Angels U14s overcome Ashford in tense thriller at Hadlow
By Jim Rowe
Billy Kent with the vital strike
The Young Angels faced Ashford United for the second time in three weeks, as the Kent Youth League resumed after the Easter Break. Ashford, the reigning Southern Area Champions, knew that a win would keep their back to back title hopes alive, while Angels were seeking to secure another 3 points from the visitors and bolster their chances of clinching the League Runners-up spot. The home side were without utility man Alex Raffelt and Midfield General Joe Tyrie; with manager Todd Tyrie also absent due to a well- earned break in Mexico. Returning to action for Angels were Toby Lansdowne and Toby Kent, who missed the away victory at the Homelands Stadium a fortnight ago.
The Hosts started the match with the ever-present Nat Gibb in Goal, Chester Smith, and Kian Austin occupied the rampaging full back berths with Jack Balcombe and Conor Murphy paired once again at the heart of the defence. David Howie and Jack Wilkins took care of business in the middle of the park with Dan Wates and Ben Hermitage offering creativity and width. Billy Kent and Toby Lansdowne renewed their partnership up top with the versatile Toby Kent starting the match from the bench. Ashford welcomed back 2 key players missing from the first encounter, including top scorer Tony Rai.
Persistent rain coupled with a poor playing surface, meant that playing conditions were challenging, however both sides were determined to play flowing attractive football. It was Angels who started the brighter, moving the ball around the pitch and asserting their authority in the midfield. Howie and Wilkins both finding time on the ball, began pulling the strings; with Wates and Hermitage both heavily involved in a busy opening 10 minutes. Toby Lansdowne looked the most likely to open the scoring after twice finding room to unleash his trademark left boot after slick interplay with Kent, Hermitage and Wates. The visitors knew that they could cause problems on the break with their pace but the Angels defensive unit proved watertight, with Balcombe winning a number of crucial challenges to prevent Ashford getting in behind Angel’s back line. Meanwhile Nat Gibb in goal showed immaculate handling, positioning and distribution whenever the visitors tried to threaten his goal from range.
The much-deserved breakthrough came in the 25th minute. Murphy picked up a loose ball in defence and fed the flying full-back Smith, who in turn played an intelligent ball into the feet of Toby Lansdowne. Billy Kent managed to shake off his marker and Lansdowne’s precision first time back heel fell perfectly to Kent on the edge of the Penalty area. Kent took the ball in his stride and in one movement pirouetted around the Ashford defender and slotted the ball into the corner past the advancing goalkeeper. A moment of real class from Kent and a fitting end to an incredible team move. Shortly after, disaster struck for Balcombe as he was forced off injured after a fearless full-blooded challenge involving the Ashford skipper in the centre circle. Toby Kent was rushed into position and immediately showed his quality with a vital interception and controlled pass out to the wing. The half finished 1-0 with Angels good value for the lead but without any cover on the bench.
The second half started with Ashford applying more pressure down the flanks, however Smith and Austin proved impossible to break down. The visitors then looked to go more direct, by-passing the midfield and testing the Angels central pairing. Both Murphy and Toby Kent winning vital headers and tackles while behind them the irrepressible Gibb showed why he is rated as the best Goalkeeper in the League; telescopic arms gathering every aerial ball, panther like reflexes at short range backed up by a series of crucial interceptions dealing with through balls, including a stunning headed clearance.
With Ashford now throwing everything forward, it was Angels turn to play on the break. Wilkins and Howie summoning superhuman fitness and strength; covering every blade of grass, winning vital 50:50s and finding blue shirts with every pass. Wates and Hermitage doubling up on defensive duties helped the home side regain control of the contest as Angels looked to see out the match. Billy Kent and Hermitage both fashioned chances to double the lead late on while Lansdowne’s lung bursting industry on the left should have won his team at least one penalty. In the end the excellent referee’s whistle ended the contest at one nil to the Angels; with both teams visibly shattered and both sets of supporters offering well earned applause.
It was another high-quality game of football with Angels claiming their fourth win on the bounce without conceding a goal. The Visitors will count themselves unlucky after playing some tremendous football and showing relentless commitment. The Hosts on the other hand left everything on the pitch, worked tirelessly for each other and won the match with a moment of sheer class. The Angels play away at high flying Phoenix Sports next week with, hopefully, a full squad available, some real momentum and a mahogany tanned Todd Tyrie back at the helm.