Ashridge Park 4 Caversham AFC Stallions 1
Ashridge Scorers: Jack Clayton (59'), Antonio Baciu (68', pen), Harry Evans (75'), Joe Savory (80', pen)
Star Player: Jamie Cole
Another home game as we started our cup campaign for the season. We were finally able to field a full-ish squad as Marcus and Will made their first appearances of the season, whilst Jack C returned after illness; only Tim and long-term absentee Dan missing this week. Our opponents, Caversham AFC Stallions, had transferred over to the EBFA from the Oxfordshire League this season, and have made a decent start in the division below us, with two wins from their opening three games.
Ashridge quickly took control of proceedings, with Jack G stamping his authority on central midfield, with Will alongside him showing a calm authority which we had missed in our first two fixtures; whilst the back four of James, James, Marcus and Alex rapidly mopped up any forward movements from Caversham. Creative quality was missing, however, with too many loose passes, and Antonio tending to drop a little deep from the striker role, leaving Jack C isolated against a four-man back line. There were few scoring opportunities at either end in the opening quarter of the game, and it was only when Ashridge began to ring the changes that excitement levels began to pick up, With Jamie, Felix and Harry introduced to the midfield, Ashridge began to press forward with intent, and chances began to flow. Jack G was first to register a serious effort after good work from Felix on the left, but his shot from the edge of the box was not cleanly hit allowing the keeper to gather comfortably. Ashridge won a series of corners on the left and Felix's delivery caused huge problems in the visitors' defence: one was headed back across goal by Jack C but didn't fall to a blue shirt; then Bertie got a good head to another, only to have it deflected behind again. From the third, the ball fell to Antonio centrally, just outside the six-yard box, and his shot crashed back off the crossbar before falling to safety. As the half drew to a close, James Riley launched a free-kick from 25 yards on the left, the ball swerving towards the top-corner, where the keeper did well to pluck the ball out of the air. Goalless at half-time, and greater quality needed.
With the rare privilege of having extra players available, Ashridge made a few changes at the start of the second half, to give some of the back line a chance to influence things further forward. Initially James Riley was pushed into midfield alongside Jamie, with Jack G taking a rest; Will dropped into the right back role to cover. Caversham rallied initially and enjoyed a rare spell of pressure, but Marcus was a reassuring presence, dealing with threat confidently; and both Will and Alex impressed in the full back areas with some composed defending and good use of the ball out of defence. Ashridge seemed to be reasserting themselves, with Jamie starting to make some dynamic runs, and Harry and Jack C threatening to get in behind the Caversham defence, but the finish was still missing, with Harry poking the best two opportunities wide of goal. Then on 52 minutes disaster struck; a Caversham break saw a player break free on the right of the box, and a rash challenge from James Riley trying to track back from midfield saw the player brought to ground and a penalty rightly awarded. Comfortably dispatched to the right of Joe, and an unlikely 1-0 advantage to the visitors.
Ashridge pressed forward, getting more and more on top of the game. Whilst it seemed like an age in coming, the leveller in fact only took seven minutes. Jamie was beginning to run the game, and it was he who started a dynamic Ashridge move, with a sweeping pass from the centre to find Bertie in space on the left; Bertie found a quick incisive pass forward to Jack on the left of the box; Jack's first touch took him past the keeper, and from a narrow angle and on his wrong foot, he found an excellent finish to steer the ball home just ahead of the retreating defender. Energy levels went up, and with Antonio, Felix and Jack G all rejoining the game, and Marcus stepping up into midfield in place of James Riley, it seemed only a matter of time before Ashridge struck again. In fact, it was Caversham who nearly re-took the lead on 65 minutes as a ball through the centre was slightly misjudged by James Roberts, and the Caversham forward latched onto it, slotting the ball to Joe's right, but also just to the right of the goal. Ashridge responded quickly, and it was Jamie again who unlocked the visitors defence with a surging run through the centre, skilfully evading two challenges and racing past the back line before being brought crashing down as he was about to strike on goal - a clear penalty. Dispatched high and centrally by Antonio for 2-1. Ashridge completely in command now, and a third followed five minutes from time as Jamie again tricked his way past the covering midfield on the right of the box before squaring into the path of Harry and Antonio; the former dispatching past the keeper. Ashridge kept the ball in the Caversham half for the final minutes, and Antonio tricked his way past a defender on the right side of the box before again being up-ended. With the referee confirming time was up, and after an abortive attempt at a "clever" penalty where Antonio tucked it to his left for Felix to run on to (re-taken because of encroachment by Caversham), Joe stepped forward to slot home to the left of the keeper to make the final score 4-1.
A deserved win as Ashridge always had the upper hand in territory and threat, though it took a while for the team to find the scoring touch and make the possession count. Very good to have Marcus and Will back today, both are good readers of the game and have a good touch that allows them to play with a calmness that the team really needs. Good also to get some more players on the scoresheet, which will hopefully give us more belief in the coming games. Felix continues to impress with his energy, whilst Jack G and Antonio were both influential today. Particular mention again for Alex, who had another excellent game deputising in the back four, this time on the left - he reads the game well, covering when others get out of position, and he is increasing in confidence in his clearances, using the ball well when the opportunity arises. Star player became an easy call in the final 20 minutes, as Jamie stepped up to really make the difference in the game: two assists for our second and third goals, whilst his exceptional cross-field pass to Bertie opened up the space and set the tempo that led to our equaliser. Another fantastic performance from a player who is really beginning to fulfil his potential this season.