Ashby de la Zouch is the home of Ashby Ivanhoe FC who get their name from the Walter Scott novel of the same name which featured the local area, especially Ashby Castle. However, for me and I suspect a number of people of the same sort of age, Ashby was the home of software company Ultimate Play The Game and brothers Tim and Chris Stamper. Anyone who had a ZX Spectrum in the early days would almost certainly have owned at least one of their games. Jetpac (my personal favourite), Atic Atac, Tranz Am, Psst and Cookie, to name but a few. All absolute classics of their day.
Ashby's opponents today, Dudley Town, can also lay claim to be the home of a number of famous people, Duncan Edwards, Sue Lawley and Sir Lenny Henry immediately spring to mind. Dudley is also the birthplace of yours truly, so I know the town pretty well, although I haven't lived there for many years and have never really followed The Robins.
Ashby's ground, The NFU Sports Ground, is situated to the south of the town almost alongside the A42. There's a good-sized car park at the ground, although it was full by the time I arrived, and on-street parking available within easy walking distance. Entrance is through a single turnstile which brings you int the gorund behind one of the goals. The players & officials changing, the clubhouse and the snack bar are also at this end of the ground. There's a patio area out side the club which is also where the snack bar is situated. There are also a few tables behind the goal, protected by a very large net. There's covered seating directly behind the goal and also a wooden covered stand running between the goal and the corner flag on the car park side. Thsi end of the ground also features the media centre, a hut where the stadium announcer can get a good view of what is happening. A good point for me to say a big thank you to the announcer for letting me take a photo of both team sheets. On the car park/Lower Packington Road side of the ground there is another covered seating structure as well as the dugouts and a media tower that I presume is used for filming at some games. Spectators can only use these two sides of the ground. There appears to be no space behind the opposite goal and the other side of the ground is backed by the club's training area and small-sided pitches.
It's fair to say that Atherstone Town looked nailed on to win the Midland League Division One title unless they suffer a major collapse, which they have shown no sign of all season, losing just 1 in 26 games. However, the battle for the play-off places is still being very hotly contested. Before kick-off Dudley were sitting in fourth spot with 56 point from their 25 games, level on points with third placed Darlaston Town (BotP was at Darlaston for the JW Hunt Cup between the teams - Robins Need To Raise The Bar) and four behind - with a game in hand - of Stapenhill in second. Ashby sat two places and 10 points behind The Robins but had two games in hand over their visitors. This was to be the first meeting of the teams this season. The reverse fixture is scheduled for the final day. Thsi is also the first season that the teams have shared a division and, with no meetings in FA Vase or FA Cup, by all accounts this would be the first competitive meeting. Ivanhoe did play Dudley's other team, Dudley Sports, in the FA Vase just over a decade ago, winning 4-3 away from home.
Recent league form this season has been very similar, Dudley just edge it with three wins, two draws and a defeat in their last six. Over the same number of games Ashby have managed three wins, one draw and two defeats. Ashby have won their last two games by the same score line, 2-1, beating Wolves Sporting away and then grabbing a last gasp winner at home to Chelmsley Town last Saturday. Dudley haven't lost since the 3-0 reversal at Bilston two days after Christmas. Last Saturday they triumphed 6-1 in the local derby with Dudley Sports with Matt Gardner scoring five of the goals. Ashby, the second highest scorers in the league, have two of the division's top three scorers in their squad. 20 goal Sam Grouse is in tonight's starting line-up but Dudley will be pleased that 30 goal Jordan Wilson is only on the bench.
The teams swapped ends before kick off which meant Ashby were playing into the full force of the wind in the first half. It was apparent from early on that this was going to be difficult for them to clear the ball following an aerial root. You could actually see the the ball holding up and starting to drift backwards. Dudley took advantage of this and, for the first 15 minutes of the game, had the lion's share of possession, the majority of which was inside the Ashby half. However, they didn't manage to unduly threaten Hayden Griffeths' goal.
As often happens when one team starts quickly, Dudley then got caught out by a quick break. Ashby played the ball forward down their right side and when Dudley full-back Jamal Fuller seemed to stumble, Sam Grouse was very quick to nip in and fire over a low cross. Then ball found captain Luke Thorogood who smashed it past Alex Graham. 1-0. Ashby were now getting used to the conditions and on 20 minutes came close to making 2-0 when Chris Acott's effort just missed the target. Then the game swung the other way as Dudley tried to exert some pressure on the Ivanhoe goal. A couple of corners caused a little consternation but, in truth, the home defence held very firm.
Dudley once again kept the ball in the Ashby half for long periods leading up to half-time. Aside from the odd raid downfield, Ashby had most of their players behind the ball and defended their lead very well, especially with the wind sending the ball straight back to them most of the time.
HT Ashby Ivanhoe 1 Dudley Town 0. The ball has spent a good portion of the first 45 minutes inside the Ashby half, partially due to Dudley pushing their hosts backwards and partially due to the conditions. However, the home defence coped well and Dudley have not managed to create too many clear-cut chances despite their possessional advantage. Ashby are dangerous on the break especially with the running power of Grouse. There's an undercurrent of niggle to the game with both sides very quick to complain to the referee about decisions.
The referee was kept busy with a series of fouls in what was becoming an increasingly tetchy game. Then on 72 minutes, with Dudley pushing for an equaliser, Ashby once again caught them out at the back. Again it was the pace of Sam Grouse, beating the offside trap and slotting home past Graham. 2-0.
The Robins were not deterred at going two down and launched wave after wave of attack at Ashby. The deliveries of Dan Danks making life difficult for the home defence. On 84 minutes Dudley found a way back. A free-kick from Danks, some 30 yards out, was drifted into the box where Matt Gardner rose to beat the Griffeths to the ball and head in. 2-1 and very much game on for the final few minutes.
Dudley kept pushing but couldn't quite find that killer final ball and then, a minute or two into added time, they were caught by a sucker punch again. Grouse's pace got him in behind the defence and onto a flick on from Thorogood. Despite the best efforts of Graham, the ball looped up and into the Dudley net. 3-1
FT Ashby Ivanhoe 3 Dudley Town 1. A very good three points for Ashby who defended very well and looked very dangerous on the break throughout the game. Dudley will feel they should have had something out of the game but, even though they had much of the possession they found it difficult to engineer clear opportunities against a well organised Knights backline. Dudley remain in fourth spot but Ashby have now closed the gap in the table as they climb to fifth, seven points behind the Robins with still with two game sin hand.
Ninth placed Wednesfield are the next visitors to Ashby on Saturday afternoon. Nathan McAllister and Jordan Wilson secured a 2-1 win at The Cottage Ground in November, so Ashby will be looking for a repeat performance. Dudley will be looking for revenge on the last team to beat them before Ashby, Bilston Town, when The Steelmen visit The Aspray Arena.
Ashby Ivanhoe: Griffeths, Stewart, Acott, Conkay, Holmes, Robinson, Donaghy, Thorogood(c), Storer, Grouse, McGarry. Subs: Winfield, Robson, McAllister, Webster, Wilson
Dudley Town: Graham, Mitchell, Fuller, Smith, T.Perry, M.Lawley(c), Danks, A.Perry, Gardner, Patel, Jones. Subs: B.Lawley, Taylor-Boyce, Ward, Maydew, Hanna
Ground Number: 306