The team were full of excitement and anticipation for the first leg of SSMT Semi-final, back at the Race Course after what has felt like months! We were aware that it was likely to be a tough match for us – we only had 11 players, some carrying injuries already, but if we were going to go down, we would go down in flames.
As we warmed up the 7 players from the opposition didn’t look too intimidating, but their manager was keen to point out there were on the way. And then, like something from Gremlins, they started to multiply exponentially. By the time kick off came around they had something like 14 players and apparently still had more to come!
It was an evenly matched first half, with both teams creating chances. Our defence remained solid throughout with a tight line resulting in a few offsides and Kelly, in goal, nimbly dealing with any balls that slipped past. Jennah and Athena worked well to maintain control of midfield, with Chelsea doing her usual beautiful dance round every single player, repeatedly being hacked at and picking up a number of free kicks! Having got used to playing in mud fields over the last couple of months, we continued to play a lot of balls over the top, which meant Annika, Tracey and Em had to do a lot of running!! Despite getting on the end of a couple of these, we didn’t manage to score and their pacey defence were putting pressure on our attack to play the ball early and forcing errors. Putney continued with their physical approach to the game, which sometimes resulted in tough, but clean tackles (Tracey has a pretty vicious looking graze on her arm after a decent sliding tackle by their defence), but a lot more of the time they were just late and trying to be intimidating (at one point resulting in Zoe landing on her head). We had a lucky escape in the dying minutes of the first half, when the defence decided a player was offside – the ref disagreed – and their striker was free to take a shot. Thankfully it went wide.
With everything still to play for in the second half (but no subs to be made) we agreed to try and play the ball through on the floor more and try to get in front of their striker with the strong shot. Despite having the kick off, we started on the back foot as we lost possession and Putney started driving forwards. An anxious few corners were conceded (one that came from a lifesaving tip over the crossbar apparently made by Kelly). Putney were growing in confidence and piling on the pressure – Jennah and Annika were being forced to come back and lend more support in defence. Then somehow Putney’s small, but sneaky striker managed to get a foot infront of Brell and Lale on the left and struck a ball into the far side of the goal, out of Kelly’s reach. Frustrated, but definitely not ready to accept defeat APWFC were ready to fight back. We started to push out more into their half, with Brell and Harry confidently dealing with Putney’s onslaught with balls over the top. At one point it started to look like a strange football version of volleyball, with Brell heading the ball out of our half and their defence lobbing it back, Brell heading it back and the pattern was repeated. For the rest of the team, this provided a nice break. With gaps appearing in the Putney defence we could see that a goal was coming. A throw in from midway into Putney’s half went to Chelsea, who drove the ball up to the backline and whipped it in across the face of goal for Tracey, who unfortunately chipped it over the bar. We were looking more threatening and as Putney got more worried they started hacking more, meaning we got some free kicks in dangerous positions. Their keeper was under pressure, but that final touch remained elusive. Perseverance eventually paid off. As Putney (thought they had) cleared the ball from another set piece, Jennah intercepted the ball about 25 yards out, looked up, saw the keeper off her line and calmly and clinically looped the ball up and over the keeper’s head. 1-1!
This equaliser appeared to ramp up the level of competition, as the player who scored for the opposition shouted “well that wasn’t as good as my goal!” Some would disagree!
With the game in its dying minutes, and Athena having sustained a nasty knee injury, we knew we would have to just drill down and try to keep this draw. Athena did amazingly well at continuing to intercept balls, despite having difficulty moving. Tracey moved back from up front to strengthen the midfield and relieve Athena.
With the final whistle going we were grateful for the second leg (I’m not too sure how we would have coped with extra time today!) Hopefully we can take a few subs with us to the second leg in three weeks time and come back with a win and a place in the final!!.