Ashridge Park 3 Shinfield Rangers 4
Goals (click for highlights):
21 mins: 0-1
38 mins: 0-2
57 mins: 1-2 (Jamie Cole)
68 mins: 2-2 (Bertie Wilson)
83 mins: 2-3
90(+3) mins: 2-4
90(+4) mins: 3-4 (Ice Goswell)
Star Player: Joe Savory
A grey but relatively mild winter's day greeted our return to action following the suspension of the League in November. At least the pitch had had some chance to recover and was in noticeably better shape than for our last game against Berks County. Adam had aggravated his old knock in training and so missed out, along with Dillon who was unwell; Josh also taking his turn to sit out due to the matchday limit of 16. Our opponents, Shinfield Rangers, had gone through a rocky three match spell prior to lockdown with some unexpected and heavy defeats, but would normally be expected to be reasonably competitive in this division.
The early exchanges suggested that Ashridge had remembered about passing the ball during the enforced break from action, knocking some short and simple passes around quite happily, but had forgotten the physical endeavour required. A stark reminder came in the first minute when Alex was bundled unceremoniously into touch by a challenge that had little to do with the ball, but nonetheless went unpunished - probably because the ball had already crossed the line before the contact arrived. It did little to shake the boys up though, and the home side regularly coughed up possession when it came to the decisive final ball by dint of some sloppy delivery and being slower to react than the opposition. Shinfield were altogether more vocal too, but were also unable to create any real threat on goal in the opening stages; with the home side managing the only effort of note on 11 minutes when Jack G woke everyone up by seizing on a loose ball out of defence and firing a 25 yard effort over the bar. More typical of the home side's display was when a hard-won corner not only went straight out of play along the ground, but the delivery actually missed the side-netting altogether. Another corner two minutes later was better-aimed and produced Ashridge's only shot on target of the half when Jack G's header into the danger area was nodded on by Bertie towards the top corner, but the effort lacked power and was safely gathered by the Shinfield keeper. And on 20 minutes a further opportunity presented itself when the keeper handled outside his area; Ice's free kick from just right of centre went a foot or so over the top.
Thus far Ashridge had been on top, albeit lacking menace. The game changed just prior to the mid-point of the half when Dan was adjudged to have clipped the heels of a Shinfield player on the edge of the centre circle. The resulting free-kick was launched into the box but cleared everyone and found the net with Joe unable to claw it out. Any disappointment our keeper may have had with the concession was soon to be put behind him; Shinfield's confidence rocketed and they pushed on for the first time in the game, and within a minute Joe had to parry a fierce effort from just outside the box. Ashridge wasted a chance to level when Toni's excellent cross from the left was flicked on by Bertie leaving Ice with a sight of goal on the right of the box, but he blazed over from 12 yards. Shinfield were getting the clearer chances now though: first Ashridge failed to deal with a long throw into the box, and Joe saved from point blank range, dong well to gather the rebound back in before the forward pounced on it; then he pushed another goal-bound effort around the left-hand post after a long punt from the keeper had got away from the Ashridge centre backs. A free header from the resulting corner went wide, with more or less an action replay following two minutes later, this time from a corner from the right. The warning signs were there, and on 38 minutes the inevitable happened; for the umpteenth time Ashridge lost possession on half-way, and with Ethan pushing up in support, Shinfield had four on three; even this could have been recovered, but James Riley and Marcus converged on the same ball and didn't win it, leaving the Shinfield striker to peel off to the right and rifle the ball inside the near post from close range. Ashridge improved marginally for the last five minutes of the half and Dan, Jack C and Jack G all had shots, though none seriously threatened the Shinfield goal. 2-0 probably the least the visitors deserved after a dismal half from the home side, and lots to fix in the half-time team talk.
The tone was quickly set for the second half, as Ashridge began with a pace and urgency that had been missing in the first 45 minutes. Sachin and Jack G began to bustle about the central areas, and in the second minute of the half linked up to allow Sachin to drive past several challenges before having a shot blocked on the edge of the penalty area; Ashridge recycled the ball and Jamie had an effort saved by the keeper at the near post. A couple of minutes later, some dogged closing down by Jack C led to a hurried clearance which fell straight to Jack G 25 yards out, and he let fly, the ball sailing narrowly over with the keeper scurrying across his goal line in some alarm. And soon Ashridge had their reward; a poor tackle on Jamie out on the right touchline gave Ashridge a free-kick, which Sachin swung in nicely to the near post; the defence could only knock it back into Jamie's path and he drove the ball home from close range to reduce the deficit. Ashridge pushed on, and after Jamie was cynically taken down as he broke forward, another Sachin free-kick caused some panic in the Shinfield rearguard before being cleared. Shinfield were reduced to the odd break, but they were leaving numbers upfield, and Joe was forced into a save from a drive from the edge of the box after they created an overload on the Ashridge right. Just as energy levels were beginning to drop again, at the mid-point of the half, Ashridge found their equaliser. Dan, who had just come back on, found Jack C on the right edge of the box; Jack played a nice pass in behind for Jamie, whose cross was moved on by Felix for Bertie to slot home from the left angle of the six yard box. 2-2 and Ashridge now seemingly in the mood to go on to take the points.
The next few minutes saw plenty of endeavour but little threat on goal at either end. As the clock ticked down towards the final ten, Shinfield called Joe into action with a shot from fully 30 yards, which though well-struck was in truth straight down the middle and dealt with easily. Ashridge responded with a smart move; Dan retrieving possession on half way on the right and curling a testing ball in behind the Shinfield defence; Toni latched on to it with a first time shot on target, but the angle was narrow and the keeper was able to save and retrieve the rebound before Ice could close in on it. This led to another spell of Ashridge pressure, and after good work from Toni and Ethan on the left, the ball was fed via Jamie to Dan on the edge of the box, but Dan's shot drifted wide of the far post. Moments later it was Dan again in space in the left channel, this time his 25 yard effort was better struck and heading for the bottom corner before a sprawling save from the keeper turned it around the post for a corner. From the corner, the ball found its way to the back post where Ethan had space, but he couldn't quite get his foot around it and the shot went wide. Just as Ashridge were turning the screw, Shinfield broke rapidly and re-took the lead with seven minutes left. Ice was dispossessed on the right touchline close to the Shinfield box, and with both Ashridge full backs in advanced positions, a quick one-two and two missed tackles left the striker one-on-one with Marcus, he got a lucky break in the tackle as the ball rebounded into his path, but the finish across Joe into the left hand corner was clinical. 3-2 to the visitors.
Ashridge went straight down the other end in search of an equaliser and a golden chance went begging straight away as Ice's corner from the left found Felix drifting in at the back post, but a moment's hesitation saw the ball go right through him and out for a throw. Then Toni release Ice on the right and a dangerous cross was almost put into his own net by the covering defender. The resulting corner was met with a solid, goal-bound header from Toni, but was headed off the line with the keeper beaten. The pressure continued as Felix's shot was deflected behind for another corner; another great delivery from Ice was met by Marcus at the back post but went agonisingly wide of the target. Antonio then fired wide from the edge of the box before a scramble in the box saw two Ashridge efforts blocked as Shinfield threw bodies in the way of everything to preserve their lead. And as before, this spell of pressure from the home side ended with a Shinfield goal. A break down-field saw them win a throw by the left corner flag, the dangerous long delivery to the six-yard box could only be headed on by James Roberts and a Shinfield player arriving in the centre diverted it into the top corner for the decisive goal in the third minute of added-on time. And just how crucial that was became clear seconds later as Marcus's ball from halfway evaded the Shinfield defence to leave Dan in on goal; his effort was saved by the keeper, Toni following in had his shot blocked on the line - possibly by a defender's arm, but that became academic as Dan fed the ball back to Ice who fired home to reduce the arrears. No time for any further action though, the visitors running out 4-3 winners.
A strange game for the home side, with a very under-par showing in the first half ultimately costing the game, but being so much on top in the second and getting back on terms it's really hard to understand how the game was lost once more. Definite lessons to be learned here. Communication on the pitch is vital, and more specifically encouraging each other leads to greater energy and control in the game - at times it was more like a library than a football pitch in the first half. Keeping (or re-gaining) shape when out of possession is also vital; the defence were right to complain at the interval that they were being left outnumbered too often as the midfield over-committed to attack; but the defence also were caught badly out of shape at times, particularly for the second and third goals. For all that it was a good response in the second half from everyone, but Jamie and Dan in particular were notable for the effort put in. But today's star player recognition goes to Joe, who made some vital saves to even give us a chance of coming back from the débâcle of the first half.