Us and them: 3s share points with visitors
Goals from Ryan Croxon and skipper Chris Lunn earn hard-fought home draw and maintain unbeaten run
On their first 15/16 league appearance at Short Lane, the 3s earned a creditable point in a tightly contested match with OMTs. Despite winning on the road at Bicester seven days ago, there were changes a plenty to the Red n Black starting 11 this week: Andrew Ritchie back as keeper, James "Wildman" Maitland joining Steven Law at centre back, and fresh legs on the wings in Shane Smith, Max Perman and 3s debutant Lewis - the ranks bolstered by rolling subs Ryan Croxon, Robert Forster and Gordon Smith.
From the first few minutes of the match it was clear these changes were not going to change the style of play which has been so effective for Ashford early in the season. Between them, the defensive line of Stephen Forster, Wildman, Law and Adrian "Bubbles" Hughes patiently shifted the point of attack from flank to flank. With the forward line of Chris Lunn, Max and Shane linking up well with midfielders Jim Berressem, Pavi Aulakh and Robert/Ryan, Ashford dominated possession in the early stages, though failed to capitalise and exert pressure higher up the pitch.
As the first half progressed the organsied OMTs outfit established themselves with probing runs. One of these forays into the Ashford D forced Steven Law's hand to overcommit and concede a p-flick. A goal down - an unfamilar scenario for the 3s recently. However, there was no panic and Lunn's charges started over with a focus to keep talking. Improved communication led to more incisive hockey from Ashford and they levelled before hal-time thanks to a deft deflection by Ryan Croxon from a direct Shane Smith strike at a short corner.
The loss of Ryan and Robert Forster to loftier commitments at half-time forced the skipper to make changes to the team, with Lunn himself dropping into midfield for the second half. Ashford started the brightier after the break as Pavi continued to trouble the opposition with his stick trickery. Debutant Lewis continued to grow in confidence up front as the forward line worked hard to deny OMTs easy routes to relieve sustained pressure, ensuring Ashford looked the greater threat. Following a good flowing team move down the right and into the D to illict an initial save, captain Chris popped up in the middle of the D to slot calmly past the keeper for Ashford's second goal.
Upon the restart your reporter sensed the game was there for Ashford's taking. Striving for the next goal to secure the win the home side appeared to adopt a more direct approach, which at times gifted up possession and invited OMTs to counter. The necessary change in formation had also adverserly affected the home side's shape and ability to deal with OMTs attacks, particularly those focused on Ashford's left flank. One of these led to a well-taken penalty corner to level the match with just over five minutes to play. Now the visitors sensed an oportunity to steal all three points - a test of nerves for the boys in Red n Black. Fortunately, good defensive work by super-sub Gordon Smith and a fine save by Andrew Ritchie in the dying seconds secured the draw, one point and extended the 3s unbeaten run to six games.
After the game, while dining on curry and chips, the team voted Andy Ritchie MoM with honourable mentions to James "Wildman" Maitland and Lewis on his 3s debut.
Thanks to the arbitiors on the day - Chris and Sherpa.
Next week the 3s travel to face South Bucks, 12pm pushback - please let Lunny know through Pitchero or text by Tuesday evening if you are available.