Where to start…
Ash welcomed Hamble of the Surrey/ Hampshire regional to the fortress for this EH Vase semi- final. The draw had been kind to both sides previously, with one only away game for Ash and Hamble having played solely at home before this game. The game of the previous day had served as the perfect warm up for what was to prove to be a feisty encounter against a very well organised and talented opposition.
After a superb, intense warm up the sides were ready. A big crowd had arrived at Hurstmere, Hamble had brought a coach load, and there was tension in the air. The whistle went and the sides were off. Hamble started with a fantastic intensity, overwhelming Ash who just couldn’t get in the game- not through any fault of their own, but by the ferocity of their opposition. Disaster also struck early on as PK Paran was injured and would play no further part. Ash stood strong however, and gradually began to get a foothold in the game. Credit to both the Ash side for how they adapted and to PK for the way he took running the sideline, ensuring everyone rotated well and kept fresh.
After 17 minutes, the deadlock was broken. Ash broke away from a Hamble attack. Jon Gray fed Liam Farmer, who drifted infield and fired a perfect ball through to Andy Atkin, who deflected the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net. 1-0 and jubilation in the crowd. Hamble could perhaps argue that the goal had come against the run of play, which made it even more crucial Ash made the most of their lead. Just 7 minutes later Michael Venn emerged with the ball from a scramble of sticks at the top of the D, beat a couple of players and fired home an incredible reverse stick strike, right into the top corner of the net. 2-0 and Ash were right on top. The half time whistle followed with relatively little other action to report on the first half. It really was a huge battle in the midfield that was engrossing even if it hadn’t produced a great deal of goal mouth action at this point.
At half time the message was simple, that if we gained control of the game a place in the final would be ours. Hamble were made of strong stuff though, and came out with renewed vigour for the 2nd half. Even the now legendary ‘Hail Mary’ restart failed to confuse them. Ash quickly moved to tighten their grip on the game however. Some fantastic defensive work by the forwards saw Hamble play the ball out of defence but only as far as Michael Venn, who moved the ball wide. Liam Farmer swept the ball across the goal and Michael Venn deflected the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper and into the net. 3-0 but Ash knew they couldn’t relax, having produced their own incredible comeback in the quarter final to see off Bordenians. Just minutes later, Liam Farmer was once again the architect as he found Alan Peel on the 25 yard line. Peely beat 2 players on the top of the D before firing a pinpoint strike into the bottom corner on the goalkeepers strong side. 4-0 and one foot on the bus to Cannock.
Hamble were not done yet though. They won a short corner which was well put away to make it 4-1. An attack down Ash’s right then saw Rishi Rampersad yellow carded for a back stick tackle, reducing Ash to ten man. Hamble produced a long spell of sustained pressure at this point similar to the one which saw them dominate the opening exchanges. This shouldn’t be the only mention Rish gets in this match report however. He and his fellow defenders Sam Foulger (man of the match), Patrick Venn, Jon Gray and Neil Hawkins were superb throughout the game, giving no quarter and taking a number of hits to get the result. Rich Stevenson produced some fantastic saves when called upon, and Dave Fraser did his usual tireless and tough tackling job to stop the Hamble midfield breaking away. Ash repelled everything Hamble threw at them in this phase of the game, and as we entered the final few minutes the visitors appeared to have run out of ideas.
Ash were keeping the ball and waiting for the whistle at this stage. However there was still time for one last effort at goal. A short corner was won and the morning’s practice could finally be put into action. The ball was slipped left to Andy Atkin who slapped the ball across goal, where Dom Flannery met the ball firmly to deflect up and over the stranded goalkeeper. 5-1 was how the score would remain, and Ash were through, with a chance of retaining the trophy they had won last year.
A fantastic 2 performances over the weekend from everyone all over the pitch. Credit must go to Hamble, who never gave up and are a very, very good side- we had to be at our absolute best to beat them. They also beat us convincingly in the boat race back at the club.
The final word must be a huge thank you to everyone who came out and supported us. I know I have said this before in match reports, but it really does make all the difference and it is greatly appreciated by all of us. The atmosphere we have around the club is absolutely fantastic and I am proud to be a part of it. Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom!