EH National Ladies Championship Semi Final

East Grinstead 8 Southgate 2

Ah well,  as with ‘Operation Market Garden’ getting through the semi-final to reach a first Championship Final proved a bridge too far on Sunday; whereas General Montgomery had his Arnhem the dreams of the Ladies 1’s were dashed at East Grinstead. If you are going to lose a Semi Final I guess the rural charm of the EG ground provided some solace for the loyal travelling support, and let’s be honest the opposition were a step up in class from what had gone before in the cup run. Even running this slightly untrained eye over the warm up suggested this was going to be a tough ask, and when Bobbie went to toss up with her opposite number she noted the confident air of a player who has an Olympic Gold medal tucked in her sock drawer. Indeed Sophie Bray could easily have been in a ‘bubble’ before heading off to Toyko instead of instigating a ruthless game plan which quite undid the slightly ad hoc game plan arrived at by Charles and Jim. There’s no doubt if either were smokers our plan would have been drawn up on the back of the packet, but let’s remember it had worked to this point of the competition and they weren’t going to disturb a winning formula.

East Grinstead took control from the first minute, in the first half they were quicker to the ball, more aggressive in the tackle and more clinical in the D. We were 2 behind before we had ventured significantly into enemy territory, and 3 down by the quarter hour. The frustrating thing was when we found some rhythm we created 3 or 4 excellent opportunities of our own, Milly Davies, was finding some success on the left and both Grace and Scarlett had chances to reduce the arrears. However the corner count against was rising and they seemed to hit the target with almost every chance; but for some superb stops by Chaela and some doughty defending, especially from Caitlin and 14 year old debutant Lily, the score against could have been horrible. Grinstead weren’t finished with three and added two more before the end of the half to put the tie to bed.

Some rousing words were required at half time and a change of attitude, we had been too respectful and passive we needed to play up to the potential of the talent in our side. EG weren’t going to take their foot off our throats and had added number 6 within two minutes of the 2nd half beginning with a frighteningly  fierce strike from a short corner which cannoned into the backboard. Now, finally, we made a game of it and showed what we were capable of doing. Ellie Rob got a grip of midfield and the forwards started to get more chances. Putting more pressure on the EG backline was yielding more possession and territory and our creative players got on the ball. Milly BC latched onto the ball in the 23 after some good interchanges, cruised into the D and smashed home our opening goal. We forced a couple of corners, Milly BC had a flick blocked and Ella had a flick well saved by the keeper. A ball down the line which seemed to be heading off the end of the pitch was amazingly retrieved by Scarlett, who beat a couple of defenders and the shot wasn’t dealt with by EG so Grace applied a lovely finish to bring the score back to 6-2. We had further chances and the EG goal was under pressure as suddenly the great comeback looked on. However our opposition had other ideas and when Ms Bray wriggled past 3 or 4 four defenders before finishing quite superbly the game was up. They added another after Sheff went on a bit of threshing mission (she got the prestigious DotD award for that), but we finished in the ascendancy with a clever short corner routine between Scarlett and Ella which only needed the finishing touch to have provided further reward for a much better second half. There was a mini drama after the final whistle when the EG coach approached the management team to suggest that they were unsure about being able to raise a team for the final in which case they’d scratch and let us through, but ultimately they managed to get enough people to head off to Nottingham for the Final on Saturday. This Cup run has been a lot of fun and provided great experience and 1st team debuts for a number of Ladies/girls. Personally I hope the club take it seriously next season as it offers the opportunity to test yourself against the best. Had we played the whole game as we did the second half it might have been much closer but ultimately Premier Division class told. For the record the Ladies voted Lily Freeman our player of the day on her debut, she defended superbly and at no stage looked intimidated (ah! the confidence of youth), other’s mentioned in dispatched were Caitlin and Milly D. On her final appearance before heading home to New Zealand Jenny Stephens gave a typical bustling and battling performance; having watched Jen play many first team games over the last couple of years  I know she will be much missed, a fine player and a great character to have in any team. Ella was also playing her final game before leaving for University in the Autumn, another who has been almost ever present in the 1st team for the last 3 years as well as being a key part of last season’s U18 National Cup winning team; she will also be missed by the team (but could be back at some point!). Finally, what made me most proud watching the Ladies battling to try to reach a National Final for the first time was that 13 of the 15 squad members came through the Southgate Junior academy; we should be proud of that as an achievement and use it as the springboard to get to the level of the likes of East Grinstead.