After 36 hours of sporadic downpours , on a rain sodden pitch, and under an ominous looking grey sky, we prepared to welcome our highly rated Division 2 visitors from AFC Henley.
Early indications were of some concern as the visitors effortlessly pinged the ball round the pitch, at a pace and with an accuracy rarely seen at our usual level. They also had a noticeable physical presence. Their early ascendancy did not threaten the Ashridge goal at all, and it was somewhat of a surprise when they took the lead on 10 minutes from a relatively innocuous shot. The conditions made ball handling difficult and the effort squirmed through Dom’s legs. He was then called upon twice in quick succession, making 2 excellent saves.
Ashridge came back into the game with Dan galloping down the left wing and with the defence and midfield standing firm.
On 25 minutes, an Ashridge corner on the right was taken by Ben W who swerved the ball straight into the Henley goal- his 3rd such goal of the campaign. Henley were visibly shocked at this turn of events, as the match stepped up a level, with excellent challenges on both sides, and no lack of guile and imagination.
On 43 minutes, in an astonishing move, a 45 yard cross-field path by Ben came straight to the feet of Alex in the Henley box, who controlled the ball and beat an onrushing defender, as well as the keeper, to place the goal into the back of the Henley goal. 2-1 at half-time.
The 2nd half started as the first had ended with no quarter being asked or given. Both teams were determined to win, and on 55 minutes a well worked moved led to an equaliser.
Within 2 minutes Ashridge were back in the Henley 18 yard box, where Owen stepped round two players, before his swerving shot canoned off the bar, and the ensuing scramble led to the ball being cleared. Within 30 seconds the ball was down the other end, in the back of the Ashridge goal. The tiniest of margins…
So on it went. On 65 minutes, a 25 yard drive from Luke was millimetres over the bar, on 75 minutes, a Ben C free-kick (given for a deliberate hand ball by the keeper outside the box) grazed the bar, and an extraordinary 4 man, one touch, move including Peter, Ben, Owen and Alex was somehow tipped wide of the post by the keeper.
In the mayhem, there were penalty claims and thrills galore, but then on 80 minutes, after relentless Ashridge pressure, a spot-kick was given for handball, converted magisterially by Ben C. This was the point at which the visitors were well and truly on the ropes, even more so when straight from the Kick off, Ashridge immediately won the ball back with a top class tackle and were clearly ready to go again…
Sadly with 5 minutes on the clock an Ashridge defender was adjudged to have fouled a Henley player in exactly the position Sandhurst had scored a few weeks earlier, and lightning did indeed strike twice, with the shot sailing into the roof of the net.
There was still time for Ashridge to surge forward again threatening the Henley goal. In the dying embers of the game, with the Ashridge keeper in the Henley penalty area, Ben C’s freekick from 45 yards out eluded 3 despairing Ashridge feet and eventually flew 2 centimetres to the side of the Henley goal, to deny what would have been an eminently deserved Ashridge equaliser.
Overall, a tremendous, full-blooded encounter with both teams entitled to be proud of playing their full part in the morning’s proceedings