Berks County Jaguars 3 Ashridge Park 3
Ashridge Scorers: Bertie Wilson (27'), Reg Ryan (30'), Marcus Coppen (50')
Star Player: Will Marten
This morning's match took us back to the astroturf at Bracknell Leisure Centre - the scene of the start of our long winless run back in December, when a shock 5-1 defeat against opponents who were struggling near the foot of the division was to cost us first place in Section E. Since then, Berks County Jaguars had found relative prosperity in Division 6, whilst Ashridge finished rock bottom of Division 4, so we found ourselves back on the same footing again this season. Both teams had lost their opening fixture last weekend and were keen to get points on the board. This time around, we were at least able to field a full-strength side, so we were eager to make amends for the last meeting.
Ashridge pushed forward from the kick off, and made early in-roads down the right flank, winning an early corner. In the act of taking the corner Dan managed to hurt himself, and for the second week running we were forced into an early re-shuffle, with Bertie taking the place of the unfortunate Dan, who could play no further part in the game. For the most part, play was relatively even in the opening quarter, with few outright chances created at either end. Will, playing alongside Marcus in centre midfield, stood out right from the outset, working tirelessly to break up the oppostion play, and using the ball sensibily to start us moving forwards again. Behind him, James Roberts had shaken off some of the rust evident in last week's game and was back to his full-throttle best in denying Berks County time and space on their left flank, winning some excellent tackles. In the centre, James Riley found himself up against another giant of a striker, as was the case against Laurel Park last week, but nonetheless asserted his authority on proceedings with strength, athleticism and no little skill, meaning that Joe only had the occasional speculative shot to deal with. As the half reached the mid-point, Ashridge were beginning to get on top territorially, with Marcus beginning to unfurl some of his trademark dribbles, and Jamie working his way forward on the left. Reg too was troubling the defence with some pacey runs into the penalty area; only the narrowness of the angle leaving him with too much to do to find the target on a couple of occasions.
As often seems to be the way, it was at this point that our opponents were to find a goal out of nowhere. A long ball from their own half for once eluded James Riley, and with the rest of the defence slow to see the danger, the Jaguars' forward broke into the area and slotted home to Joe's left. Ashridge were momentarily down-hearted, and there was some danger that further damage would be done, but various last ditch tackles, and more tireless work from James Riley and Will steadied the ship. A couple of substitutions were to help turn things around approaching the half-hour mark; with Alex replacing Jamie on the left, and Mason replacing a subdued-looking Jack up front. Alex made his mark almost immediately; his corner from the left was cleared back to him on the angle of the penalty box, and his sweeping ball across the area found Bertie ghosting in at the back post to prod home the equalizer. Ashridge surged forward again, and a long ball forward from half-way was flicked on by Mason on the edge of the box, to find Reg, whose first effort squirmed free from the keeper's block, and a grounded Reg managed to react quickest to force the rebound home. 2-1 at half-time.
One change at the break saw Jamie back on, this time on the right side in place of Bertie. Back on his favoured flank, he was quick to shine with some neat footwork and strong running that saw him break into advanced positions and feed some dangerous balls in to the box. On the other flank, Alex also began to trouble the rather petulant right back, and opportunities started to flow at regular intervals. Reg, broke free on the left of the area, but his shot went comfortably to the keeper. Reg then freed Alex in the same channel, but taking the shot on his weaker left foot, he was unable to get the power needed. Finally, Ashridge got their reward when an effort from Reg was blocked but the ball looped to Marcus centrally on the edge of the box, and his smartly-executed volley found the bottom left-hand corner. 3-1, and clear-water for Ashridge for the first time in many months!
A little of the pace went out of the vistors game in the aftermath of the goal, and we began to rely once more on the tenacity of Will and Marcus in the centre, and the resilience of our back four to keep us in control. Up until the last ten minutes, there seemed little to worry about; indeed Ashridge remained the more likely to add to the tally; one very neat move involving Reg, Dillon and then Alex ended with the latter teeing up Jamie for an effort that missed the right post; whilst Reg went on a solo break, out-pacing the home defence before firing just wide from the edge of the box. As the clock ticked down, however warning signs began to emerge, with some tired looking clearances into touch when danger was not all that pressing. With the pressure building, the Jaguars nearly embarrassed the home side when the left-side flank player was allowed to slip past two challenges into the area, before prodding the ball across goal with no one following in. With a little over five minutes to go the arrears were reduced when a cross-come-shot from the right edge of the box floated just out of Joe's despairing clutches and over the line. With such a long run without a win, the fear in the Ashridge ranks was palpable, and the Jaguars smelled blood, pouring forward in search of an equaliser. A couple of near misses after melays in the box went by, and it looked as though Ashridge would hold on, when disaster struck. A miscued long-range effort skewed away to the right of goal and the Ashridge defence switched off, assuming it would run out for a goal-kick; instead the ball died as it bounced; the Jaguars' right midfielder got to it, squared across the six yard box, and the ball was prodded home for an equaliser. Still a couple of minutes to go, and only the home team now looking likely to force a win, but Ashridge held on thanks to some more tenacious tackling from the two terriers in our team - Will and Jamie.
Massively frustrating that we did not see out this game for the win that the boys both needed and deserved; no doubt at all that it's primarily a mental issue; they have gone so long without a win that they struggle to recover from any setback. On the positive side, this was a much more energetic performance than last week, and we created chances (and goals) from many different areas of the pitch, not just relying on the through-ball to Reg. Many good performances today: Marcus was influential throughout, showing good skill on the ball and supplying many probing passes, as well as providing a quality finish for our third goal; Reg showed great industry in addition to his usual qualities up-front, demonstrating how to defend from the front; Jamie and Alex both provided real threat and some good link-up play on the flanks; whilst Bertie's instinct for goal was once again in evidence. Close to man-of-the-match this week (as we have come to expect) was James Riley; masterful in defence in the first half especially, he has also started to use the ball more intelligently, with some insightful passes on the end of his runs out of defence. This week he was just pipped to the honour by Will, whose battling qualities in the centre of midfield provided the impetus for this improved team display; tireless and utterly determined, he won tackle after tackle against players much bigger than he is; he linked up simply and effectively with his fellow midfielders and provided a flow to our play that was much missed last week. Well done to all - I'm sure the win is just around the corner now!