Dusty Springfield once sang about being ‘In the Middle of Nowhere’ and that’s where you’ll find Harleston Magpies, a tough venue for the U18 Girls National Quarter Final. Harleston’s ground is neatly sandwiched between the edge of Suffolk and Siberia, and the ever-present wind was prevailing from the latter rather than the former. None of which was to affect the marvellous U18’s who once again turned in a power performance which simply overwhelmed the home team in front of a partisan but increasingly silenced crowd.
With the late withdrawal through illness and injury of Laura Ellis and Alice Broderick the team was down to just 12, but as with the previous round you could feel the intent running through the group as they warmed up. Magpie’s have been regular adversaries for both U18’s and U16’s in recent seasons both indoor and outdoor and there were plenty of familiar faces in their team. The home team started quickly, pressing Southgate back in the opening couple of minutes but this was to prove a rare spell of possession for the home team and once the Southgate midfield of Hannah, Ella and Gabby Greenwood took control the Girls began to dominate proceedings. As with the previous round the first quarter of the game was one of complete Southgate dominance without a goal to show for all the pressure and short corners. However just when the loyal away following were wondering where a goal might come from the Captain took matters into her own hands. With Magpie’s transitioning the balls across the backline in an effort to find a way out of the Southgate press Gabby MP was quick to close down the centre half, disposed her and calmly slipped the ball past the home keeper.
Magpies 0 Southgate 1
This was just reward for Gabby who had been leading both the line and her team by example in the first 15 minutes, and she soon doubled her tally to extend the lead. Robyn, moving up from the back received the ball in the middle of the Magpies half and fired a flat fast pass into the D where Gabby once again was alive to the opportunity, and she applied the deftest of touches to wrong foot the keeper.
Magpies 0 Southgate 2
Rather than sit back on the lead Southgate went in search of more goals and only strong defending prevented an avalanche at this stage as Lucy and Maddie were constantly breaking into the D forcing the home team to fall back on last ditch tackles. About the only element of the team that wasn’t operating efficiently was the short corner routines; 8 came and went in the first half without success.
Grant’s game plan of shutting down the wings was working perfectly but given the dominance a 2 goal lead seemed unnecessarily narrow so it was a relief when Gabby Greenwood latched on to a clever through ball from Hannah and added a third on the stroke of half time.
Half Time: Magpies 0 Southgate 3
The second half started in much the same vein as the first with Hannah and Ella prompting from midfield and dominating their opponents, Maddie and Lucy running the legs off their tiring markers, and the defence solidly dealing with any potential threat with Georgie screening effectively. The 10 minutes after half time was a critical phase, and any encouragement for the home team could have changed the course of the game. As it was Southgate struck first when Lucy Leel was released down the right, sent her marker this way and that, and as the keeper closed on her she slid the ball into the left hand corner of the goal.
Magpies 0 Southgate 4
The effort of the first 45 minutes of the match seemed to be having an effect and Harleston became more of a force going forward. Now it was the turn of the defence to come to the fore. Zara had to pull off two remarkable saves in quick succession to prevent the home side scoring, one an amazing reaction tip round the post when the home team seemed certain to score. It must be really disheartening to finally out manoeuvre a seemingly impenetrable defence, create a glorious chance, only for some padded gymnast to fling herself this way and that to deny you!
Robyn was in outstanding form once again in the centre of defence, marshalling, tackling and distributing with equal effect. In the full back areas, where Magpies were looking for space, Jemima was holding firm and Hallie was simply too good for her opponent and never seemed rushed in either defending or distributing the ball down the line.
The game became a little scrappy as both teams tired with Southgate trying hard to look after the ball, Taanya came on up front to provide fresh legs and offer a point to the attack. She was important in holding the ball up to give a rest to the team as Magpies desperately tried to find a way back into the game. The committed attitude of the team was demonstrated by Maddie racing from the attacking D all the way to the defensive D to stop a Harleston break with literally minutes remaining.
The final whistle was greeted by much applause from the away support and just a little indifference from the home fans. Once again picking one player from another excellent team performance was impossible as so many excelled. Before the match everyone agreed it was a really tough assignment to travel to Harleston Magpies but the Girls made light of it. Grant, Rob, and Stuart deserve much credit for getting the mindset and tactics right again, and the team has now come through 3 very tough away assignments to make the Semi Final. One of Repton, Reading or Bournemouth await in the next round.
Team: Zara Rose: Robyn Hodges, Jemima Bisseker, Georgie Shrimpton, Ella Sherring, Hallie Coppin-Jones, Hannah Kilpatrick, Gabby Greenwood, Maddie Axford, Gabby Murray-Panayiotou, Lucy Leel, Taanya Fice