Ashridge Park 3 Berks County Pumas 4
Goals (click for highlights):
1 min: 1-0 (Bertie Wilson)
4 mins: 2-0 (Ice Goswell)
18 mins: 3-0 (Toni Baciu)
31 mins: 3-1
43 mins: 3-2
71 mins: 3-3 (pen)
74 mins: 3-4
Star Player: Marcus Coppen
This turned out to be our last game before Lockdown 2.0. I'm not a great believer in the idea of pathetic fallacy, but the conditions on this Saturday morning make me wonder. Gloomy doesnt come close. Miserable gets nearer. Downright unpleasant if you multiply by a factor of ten you might start to get a feel for it.
I'm sure our opponents felt the same, at least to start with. You could see the hunched shoulders as the boys kicked off, and Berks County certainly weren't in the mood in the opening few minutes. A routine throw-in was passed sideways across the box catching a defender half-asleep and Bertie struck the loose ball first-time past the helpless keeper into the left corner of the net to give Ashridge the lead after 35 seconds. The ball had barely found its way into the Ashridge half before the home side increased the lead on 4 minutes; Ice left his opponent for dead on the right flank with some nifty footwork and his ball into the centre caught the keeper out of position and probably crossed the line before Adam made sure (a temporary failure on our camera meaning that our low-tech retrospective version of VAR was unavailable in this instance). Ashridge continued to dominate, but there were already ominous signs as the ball started to hold up in the centre circle, and Berks County got half a sniff as a long ball skidded on past Marcus only for the forward to miss the target when well-placed.
Our top scorer Toni made his entrance on the quarter-hour. Within seconds he was slotted in on the left of the box, but pulled his shot wide of the near post. Berks retaliated and within a minute or so drew a good save from Joe, parrying a close range shot away to his right. But Ashridge took advantage of this rare threat on goal to counter swiftly: Adam found Ice on the right, Ice again skipped past his marker before squaring into the box; Toni shifted the ball to his right and fired across the keeper into the corner for 3-0 on 18 minutes, and a big win seemingly on the cards.
Any semblance of quality disappeared from the game from this point. Although the rain eased off, there was already so much water on the pitch that my abiding memory of the game will always be the squelching sound of the Berks assistant coach relentlessly trudging up and down the touchline. As players wallowed in the mud, it seemed easier to punt long than play neat short passes, so that's pretty much what happened. It seems strange to say it with a three goal advantage, but the next goal was always going to be crucial. Berks confidence was fragile and another Ashridge goal might well have led to a landslide. As it happened, they got one back and the confidence transferred with it. It came just after the half hour, as an Ashridge corner was cleared, and the home side never quite got back into shape as Berks countered; we vacated the centre of midfield as Jack G dropped back to the 18-yard line and James Riley hunted down the ball in the right back position; Berks recycled the ball and made use of the space to tee up a shot from 20 yards that just cleared Joe's desperate effort to reach it. 3-1 and game back on.
Ashridge responded to the setback well and spent the next few minutes probing for another: Jamie's free kick from wide on the right went narrowly over, before Adam worked another opportunity for Toni, which was deflected behind for a corner. Moments later another sweeping Ashridge attack saw Adam again lay the ball off for Toni on the edge of the box, but Toni's shot drifted narrowly wide of the left-hand post. As the haf-time interval approached Toni had the ball in the net again, but it was correctly ruled out as the keeper's clearance struck his arm as he closed the clearance down. And suddenly, what could have been 4-1 turned into 3-2 as Berks raided down the left and the cross was turned in from close range. There was just time for Jamie to break on goal, but his shot was straight at the keeper, and a half which had been so comfortable for Ashridge ended with just the slenderest of leads.
The first quarter hour of the second period was, frankly, completely forgettable. With the rain resuming its steady bombardment of the pitch, the players struggled to string two passes together, or really even to keep their balance, and neither side mustered any chances of note. As time went by, two exceptions emerged. The Berks County number 9 started to cause a few problems down our right flank, and on the hour mark his neat cross was put just wide of the near post. For Ashridge, Marcus seemed to be on the end of every ball sent towards the Ashridge box, and managed to get some effective clearances in. Each side in turn had little periods of pressure, but with the ball now sticking in every area of the pitch, moves regularly broke down as passes fell short and were picked off by the other team. Berks more basic style of kick and run started to pay more dividends, and one rapid break resulted in a shot that required Joe to parry before the ball was cleared for a corner.
The game appeared to be petering out, with the most notable incident being when James Roberts requested to come off because he could no longer see out of his sports goggles, when Berks were given a lifeline just past the mid-point of the half. Another long ball downfield was turned on into the area, and the forward spun away from Josh and fell over. Quite what Josh was supposed to have done to cause this remains a mystery, but the referee pointed to the spot, and Berks duly levelled. A couple of minutes later and the turnaround was complete, an innocuous-looking shot from the edge of the box took a huge deflection, wrong-footing Joe, who managed to stop it but the ball just sat in the mud for the arriving forward to turn it in. Ashridge huffed and puffed for the last quarter of an hour, and had the better of things, but mustered only one clear chance as the rain got yet heavier: Ice's free-kick broke to Jamie, whose goal-bound shot brought a fine save from the Berks keeper.
Not much to learn from this game, with the pitch declared unplayable for the game that was due on afterwards. Many of our players, especially in the forward areas were struggling to keep balanced, let alone make an impact, and the breaks of fortune ultimately went against us. We look forward to playing on a better surface next time we meet this team to see how we really stack up against them. Star player recognition to Marcus who managed the conditions better than most and broke up a number of dangerous moments from the opposition.