Good things come to those who wait
Hat-trick man Shane Smith leads celebrations as 3s produce fine team performance to mark in style the arrival of Lunn's first born
Doubt had always hung over whether 3s captain Chris Lunn would appear for the final fixture before the Christmas break what with wife Kirsty due to give birth in the week leading up to the game. It came as no surprise to James Berressem to get the call late on Friday evening to stand in and lead the 3s out at home against mid-table rivals Oxford Hawks.
What was a surprise was to find no opposition at Short Lane in preparation for a midday push back. Unfortunately, Hawks had failed to register the arranged earlier start time and were still in Oxford. Fortunately, the Short Lane pitch was not booked to capacity and a 3.30pm start was hastily arranged. Although the later start meant a couple of selected players had to miss out due to prior commitments, the majority of the team agreed to stay at the club and wait to play – stalwarts, or they must have done all their Christmas shopping already!
Ashford waste no time
Prior to the start both sides observed a respectful one-minute silence in memory of two young players tragically lost from the hockey family earlier in the week. Under the floodlights at the Lane, and having been inspired watching Ashford 1s' dominate performance, the 3s started strongly and within five minutes had opened their account. Bearing down on the top of the Hawks D James Berressem slid the ball left to midfield colleague David 'Moses' Merchant who sneaked just across the line to push a speculative ball towards the goal. Remarkably the Hawks defence parted like the Red Sea leaving their keeper to crown the blooper by mistakenly ushering the ball into the back of his goal (1-0).
Such an error can damage confidence with a defensive line and Ashford wasted no time in exploiting the fact that the Hawks were in a in flap. Upping the tempo of the offensive press, the front line of Shane Smith, Lewis Baber and Stef worked well together, marshalled by the midfielders David Merchant, James Berressem and Pavi Aulakh. Within minutes the home side had its first attacking pen-corner in which a rebound from Pavi Aulakh's initial strike was calmly gathered by Stef and lifted passed the keeper to double the lead (2-0).
May the fourth be with you
Throughout the first half Ashford continued to dominate. As an attacking threat Stef in particular caught the eye, like a gleaming alloy wheel on one of his many motors. Looking much more match-sharp than in his first outing last week, Stef found the ever busy Shane Smith on the back line of the Hawks D and Smith made no mistake from his preferred 2-yard scoring range (3-0).
The fourth (yes, fourth!) Ashford goal in the first half followed yet another pen-corner, which this week featured David Merchant providing clean, fast injections like a junior doctor in the middle of a Christmas flu epidemic. The skirmish that followed Pavi's initial strike ended with a shot on goal taking a deflection from a Hawks defender for an own goal (4-0). The capacity crowd's enjoyment of the Short Laners first half performance was tempered only by the home side conceding a late goal. Following an initial good save by keeper John Hunt, Ashford failed to clear the ball decisively. This allowed Hawks to inject a lifted ball into the D that proved awkward to block and was met by a Hawks attacker in front of goal (4-1).
The empire strikes back
Buoyed by this goal, Hawks started the second half with greater purpose. Better organised with their forward press and a busier midfield, the visitors began to stifle Ashford restarts from 16s. As a result the home side's play became hurried and the team failed to retain possession, leading to more Hawks attacks. Seven minutes into the second half Hawks broke in a counter attack down the Ashford left flank. As defenders moved across to the left to cover threats in front of them, the back-tracking Ashford midfield failed to pick up and go with a late Hawks runner cutting in from the right onto the back post where he collected the cross unopposed to register the visitor's second goal (4-2).
Moments later Hawks engineered another clear chance in front of goal only to fire wide of John Hunt's right post. Conscious that the next score could greatly affect the outcome of the match, Ashford, through midfielders James Berressm and Pavi Aulakh, strived to regain control by maintaining possession and re-establish the calm, precise pass and move hockey that had proved so successful in the first half.
Shane "short-range" Smith hat-trick
Ashford's dominance was reaffirmed on 50 minutes when the two-yard predator Shane Smith ghosted in from the left to meet and deflect in an incisive pass from midlfield by Pavi Aulakh for a truly special team goal O (5-2). Smith might have completed his hat-trick within 55 minutes but the chance fell the wrong side of the penalty spot and he managed only to slide the ball under the keep and wide of the goal.
Not to be denied his hat-trick, and the opportunity for the team to wet the imminent baby Connie Abigail Catherine Lunn's head with the obligatory jug of Mosaic ale, Ashford manufactured another chance for Shane Smith to slot home from his comfort zone of a few yards and seal a well-deserved MoM performance.
The 6-2 final score reflects the quality of Ashford's team performance. Rolling subs in the forward and midfield lines dovetailed neatly into the team's attacking 3-4-3 formation. Meanwhile the unchanged back three of Stephen Forster, James Maitland and Adrian Hewes quashed most threats with a minimum of fuss and proved so effective at denying Hawks opportunities inside the D that Ashford did not concede a pen-corner in the game. Special mention and thanks to Chris for agreeing to umpire the rescheduled fixture.
The result caps an impressive first half of the 2015/16 season for Ashford 3s. At the Christmas break Lunn's men sit fourth in MBBO Div 6 on 20 points with six wins, two draws and three losses each to the teams above them in the table. The 3s will look to continue this fine form on 16th January 2016 when the campaign resumes and Bicester visit Short Lane. Meanwhile, this reporter reckons Lunn and his men have earned an extra glass of sherry and mince pie this Christmas. Well done chaps.