross was too close to the defender, who cut it out with ease. Again it was Felix who came closest to unlocking the home defence, holding off two challenges on the left flank by the corner flag, before flighting a great pull-back to the centre of the 6-yard box, where Antonio tried to turn it home acrobatically but failed to make more than the merest contact with the ball. In the dying seconds, Jamie and Jack G constructed Ashridge's best move, passing their way through the Rotherfield defence before Jack G pivoted on the penalty spot, and struck an effort to the top left corner; just not getting sufficient venom on it to trouble the home keeper who made a neat catch.
Given the circumstances, this was a good effort by the Ashridge eleven against a decent side. Joe's handling throughout was exceptional in wet conditions, whilst in front of him the back four put in a great defensive display under significant pressure. Up-front Dillon and Antonio worked hard but found the conditions limited what they could achieve when often outnumbered. The biggest recognition must go to the midfield today, as they had to work box-to-box on a heavy pitch. In the centre, Will and Jack G never stopped, and recovered well from a rocky spell in the second part of the first half, keeping a tight formation and managing to stem the tide; Jack also managed to get into forward positions and had all of our main efforts on goal. Jamie was impressive as usual, today putting in some great defensive work to add to his forward raids. Today's star player recognition goes to Felix, who likewise did more defensive work today than in previous games, but who also troubled the Rotherfield defence more than anyone, and came up with two crosses that could easily have led to Ashridge goals.