Hearts of Teddlothian Lions 0 Ashridge Park 5
Ashridge Scorers: Reg Ryan (8', 22', 71'), Dan Baker (25'), Antonio Baciu (80')
Star Player: Alex Ayton
The last of our original scheduled fixtures (with four rearrangements to come) saw us take the long trip to Teddington once more to face Hearts of Teddlothian Lions. Over our past meetings fortunes have fluctuated, though few of the meetings have been close - Ashridge winning 4-0 twice at U12, only for Hearts to triumph 5-2 and 4-0 the following season. Hearts had clearly lost some influential players as well as their management team since our last meeting, and found themselves in the lower half of the table with six wins and ten defeats from their games so far; but they came into this game on the back of a good win at Berks County. Ashridge continued to suffer from availability problems in defence, with James Riley and Jack C injured and Tim unwell, so Will and Alex stepped into the full-back roles, with James Roberts and Marcus renewing their central defensive partnership previously seen in the 5-0 win at Pinewood.
The game started on a sightly lethargic note, with Ashridge winning the territorial battle, but not hugely pressurising the ball, whilst Hearts' passing was laboured, and allowed the Ashridge midfield and back line to pick off possession with relative ease. It took some five minutes for the visitors to find the next gear and build some pressure around the Hearts box, some nice passing ending with an under-hit shot from the edge of the area, which the keeper gathered without difficulty. On eight minutes Ashridge hit the front; again turning over possession just inside their own half, moving the ball quickly to the left flank where Dan beat one player before sliding a pass outside the last defender, leaving Reg to race into the box and slot past the keeper from a tight angle. Possession remained largely with Ashridge, though Hearts mustered a few raids of their own, which the Ashridge defence dealt well with on the whole, though a couple of corners were conceded needlessly (better communication needed!). From one of these, Hearts came close to levelling on the quarter-hour mark, as a solid header came in, but Joe reacted well, blocking the ball up onto the crossbar, and then gathering the rebound.
Ashridge pushed on again, and took complete control of the game in the middle part of the half. First Jamie played Reg in through the centre, and after leaving the defenders trailing in his wake, he slid the ball to the right of the keeper to find the net again. Three minutes later and Ashridge made it three, a solo effort from Dan, who wriggled free on the right flank, beat another man on the bye-line before slotting past the keeper from a very narrow angle. The rest of the half continued in the same pattern, with Hearts most dangerous player (the no 29) well shackled by Jack G, Dillon and Will on the Ashridge right, whilst Alex and Marcus dealt with all attempts to break through on the opposite flank. A couple more corners were just about dealt with, with one shot well over the bar being the only meaningful attempt on Joe's goal. At the other end, Ashridge continued to slice open the Hearts defence, but didn't find another finish - a couple of easy saves for the keeper, and a shot over the bar from Reg being the main incidents - and Ashridge reached the break comfortably in control at 3-0.
If the visitors were expecting a reaction from the home team after half-time, their worries were to prove unfounded. Hearts rarely penetrated in the second half, with the defence comfortably dealing with any potential threats, and instead Ashridge piled forward in the opening minutes of the half, with Jack and Jamie running at the defence from the central areas, and Tayseer and Antonio looking lively in the wide areas. The shooting was less special however, with several efforts off-target, and a couple more hit tamely at the keeper. Indeed, the closest Ashridge came to extending the lead was when the home keeper nearly spilled a corner over his own line, but he just grabbed the ball in time despite the Ashridge claims. The game then went through another tepid period where not a great deal happened, and only really awoke again in the last 15-20 minutes when Dan returned to the fray, this time up-front alongside Reg - this injected a bit more energy and threat into the front-line, and opened up spaces for Antonio to attack on the right, where Ashridge began to link up with more purpose. The goal-threat began to emerge again: first Reg was felled five yards outside the box on the left, and Antonio's free-kick was struck with pace but rebounded off the wall and the follow-up went wide; then with 15 minutes to go Dan was felled inside the box and a penalty awarded. An initial debate started between regular penalty-take Antonio and Reg who was on a hat-trick as to who was to take it, but both were then trumped by Joe, who decided he needed a bigger piece of the action and stepped forward despite the manager's admonitions. The spot-kick was down the middle and saved, but fortunately for Joe looped up in the air and spun out for a corner, preventing Hearts from taking any advantage of the unguarded net at the other end. Ashridge then nearly inflicted some damage on themselves when Marcus blasted a clearance straight at Alex's head, the ball rebounding for the Hearts right-flanker to try his luck, but he put the ball high and wide from a narrow angle.
Ashridge dispelled any lingering doubts about the result in the final ten minutes. Dan again led a counter-attack from just inside the Hearts half, beating one player, out-pacing a second, and then tucking the ball to his left where Reg took it on and fired left-footed into the top left-hand corner for his own hat-trick and Ashridge's fourth. More pressure ensued around the Hearts box, and in the final minute, a clearance fell to Will on the right flank midway inside the Hearts half, and his lofted ball into the box was met acrobatically by Antonio, whose cushioned volley on the turn looped over the keeper and into the net to complete the scoring. No time for more than a couple of passes from the restart, and a satisfying 5-0 win for the visitors.
Not the stiffest challenge we've faced this season, but one negotiated in reasonable style. First mention must go to Reg, who has found the net with such amazing consistency this season, now up to 30 goals in 17 games, scored almost entirely in two's and three's. Alongside him, Antonio is hitting new peaks of form in recent games, and is starting to look the player we initially thought he would be when he joined us at U11 level. Dan and Jack G (plus Jamie in the second half) were crucial in this victory, getting through a massive workload and injecting the energy we needed to make the result so comfortable in the end; Dan in particular played a crucial part with a goal, two assists and winning a penalty into the bargain. Given the absence of so many of the usual back line today, particular credit must go to the back four; great that they claimed our second clean sheet of the season. Marcus and James Roberts both did what we have come to expect of them: Marcus is so good at reading situations and covering for others who have had to move out of position to challenge for the ball; James is a battler who wins so many challenges, and is also starting to use the ball really well when won. But my main praise today goes to the two deputy full-backs: Will has had to do this a number of times recently and on every occasion has done the job wonderfully well; great positioning, good determination in the challenge, and excellent distribution (really nice to see him get an assist today). The star award goes to Alex, who is less familiar with the role, but filled in admirably in this game, getting in some headed clearances, many good blocks and tackles, and who managed to find a pass at the end of it when it was on, or an emphatic clearance when not. It is some credit to him that we barely missed Tim's solid presence today.