The evening was all about the re-opening of Ascot United's ground, together with their brand-spanking new 3G pitch The stadium is situated within the grounds of Royal Ascot Racecourse, snugly wedged between The Straight Mile and Royal Ascot Golf club. In fact Ascot Racecourse are the club's landlords. This was my first visit to The Racecourse Ground so I can't compare the new ground with the old one. However, what I can say is that first impression is that there has clearly been a lot of hard work done at the ground and, I would say, plenty more still to do on the surrounding area.
Upon arriving at the ample car park, I was surprised to see so many cars especially as I was 45 minutes early for kick-off. It soon became clear that the reason for so many vehicles was that the club has a thriving mini-soccer scene with session staking place on the new surface prior to this evening's Combined Counties game. As a mini-soccer coach myself, I am always heartened to see so many local kids - boys and girls - getting involved with game and it's fantastic see a club like Ascot United embracing youth football in such a way and sharing their superb facilities.
Back to the new ground. It's shiny. A shiny new pitch, shiny new fencing, shiny new dugouts and a rather unique terrace on the car park side of the ground with a covered seating area raised above the level of the pitch along with covered standing outside the clubhouse.
Personally I'm still not 100% certain about 3G pitches. I completely understand why clubs install them and I don't have any particular beef about the pitches themselves any more - current technology seems to have produced a very playable surface - but the old-fashioned football supporter in me still likes to see a bit of mud and a slick grass surface. Having said that, I am sure that we will continue to see more and more artificial surfaces in non-league and it certainly won't stop me watching the game.
Despite having played all eight league games away from Ascot, The Yellamen were coming into this match unbeaten, having only dropped two points - a 1-1 draw with Hanworth Villa - and were sitting pretty at the top of the league. Guildford, meanwhile, were down in 15th spot having won two and drawn three of their nine outings this season. City's main problem had been scoring goals, with just 7 in 9 games. Their strong point, however, was that they had also only conceded 7 goals, a great statistic for a team in the lower half of the table. In fact, only two teams had conceded fewer, Abbey Rangers and this evening's hosts.
Ascot transferred from the Hellenic League at the end of last season and, as far as I can make out, this would be the first meeting, certainly competitively, between the teams.
With kick-off delayed by 10 minutes (crowd congestion?), there was time to do a circuit of the new ground and take a good look around before we got under way.
Both sides struggled to get a hold on the game in the early encounters and this was to become a feature of the first half, with neither side able to take control. The reason for Guildford's low number in the goals against column was quite apparent from the start. A well organised back line protected by a solid midfield who were always on hand to drop into defence when called upon. Ascot tried switching the ball from flank to flank but got very little change from the Sweeney defence.
Arguably the best chances of the half fell to Guildford who were finding some success with raking diagonal balls to the speedy Eli Ogunseye on the left flank. His pace was causing all sorts of trouble for the home defence but the final ball was still lacking.
HT Ascot United 0 Guildford City 0. At half-time I tweeted that the home side were certainly not having it all their own way. I can't think of a better way of summing up the half.
For 10 minutes or so all was looking good for Guildford. Ascot were pushing to get back into the game but the City dfence still looked solid and they were working hard across the pitch to shut down The Yellamen ebfore they could get up a head of steam. Unfortunately for City midfielder Wayne Ridgeley, already on a yellow from the first half, took matters a little too far with a late challenge in the centre of the pitch leaving the referee little choice but to produce a second yellow and the red card.
It was going to be a tought last 33 minutes for Guildford now. Down to 10 men and defintiely on the back foot.
It was looking like just a matter of time before Ascot fouind and equaliser and went on to win the game. They were now awarming forward at every opportunity but Guildford seemed quite comfortable and happy wirth their defensivve ability, happy to sit deep and soak up the Ascot pressure.
Possibly the biggest turnign point of the game came on the 67th minute when it looked to everyone in the ground as if Ascot were about to get that illusive goal.Somehow though Billy Irving flung himself at the goal-bound effort and managed to clear the ball off the line with the keeper beaten. It was a magnificent effort freom the defender, not only saving his team from being pegged back but inspiring his team-mates to continue their fight for the points.
We approached the last 5 minutes of normal time with the game being played almost exzclusively in the Guildford half of the pitch but, as often can happen in these situations, Guildford managed to break downfield. One Ascot player was clearly struggling with an injury, then captain Louis Bouwers slipped at an inopportune moment leaving Dan Stewart to sieze his opoortuntiy, bursting past the stricken defender to slide the ball under Gray much to the delight of the supporters behind the goal. 0-2
This goal knocked the stuffing out of the Ascot team but they continued to push forward, desperate to save their unbeaten record. It was, however clear that this was not going to be their evening and as we went into time added on, Eli Ogunseye confirmed the result, bursting into the Ascot box and finsihing with aplomb to make it 0-3.
FT Ascot United 0 Guildford City 3. A very good performance from Guildford who clearly had a game plan and executed it perfectly, which I am sure had them dancing in the streets of Freiburg. Not the result that Ascot were looking for but, on the plus side they had a bumper crowd some of whom will hopefully return on a regular basis. They have a lovely new playing surface, a really nice ground and they are still top of the league. So, not all bad.
I, however, may have to stay clear Ascot United games in future. They have only lost two of their fifteen games in all competitions this season. I have seen them play twice. I'll let the reader guess which two games I have seen.....
Finally, great to meet Football in Berkshire's Tom Canning and his crew last night. We have corresponded on a number of occasions but have never been at the same game before as far as we know. Always good to put a face to a name. If you haven't checked out the Football in Berkshire (formerly Football in Bracknell) site you really should - https://www.footballinbracknell.co.uk/
Ascot United: Gray, Lock, Etienne, Carey, Bouwers(c), Ellis, Haworth, Denton, Davies, Hodges, Lalustani. Subs: Burden, Bennett, Laflin, Wensley, Richardson
Guildford City: Basey, Mason, Nzelo, Woodhouse(c), Sullivan, Irving, Ridgeley, Dacres-Smith, Harding, Stewart, Ogunseye. Subs: Everard, Pillay, Adams, Ocansey
Ground Number: 216
Entrance: Free / Donation