Ashridge Park 1 Windsor Youth Harriers Gladiators 3
Ashridge Scorer: Felix Galla-Taylor (49')
Star Player: Joe Savory
After two weekends of inaction due to the sodden ground, we resumed at St Crispins against familiar opposition in the form of Windsor Youth Harriers Gladiators. Previous games between the sides have always been close affairs, with plenty of goals the norm; Ashridge holding the balance of results with two wins to one. However with the home side rooted to the foot of the table with just one point and four goals from six games to date, mid-table Windsor would have been considered the favourites for this latest match. Ashridge went into the game with the comparative luxury of two substitutes; only Dillon missing this week in addition to long-term absentees Dan and Jack C.
Ashridge started the game positively, moving the ball around quickly and making progress on both flanks. An early chance was fashioned as Marcus (having a try-out as striker in the opening stages) linked up with Jamie on the right, and Jamie swung an excellent ball into the centre where Antonio volleyed over the bar from around the penalty spot. Windsor were quick to respond, however, and opened the scoring on five minutes with their first meaningful effort; a swift break in the right channel and a neat pass through a gap in the Ashridge defence saw the striker in on goal; Joe pulled off a fine stop, but could do nothing as Windsor latched on to the rebound and side footed home. Windsor then continued to look dangerous for much of the first period, and Ashridge did well to keep them at bay; first Joe diving full length to turn away another effort from the left channel as Windsor cut through again, and then Alex doing well to get a clearing header on a cross from the Windsor right, with a forward poised for the header just behind him. Ashridge in their turn played some good football going forwards, and a neat quick-passing move involving Jack G, Bertie and Antonio down the left opened up the Windsor defence and the cross drew a rushed clearance for a corner. Alex then almost caught the Windsor keeper out launching a ball from 40 yards out into the box, forcing the keeper to back-pedal and claw the ball away for another corner. Windsor continued to press for further goals as the half wore on, and drew an outstanding save from Joe ten minutes before the break: another ball into the box was headed towards the top corner, but Joe flung a hand up and tipped the ball over from point-blank range. The defence continued to hold out manfully, with James Riley making numerous blocks and clearances, and beside him James Roberts doing equally well with a number of headed clearances and tackles. All hands were on deck as the interval approached when Joe couldn't hang on to a hopeful effort from outside the box, and Ashridge bodies were thrown into the path of the ball as they somehow managed to keep three follow-up efforts away from the goal. 1-0 to the visitors at the break.
For the second half, Ashridge moved James Riley into midfield with Marcus dropping into the back four and Jack G taking a turn up-front. The intensity dropped a little and Ashridge began to get more on terms in the central areas. Windsor's main efforts on goal in this period came from a couple of free-kicks conceded in dangerous areas five yards outside the box, but both were shanked wide of the target. Ashridge continued to link up well in the forward midfield areas, and got their reward just short of ten minutes into the half, when Harry, Jack and Felix linked up on the right before Felix broke two tackles in the box and fired a fierce effort low inside the near post to level things up. Windsor's frustration began to tell and things got a little testy at times, and Ashridge had the odd sniff of goal; a neat pass threaded through by Felix almost got Jack in before a timely clearance came in; then Antonio fired a free-kick over from 25 yards just left of centre. Ashridge lived dangerously at times, most notably when a corner was turned goalwards, only for Jamie, stationed on the goal line, to turn it onto the post, before another outbreak of pinball in the box saw Ashridge manage to clear their lines. Joe was called upon a couple more times and came up with further great blocks, but he was finally beaten ten minutes from the end when a "Hail Mary" shot dipped in just under the crossbar leaving him with no chance. Tails up, Windsor broke through again five minutes later, bisecting the Ashridge back four with a neat pass, and the striker laying the ball to his right as Joe came out leaving a second Windsor player to tap into the empty net to complete the scoring at 3-1. Further good defence from James Roberts prevented any further damage, but Ashridge were unable to mount a serious response as time ran out.
Another close game in the end, although there can be little doubt that the visitors deserved the result. An improved performance from Ashridge though, moving the ball more quickly and more accurately than in previous weeks, and carving out some chances as a result. Marcus's cameo up-front was useful, providing energy and purpose, and is an experiment worth repeating. Antonio, Bertie and Jamie all had good moments with some quick incisive passing allied to good movement and a few skills on the ball into the bargain; whilst it was great to see Felix get his first goal for the club following several top performances this season. The defence drew some compliments from the opposition supporters as they applied themselves thoroughly and made it difficult for Windsor to benefit from the superior possession they had. Star of the show though was undoubtedly Joe, several one-on-one blocks and a couple of top saves certainly kept Ashirdge in the game for a long time.