Sunday, 4 June 2017

Birmingham City Ladies 0 v 2 Chelsea Ladies

Saturday 2nd June 2017
FA Women’s Super League 1 Spring Series
Damson Park, Solihull
Admission: £7.00 in advance, £8.00 on the gate
Programme: £2.50
Attendance: 1171
Match Rating: 3

For what will be my last game of the 2016/17 season, I decided to tick off a National League National Division ground, for what would be a title-deciding match in the top flight of the Women’s game.

Damson Park is about a two and a half mile, 45 minute walk north eastwards from Solihull train station and as well as hosting Birmingham City Ladies matched, is also the home of Solihull Moors FC. The ground is adjacent to the very large Land Rover plant and not far from Birmingham Airport, and spectators enter the ground in one corner. Having only hosted Step 1 mens football for two seasons, it is no surprise that facilities here are modest, and have clearly been added to as ground grading requirements have demanded as Solihull Moors have progressed. The result is a rather hotch-potch look, but this makes it an interesting venue which is more than adequate for non league football. Just inside the turnstile there is a portakabin painted in club colours selling merchandise and programmes, and beyond a burger van and backing onto the large clubhouse building (which contains several different bar area) there is covered seating, with a floor above which is not available to the general public. Some attractive club signage is placed on the lower roof to the sides of the upper tier. Towards the far corner along this length is a temporary looking all-seater stand which is uncovered and is the most recent addition, opened in March this year. Behind the goal a low modern black metallic stand covering steps to stand on stretches between corner flags, whilst behind the other closest to the entrance there is a more attractive stand between corner flags, with a mixture of seating and standing. A “tuck shop” is situated in the rear wall. Along the remaining length there is mainly just hard standing, but there is another temporary looking all seater stand which is half uncovered, half has a tarpaulin type roof to it. The 24 page programme was an interesting read although rather over priced and did not contain basic information such as league table and season’s results.

On the last day of this Spring Series, Chelsea were in pole position to be crowned champions, just needing to win this game as they led the table on goal difference by 18 goals. Any slip up today could let in any of the three teams below them. They were certainly in great form, scoring 11 goals in their last two games, including seven against leaders at the time Liverpool. The highlight of Birmingham's season was a trip to Wembley for the FA Women’s Cup Final, which they lost. Their Spring Series campaign has been rather unremarkable and came into this game in sixth place, having won just one and drawn four of their seven games. Today’s teams met in Solihull in April, with Birmingham winning the FA Cup semi final on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

On a mainly sunny afternoon, this match started quite evenly, with Chelsea playing a patient game whilst Birmingham remained solid but always looked for the forward ball. However, Chelsea were awarded a penalty on 21 minutes when Fran Kirby ran onto a ball over the top, only to be rammed into by the keeper. Karen Carney struck the ball down the middle to give the visitors the lead. Chelsea went on to dominate thereafter, coming close to scoring on several occasions, but the scoreline remained goalless at the break and with work still to do, with two of the club’s below them, Manchester City and Arsenal, winning.

Chelsea’s dominance continued after the break, and on 57 minutes, they added a second. Gemma Davison crossed the ball low in the box and under no real pressure, the Birmingham keeper spilt the ball, which bounced gently against the post and Kirby took a touch from the byline before tapping home. That very much seemed like the title winning moment, and in some ways it was a shame that it came about thanks to a goalkeeping error. Chelsea saw the game out quite comfortably, although Birmingham did keep battling away to their credit right up to the end. So it was Chelsea who won the league on goal difference, as Manchester City also won, and they were awarded the trophy and medals on the pitch shortly after the final whistle. Birmingham finished in seventh place in the nine team division, and will certainly need to win more games to have a better campaign when the winter season starts in September.

Video footage of the goals can be viewed by clicking here

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Watford Ladies 1 v 2 Millwall Lionesses

Saturday 20th May 2017
FA Women’s Super League 2 Spring Series
Gaywood Park, Kings Langley
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 226
Match Rating: 3

With the regular season having just about drawn to a close by now, I have now turned to women’s football for my last two competitive games to complete the season for me. Today’s match gave me the opportunity to tick off the home of Kings Langley, who have just retained their place in the Southern League Premier Division on goal difference.

Gaywood Park is about a half hour walk northwards from Kings Langley train station, with the entrance close to a busy main road. Spectators enter through an attractive green wooden turnstile block in one corner of the ground, and I got the feeling – to give the ground the benefit of the doubt – that I visited at the worst possible time in terms of its aesthetic appearance. Stretching along the length from the entrance there are a couple of fairly newly laid uncovered steps, with rather untidy surroundings. A stand constructed from scaffolding and corrugated iron covering seating straddling the half way line and would also not win any design awards. On the opposite side there are a couple of metallic stands located immediately adjacent to each other between the dugouts. Immediately behind one goal there is a small metallic stand, with just hard standing behind the other. Next to the entrance in the corner is the rather cosy clubhouse, which resembles a cricket pavilion and is the most attractive part of the ground, perched above a second football pitch and there is a tea bar window outside. The ground has a green and fairly attractive background, and a busy train line passed by a little distance behind one length. The 28 page programme was in colour and was informative enough, with all the relevant information and interesting reading material.

This was the closing weekend of the Spring Series, which is basically half a league season, with clubs playing each other just once, to bridge the gap as the FA Women’s Super League move from a summer season to a winter one. After poor seasons in last year’s regular season, when Watford finished bottom with just seven points from 18 league games and Millwall only two places and nine points better off in the ten team division, the Spring Season is going much better for them both. Watford were in seventh place, with two wins and two draws from their eight league games, and Millwall were in fourth place, having won four and drawn two of their eight games – all four wins coming in their most recent matches, and a win today could see them finish as high as second depending on results elsewhere tomorrow.

On a mainly dry and cool afternoon, but with wind and a poor quality pitch making conditions difficult, this was a close fought and entertaining game in which Watford gave a very good account of themselves, looking slightly the better team for long periods, although there were few sights of goal throughout the first half. The best chance fell to Watford on 25 minutes, when a lovely surge into the box by Rinsola Babajide ended with a shot that went narrowly wide of the far post. But it remained goalless at the break, with plenty for the home team to be encouraged about.

The second half started in a similar vein, competitive but with few clear chances being created, until Millwall took the lead on 65 minutes. A free kick to the left of the penalty area was dinked in and Billie Brooks headed home at the near post. Things got even worse for Watford three minutes later, when Danielle Puddlefoot was shown a second yellow card and then the red. But they carried on plugging away and got the equaliser they deserved on 76 minutes. Following a corner, the ball was not cleared and Merrick Will struck the ball high into the net from a central position. On 79 minutes, the host came agonisingly close to taking the lead, following a superb run from the right wing and then across the edge of the penalty area by Otesha Charles, before her strike on goal came back off a post. And indeed the looked the more likely to claim a winner, but it was Millwall who scored it five minutes into added on time. A low through ball sent captain Ashlee Hincks through on goal and she struck the ball low across the keeper and into the net, and they saw out the remaining moments to claim the win.

It turned out, following Sunday's game, that today's win would earn them Millwall Lionesses a very creditable third placed finish, giving them plenty of optimism going into next season, which starts in September. Watford finished in eighth place, an improvement on last season, which they will also look to build on.

Video footage of the goals can be viewed by clicking here

Sunday, 14 May 2017

British Airways 1 v 2 Letchworth Garden City Eagles

Saturday 13th May 2017
Capital Counties Feeder League Trophy Final
County Ground, Letchworth Garden City
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 150 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3

After missing out on football for the past fortnight, mainly due to being on holiday in Majorca, games were very thin on the ground at this stage of May, with little more than a handful of non-league games at intermediate level to choose from today. Although a visit to Punjab United of the Kent County League (and soon to be of the Southern Counties League) was tempting, I instead decided to visit a ground which is no longer host to a football club, but boasts very decent facilities.

The County Ground is about a 20 minute walk south eastwards from Letchworth Garden City train station, and serves as the headquarters of the Hertfordshire County FA, whilst previously it was the home ground of Letchworth up to 2002, and more recently Baldock Town between 2008 and 2011. These days, it mainly hosts cup matches organised by the Hertfordshire FA, as well as the final ties in this competition for the last nine years, but it’s facilities would easily satisfy Isthmian League requirements, perhaps even higher. After passing through a small car park, spectators enter via a brick turnstile block along one length. To the right of the entrance, there is the all-seater main stand, providing good elevated and unobstructed views. Beyond the stand is the brick clubhouse, with a rather sterile bar area inside. To behind the corner closest to the entrance is a further brick building housing the County FA offices. The rest of the ground has a rather symmetrical look about it, with grass banking all around, and immediately behind both goals, set a little way up the bank, are virtually identical small stands covering standing area, although towards the corner closest to the clubhouse is an additional small metallic stand with a curved design covering more standing area. Along most of the remaining length there is another fairly low stand providing covered standing. Trees all around a pleasant backdrop to what is a very neat and tidy ground, one that feels as though it is wasted without hosting a club. A 24 page programme was produced and was informative about the history of the competition, as well as introducing both clubs.

This is quite an interesting cup competition, open to those clubs in the various mainly Step 7 leagues across the northern home counties who are not playing in the FA Vase, and 26 teams entered this season’s competition. British Airways finished as runners up in the Middlesex County League Premier Division, five points adrift of champions Deportivo Galacia. Letchworth Garden City Eagle, whose home ground is little more than a stone’s throw away from the County Ground, finished in third place in the Hertfordshire Senior League Premier Division, and have won this competition twice, most recently in 2015. British Airways had negotiated four rounds to reach this stage, Letchworth three.

On a sunny afternoon,, Letchworth got off to a great start, taking the lead with just four minutes on the clock with a super goal, their player taking a couple of touches outside the area before thumping a shot into the net with the rather portly keeper rooted to his spot. On 12 minutes, they had the ball in the net again when a free kick from deep was headed home, but the goal was disallowed for offside. Their other stand out chances came two minutes before the break when a defender missed an interception allowing the Letchworth player through on goal, but the keeper managed to get just enough of his fingertips on the ball to deflect it onto the far post and away. So Letchworth could probably feel aggrieved to only be a goal in front, and they were certainly the better side throughout the half, but British Airways did look quite dangerous when they did attack.

British Airways were a transformed side in the second half and it was their turn to create most of the chances. On 50 minutes, a free kick was just tipped over the bar, ten minutes later a low cross inside the six yard box was almost turned into his own net by a Letchworth defender, and a minute later, a far post header following a corner was blocked on the line. But on 64 minutes, Letchworth were awarded a penalty for a foul tackle close to the outer edge of the area. It was dispatched down the centre of the goal to give Letchworth some daylight. The atmosphere between the players started to get a little tetchy from this point onwards. But British Airways continued to create chances, on 69 minutes, a close range, first time clipped shot really should have found the back of the net, before they did pull a goal back on 75 minutes. A free kick was played beyond the back post, the ball was crossed low and was bundled in from close range. On 83 minutes, Letchworth almost sealed the win when a long range shot sailed over the backpedaling keeper and hit the crossbar, and then a minute later British Airways had a player sent off for dissent, not before time it must be said. But a minute later they had a glorious chance to equalise when the ball fell at one of their player’s feet at the back post with the goal at his mercy, but he miscued his shot high and backwards. They came so close one more time, a minute from the end, when a free kick hit the far post and bounced clear, and with that went British Airways hopes of at least forcing extra time.

And so it was Letchworth Garden City Eagles who lifted the trophy shortly after the final whistle, and they certainly deserved to, looking the better side throughout, although with a little more fortune, British Airways could and perhaps should have at least forced extra time with the chances they created during the second half.