Curley Park Rangers Tornadoes 2 Ashridge Park 4
Goals (click for highlights):
15 mins: 0-1 (Toni Baciu)
45+2 mins: 1-1
58 mins: 1-2 (Sachin Vara)
64 mins: 2-2
77 mins: 2-3 (Jamie Cole)
81 mins: 2-4 (Toni Baciu)
Star Player: James Riley
A bright December morning saw the team travel to Camberley to take on Curley Park Rangers Tornadoes, a team that we had never previously faced. We again had a full matchday squad of 16, with Adam and Josh returning to the lineup; Marcus, James Roberts and Dillon missed out this week.
After the lacklustre start in last weeks game, Ashridge were clearly much more fired up and vocal from the outset here. From the kick off they strung together a dozen passes, and in fact it was well into the second minute before Curley Park got a meaningful foot on the ball. When the opposition did have possession, the side quickly dropped into a solid formation and the ball was quickly retrieved. While there was some promising build-up play, with Dan, Sachin and Jamie spreading play well in the central areas and Adam and Toni providing excellent link-up to the attack, it took a while for clear-cut chances to appear. In fact the first effort on goal from either side came in the 14th minute, and came within a whisker of seeing Ashridge take the lead; Sachin's free-kick from the right angle of the box was poked goal-wards by Felix, with the keeper just getting down in time to turn it away at full-stretch; Ashridge quickly recovered the ball and another pin-point cross from Sachin found Adam with the goal at his mercy, but his header somehow went wide of the target from six yards out. The visitors were not denied for long though; the resulting goal-kick was retrieved by Felix on the edge of the centre-circle, he laid it forward to Toni who flicked the ball up and volleyed first time over the keeper from the edge of the box into the right hand corner of the net - a really lovely piece of skill. 1-0 on the quarter hour and thoroughly merited on the balance of play.
As the half wore on some of the cohesion began to drop out of the visitors' game with passes going astray and energy levels dropping a little. Curley Park were making little impression as the rearguard - and James Riley in particular - stood strong and mopped up anything that came their way. Just prior to the midpoint of the half, the home side did come close when a free-kick was awarded for handball against Felix just outside the box; a decent effort from the dead ball smacked against the outside of the right post and away to safety. On 25 minutes Ashridge came close to extending the lead; a flowing move starting with James Riley in his own half and involving some crisp first time passing from Jamie, Toni, Jack G and Bertie put Toni in for a shot on goal which the keeper did well to parry low down to his right, the ball was cleared straight to Jack whose thunderous effort from the edge of the box was turned round the left hand post - another good save. Ice then nearly capitalised on some hesitation in the home defence from a punt downfield by Joe, getting a foot on it but being denied by the sprawling keeper at his feet, the rebound fell to Toni, whose effort beat the keeper but was blocked by a defender on the edge of the six-yard box. Ashridge were now over-elaborating on the ball and movement off the ball was dropping away as they tired somewhat and mistakes led to a couple of half-chances for Curley Park, which they failed to make use of. As half-time approached Ashridge had a great chance to give themselves a cushion as Dan slotted a ball through for Ice to race on to, but the ball was bobbling on the surface and never quite sat down, and Ice's shot from just inside the box went over the bar. Sure enough as the clock ticked into injury time at the end of the half Ashridge were made to pay for the wasted chances. A free-kick was conceded for an innocuous challenge by Ethan some 35 yards from goal, Ashridge didn't deal with the ball into the box and it was bundled home from close range. 1-1 at the break in a half in which Ashridge had nearly 60% possession and 12 shots to Curley Park's 4.
Ashridge started the second half with purpose, and the very first move saw Ice deliver a cross from the right to find Felix, whose shot drew a save from the home keeper. A couple of minutes later and another dangerous ball in from Ice saw Adam with a free header off-target, before Dan's effort from just outside the box broke back to Adam, whose effort went just past the angle of post and crossbar to the right of the Curley Park goal. The home side were now more or less penned in their own half with only the odd counter-attack, though Ashridge hearts were momentarily in mouths as Alex was called on to intercept a dangerous cross from the left with the ball flying only a yard or so high and wide of the near post. Just prior to the hour mark, Ashridge finally got the breakthrough they were threatening with a high-class individual goal from Sachin, picking the ball up on the edge of the centre circle and dribbling around two opponents before firing a shot from outside the box across the keeper and into the left hand corner for 2-1. Adam then drew another save from the Curley Park keeper low down to his right after Felix had held up Sachin's cross from the right. But suddenly, out of the blue, Curley Park were level again, and this was a goal of the highest calibre: a midfielder picking up possession in his own half, cleverly slipping past his marker, carrying the ball into Ashridge territory before beating Will and slipping a ball inside Dan who was covering at right back to find the forward on the left angle of the box; the forward took a touch before curling a shot into the top right hand corner - not only did Joe stand no chance, but I doubt any keeper in the world could have got to it. 2-2 just past the hour mark and still all still to play for.
The home side's confidence was briefly boosted by the goal, and the same player tried to repeat the trick a couple of minutes later, but missed the target to the right of goal with Joe comfortably in control this time. But gradually Ashridge recovered their composure and began to threaten again; Toni's long cross-field ball from the left touchline found Jack C centrally just outside the box, and he fed the ball to the right for Ice, whose fierce shot drew another good block from the home keeper. Dan and Toni had further efforts off target, before on 75 minutes a golden chance went begging; Dan's cross from the right flank went right across goal to find Toni ghosting in on the back post, but the ball reared up and went off his shins and over the bar from point blank range. The home side's reprieve was brief, though, as Ashridge won a throw level with the box on the left, Toni took it quickly to find Jamie, who held off a couple of challenges before firing home down the centre of the goal to give Ashridge the lead for the third time. And this time they kept Curley Park penned in and made the game safe four minutes later; Alex won a corner on the right, Ice's delivery was blocked but Alex fed the ball back out and this time Ice's ball in was inch-perfect for Toni to volley home from the edge of the six yard box. 4-2 and the points surely now in the bag. Ashridge remained in control of the ball and came closest to adding to the tally when another great delivery from Ice found Adam in the box, and after mis-timing his first header straight up in the air, launched a second effort just over the crossbar. Some late huffing and puffing from the home side was easily dealt with by the Ashridge back line, and the game ended with Sachin breaking from his own half and evading four challenges before having his shot blocked.
A good way to finish the term after some disappointing recent results. A game dominated by Ashridge with the final shot tally of 25 to 7 a far better indicator of the game than the goal count. Great to see the lessons from last week taken on board; the team's shape was good throughout, and the communication and encouragement was a significant factor in the improved performance. Nice to have Adam back in the forward line, and although his finishing was a little lacking in sharpness, his link-up play was an important part in our dominance of possession. Alongside him up-front Toni was a real handful throughout the game and his two goals good reward for his effort. Sachin, Dan and Jack G dominated the midfield and used the ball intelligently, and Ice worked back well whilst continuing to provide high-quality balls into the box from the flank. At the back Josh was a real calming influence that we sorely missed in the previous game, but today's star player recognition goes to James Riley. His performance today showed that dominance of a game can start at the back, regularly winning back possession as we expect from James, but today his use of the ball was on-point, clearing when necessary, but mainly picking out the right pass or on occasion carrying it into the danger area when the space opened up for him; a really emphatic and intelligent display all-round.