Sunday 30th May
Suffolk Women’s County Cup Final
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The action this Sunday comes from the Final of the Suffolk Women’s County Cup, with Ipswich Town Women looking to make it 7 successive wins in the competition as they take on Needham Market Women.
Suffolk FA like their counterparts in Norfolk and Bedfordshire pressing on with their County Cup competitions following the emergence from the 3rd lockdown during the ongoing Covid pandemic at the end of March. The Suffolk Cup running on it’s own since 2010 the competition has been dominated by Ipswich Town Women winning 8 of the last 9 finals including a run of 6 successive wins.
Ipswich Town Women are the leading force for women’s football in Suffolk and are only getting stronger. The first team topping the FAWNL South East Division One in both the previous Covid affected seasons and with a shake up of the pyramid coming the club is in a strong position to apply for upwards movement. Today’s squad though lends testament to that strength as Ipswich have fielded there WSL Academy side throughout the competition, which sees there youngsters playing against as the name suggest some of the countries top female academies and underlies the clubs ambitions. Setting goal scoring records too scoring a staggering 71 goals without reply in 4 matches to reach todays final.
Another club on the rise within women’s football in Suffolk is Needham Market Women, established in 2018, recorded a 2nd placed finish in the Suffolk Women’s Division aswell as reaching the final’s of the League and County Cup. Joined the ERWFL looking to test themselves at regional level whilst setting up a Reserves side. The Covid pandemic affecting both season’s, lost out to Ipswich in the semi-finals of the County Cup last season before bouncing back this term to make it 2 finals out of 3. Warren Lewis-Claxton taking over the running of the 1st team from Freya Louis who is now the Girls & Women’s Development Manager for Needham Market Academy the club themselves offering a pathway for both mens and women’s football.
Road to the Final
The County Cup getting underway before the 2nd lockdown in November and for both sides it rained goals. Ipswich’s academy side seeing the County Cup retained for a sixth straight season with a 6-0 win in the delayed final carried over from last season began their defence with a home tie against Suffolk Women’s Division Two newcomers Kesgrave Kestrels Ladies, dominated from start to finish winning 18-0. Needham Market were just as ruthless at home to another Division Two side, Chantry Grasshoppers recording a 22-0 win.
The 2nd Round after the 3rd lockdown seeing contracting matches played out. Ipswich were away to Suffolk Division One side Brantham Athletic Ladies, the goals flowing once again eased through to the quarter finals with a 15-0 win. A tougher opponent for Needham Market at home to AFC Sudbury Women, like them another club offering a women’s football pathway as the ERWFL Division One side looks to re-establish itself as a dominant side within women’s football in the county, the pair contesting a 1-1 draw the tie going to penalties, Needham Market coming through with a 4-3 victory.
More of the same for Ipswich in the quarter finals rattling in a further 14 goals without reply away to East Bergholt United. An away win awarded to Needham Market who were drawn against Norfolk Division One side Waveney Ladies. Onto the semi-finals played at neutral grounds. Ipswich taking on Bungay Town Ladies at Framlingham Town, were far too strong for the Norfolk Division One side as they ran riot scoring 24 goals with Zoe Barrett and Lucy O’Brien netting 13 between them. Needham Market travelled to Mildenhall Town FC to take on fellow ERWFL Division One side Haverhill Rovers Ladies, newly established themselves reaching the last 4 of the County Cup are a club in a similar vein to Needham Market. Two goals late in the 1st half from Abbie Wilkinson and Nia Evans seeing Needham Market leading 2-0 at half-time a penalty scored late in stoppage time by Lois Balfour sealing a 3-0 win.
The venue for today’s final at The MEL Group Stadium home of AFC Sudbury’s mens and women’s teams. A state of the art artificial playing surface. A modern newly built clubhouse over looking the pitch with bar and kitchen hatch serving hot food and drink, a seated stand beside with one more on the opposite side. An evening kick-off a bright and sunny day, a pleasant Bank Holiday weekend.
Ipswich Town Women starting XI – Nina Meollo, Summer Hughes, Emma Wallis, Amy-Leigh Abrehart, Liv Bilson, Abbie Jackson, Molly Sutherland (C), Kyra Robertson, Zoe Barrett, Lucy O’Brien & Maddie Biggs. Subs – Leonie Jackson & Sarah Brasero.
Needham Market Women starting XI – Danielle Clarke, Ellie Rossiter, Jodie Sharp, Laura Bloomfield, Ele Catchpole, Nia Evans, Nicole Henderson (C), Amber Sparkes, Mia Etheridge, Abbie Wilkinson & Lois Balfour. Subs – Francesca Rainbird, Sasha Diston, Gemma Foster & Freja Scott.
(roll on roll off substitutes)
The teams lining up before the match Ipswich will be kicking off the first half wearing their all blue kit with white trim. Needham Market opposite wearing red shirts with yellow trim, red shorts and socks. The ball rolled back to the defence is put to the right for Emma Wallis to take forwards exchanges passes with Zoe Barrett on the flank before looking to drive on, Needham Market’s, Jodie Sharp coming to close her down tackle and see the ball out for a throw., Needham Market work the ball across the field out to the right, Mia Etheridge taking it on sending an early cross into the top of the area, headed clear by Ipswich’s Abbie Jackson.
A few of the Ipswich side have some experience with the 1st team, one of those being attacker Maddie Biggs who is fed in making a run into the left channel, likes to run at defences pace unleashes a shot from 20 yards out the ball wide at the near post. Amy-Leigh Abrehart out on the left for Ipswich sends the ball through for Biggs to attack the left channel once again, Laura Bloomfield sliding on to challenge her win the ball for Needham Market. Ipswich on the offensive right from the off, Lucy O’Brien latching onto a poor pass at the back from Needham Market right side looks to drive for the box is clipped brought down a free-kick awarded 20 yards out right of the D. Abrehart over it goes for goal, her strike high and wide of the near post.
Ellie Rossiter brings the ball on down the right for Needham Market on for Abbie Wilkinson, attempts to cut inside with Etheridge providing a run moving into the right channel, Molly Sutherland captaining Ipswich soon to head off to the United States getting back on her to regain possession. Ipswich quick to turn play around, Ele Catchpole stepping out from the back to tackle for Needham Market put long up to captain Nicole Henderson she heads it on in behind right side, Summer Hughes there to put out for a throw prevent Wilkinson taking it on.
Wallis plays in on for Barrett in space on the right, carries the ball on looking to take on Sharp, attempts to knock it around the full back get in behind, Sharp doing well stretching to take the ball away from Barrett. O’Brien recieving the ball in a similar position on the right drives for the area, is closed down by three Needham market players at the top of the area, riding a challenge well staying on her feet in behind bearing down on goal lets loose from the angle, goalkeeper Danielle Clarke down smartly to make the blocking save the ball deflected across the six yard box cleared by Bloomfield.
Wilkinson played into the box right side by Etheridge does well to ensure her side get a corner. Ipswich defend the set-piece at the near post the ball dropping back to the taker is fired back into the area, an Ipswich leg cutting it out before being cleared. Clarke off her line early comes out to close the angle as Biggs gets away with the ball at her feet on the left smashes her shot against the onrushing keeper. Ipswich lively moving well as a unit, the attackers looking to stretch the Needham Market defence, playing 3 up top are on the front foot.
Sharp has been kept busy in defence has a rare chance to get forwards for Needham Market on the left Ipswich standing off her she comes inside striking the ball from 25 yards out left of the D, curling the ball in near post, doesn’t trouble Ipswich goalkeeper, Nina Meollo. Nia Evans on the ball centrally looks to play it over the top for Amber Sparkes through the middle, Ipswich step up well at the back however seeing her stray offside. Henderson with a short pass into Etheridge turns plays it on for Sparkes, Liv Bilson winning the ball back for Ipswich at the back.
A free-kick for Needham Market out wide on the left a chance for players to come up towards the area, the delivery into the near side Etheridge jumping well to met it heads it on down towards the far post, Sharp the closest to it but can’t reach it before Meollo has it safely in her gloves. Etheridge central with Henderson, Needham Market go forwards the pass laid forwards for Lois Balfour attempting to get in behind, read well by Jackson winning the ball back for Ipswich.
Barratt full of running on the right in attack for Ipswich getting hold of the ball charges on towards the area, Sharp getting back on her the pair shoulder to shoulder, Sharp doing enough to see the ball safely collected by her keeper. Biggs carrying an equally dangerous threat on the left side of Ipswich’s attacking trio, surges into the box Clarke coming to close the angle Biggs moving central shoots, Clarke down saving well getting something on the ball as she drops squirms out from under her but rises up to cannon off the crossbar and down for the defence to launch clear. Needham Market with a free-kick on the halfway lime left side put up into the congested D, Etheridge again up well to head the ball goalwards but lacking power is gathered by Meollo.
GOAL! 22 minutes played and Ipswich open the scoring, Wallis clear on the right side getting into an advanced position flashes a cross in along the top of the Needham Market area, controlled by O’Brien central laid to her right for Barratt who sees the ball into her body turning well right of the D to hit a low strike in past the diving keeper at the near post 1-0.
Ipswich waste no time in getting hold of the ball from the restart, Kyra Robertson out to Wallis right side she powers forwards sending in an early cross across the area met by the advancing Abrehart far side sends her shot wide across the goal. Changes for both sides as Ipswich bring Sarah Brasero on for Biggs. Needham market bring on defender Sasha Diston for Sparkes. Misplaced passes out from the back are putting the Needham Market defence under pressure Ipswich lively looking for the ball Barrett snatches it right side firing it into the area with O’Brien providing the run moving right, Clarke does well out to save bravely at her feet before she can get a shot away.
Sutherland with some strong tackles in the middle, is stopping Needham Market gaining any momentum through the middle, Evans and Henderson looking to feed it forwards to Balfour, Etheridge and Wilkinson when they can. The Ipswich captain moving into a shooting position 30 yards out sends a shot wide of the near post. Sharp with time on the ball left side advancing goes central looking for options, runs into traffic 25 yards out, Sutherland putting in the tackle to set up another Ipswich attack. Brasero and Wallis bringing the ball on centrally combining well before Henderson get’s back to tackle Brasero. The ball pops loose straight to Wallis her strike from distance blocked by Bloomfield.
Ipswich with a corner on the right put into the top of the area comes back to Barratt on the right loops a ball in towards goals drops down off the crossbar, dropping far post a shot blasted in, saved excellent work from Clarke on her line before being cleared, Needham Market break forwards the ball into Wilkinson in space on the right looks to set up Balfour at the near post, Sutherland back clearing it for a corner kick. A inswinging delivery from Sharp is at a catchable height, safely into Meollo’s midriff.
GOAL! 10 minutes left in the 1st half as Ipswich get forwards and double their lead, the ball fired into O’Brien from the left the striker in a central position, gets a shot away before Sharp can tackle her, Clarke down sharply to her left saving well, O’Brien alert however after the loose ball to the right of the keeper retrieves coming back inside turning to send her low strike in at the near post 2-0.
Needham Market working hard frustrated going forwards, Evans on for Etheridge who is hauled down in the centre. Sharp out wide left taking the ball on attempts to get in behind, Wallis with the challenge sending the ball out for a throw. Evans allowed time on the ball in the middle threads it through to Balfour central, Wallis getting tight on does well in defence to prevent the Needham Market attacker getting away from her.
Abrehart over on the right now for Ipswich finds some space hugging the touchline, takes the ball on up the line, Sharp finding the pace to get out to her lunging in with the tackle to concede the corner. Taken short with Hughes moving towards the ball back to the take the pair working a cross into the box defended by Catchpole. Catchpole defending again as Wallis lets loose from the angle on the right the centre back cutting her strike out falls for Abrehart inside the box wide right fires her shot wide across the face of goal.
Diston winning the ball inside the Ipswich half left side plays it inside for Etheridge 25 yards out central turns to pass forwards to Balfour breaking right, the attacker tackled inside the D, appeals but no foul given.
Half-time Ipswich Town Women 2-0 Needham Market Women
Ipswich go into the half-time break leading the Final 2-0. But for some excellent saves from Needham Market goalkeeper Danielle Clarke could have been 4 or 5. Have been lively going forwards the front 3 causing their opponents defence problems and that in turn limiting Needham Market’s own opportunities going forwards. The teams staying out on the pitch during the break in the shade provided by the building behind. Ipswich leading will be a tough ask for Needham Market to find a goal of their own.
Needham market to get the 2nd half underway changes for Ipswich a change of goalkeepers with Leonie Jackson on for Meollo, Biggs back on too. The ball put to the left, won back by Hughes the full back looking to get forwards for Ipswich Diston comes in to win the challenge before Needham Market win a free-kick. Etheridge playing it long, Bilson defending. Needham Market almost capitalise as Ipswich get out of shape at the back the ball fired on for Wilkinson to chase Ipswich getting out of shape at the back as the keeper comes for the ball, Leonie Jackson recovering well however to get back on Wilkinson to block and clear.
Robertson moving out into the right channel for Ipswich taking the ball down to the by-line whips a cross back in the ball cut out by Sharp conceding the corner. Swung into the six yard box, Clarke going for is fouled. A blatant push on the advancing Biggs sees Ipswich awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position outside the D to the right of goal. O’Brien to take goes for goal over the wall but falls comfortably for Clarke to take cleanly beyond.
Ipswich are defending from the front well their attackers in to close the Needham market defence down making playing out from the back difficult and bringing about unforced errors. Biggs latching onto the ball right sides lifting it across to Barratt on the left into the box, Rossiter getting across her to hook the ball away to safety. Biggs is full of energy on the right surging to the by-line clipping it back to Wallis getting forwards with her to hit 1st time on the angle, Clarke covering her near post down to scoop up the ball.
GOAL! Ipswich extend their lead Biggs attacking right tackling Catchpole to steal in behind racing forwards sends the cross in towards Barratt getting away far post to connect with the ball and turn it into the back of the net for her 2nd of the game 3-0.
Catchpole gets back at Biggs this time as the attacker threatens to race through once more, the flag though already up against her. Biggs a menace on the drive the ball at her feet right, shifts inside into the box shooting low, straight at Clarke however the keeper gathering. Ipswich come left Hughes linking with Barrett and Brasero who escapes her marker to get into the box flashes a cross into the six yard box, Robertson advancing meeting it to hit 1st time sees her effort fly up over the bar.
Needham Market are on the backfoot can’t get the ball into an advanced position, Sutherland stifling play in the centre the full backs can’t get out. Evans committing a foul in the middle Ipswich take it quickly Sutherland to Robertson moving left goes on tackled by Rossiter out for a throw, drops to Barratt back for Sutherland as she turns heading for the area, recieves the return pass, strikes a shot in on the angle from the corner of the area in low safely collected by Clarke.
GOAL! 64 minutes on the clock and Ipswich cap a dominant period in attack with a 4th goal as O’Brien snaps in to win the ball high on the right takes it on in behind swinging a cross in towards the near post, Barratt and Brasero both closing in on Clarke, the keeper blocking Barratt’s attempt, the ball drops down to the feet of Brasero to top of them both and she stabs it home 4-0.
A drinks break following a chance for both sides to regroup, Freja Scott enters the game for Needham Market. Abrehart back on for O’Brien for Ipswich. Bloomfield with a long ball up top for Balfour to attack, Bilson is close on her to ensure she does get the ball down and in behind. Biggs unleashes a shot from 25 yards out on the right but is again frustrated as her attempt is held by Clarke. Biggs then beats the offside flag breaking centrally racing in behind, the defence can’t catch her, Clarke comes racing out of her area has to get to the ball slides in takes it away from the attacker behind her, Rossiter back to send it clear from a throw out on the left.
GOAL! Surging forwards, Ipswich go on to add a 5th goal, numbers forwards Needham Market on the backfoot the ball right fired in to the path of Biggs, a frustrating afternoon so far in front of goal, she makes no mistake this time with a powerful strike from 20 yards out that leaves Clarke with no chance as it hits the back of the net across her 5-0.
Needham Market tiring Ipswich remain full of running with less than 20 minutes left to play, Brasero left sends it on for Abrehart escaping into the box beyond the defence, the flag up however thwarts her attempt on goal. Abrehart is gifted another opportunity moments later as Needham Market give the ball away at the back left side steals inside to shoot on the angle driven in low near post, Clarke down diving full stretch to make another fantastic save sending the ball behind for a corner. The delivery in defended well by Scott at the near post for Needham Market. Balfour comes off for Needham Market with Gemma Foster coming in at left back pushing Sharp further forwards.
Bloomfield in to block )’Brien at close range as Abrehart plays her in left side of the goal. Barratt returning to the game for Ipswich. Catchpole in on Brasero as the Ipswich attack looks to burst clear through the middle off a Robertson pass. Robertson on the ball central again plays it out to Biggs right side, Foster intercepting to clear up to Sharp for Needham Market. The game into the final 10 minutes. Ipswich on top coming on looking for more goals. Hughes getting on a diagonal ball into Barratt shoots from distance, the ball held confidently by Clarke.
Changes for both sides Robertson off for O’Brien for Ipswich, Francesca Rainbird on for Evans for Needham Market. Hughes races away down the left for Ipswich sending in a cross from the by-line cut out by Bloomfield tracking back for a corner with Barratt on her shoulder.
GOAL! Ipswich send players up from the back for the corner, from the left angled in across the face of goal towards the far post, deflected goalwards is blocked on the line Needham Market failing to clear falls central in the six yard box stabbed goalwards by Bilson he shot rising up to smash down off the crossbar and down over the line 6-0.
Etheridge central with a ball over the top as Ipswich are caught with a high line, Leonie Jackson quickly out of her area to clear smashes the ball straight against the advancing Wilkinson, rebounding behind them both, it’s the keeper who can recover the quicker and nullify the threat. Hughes lays the ball inside from the left to O’Brien 25 yards out drops her shoulder shifting the ball to her right before letting fly sends her strike over the bar. Hughes and Abrehart combining on the left a give and go Abrehart sending the full back in behind fires a cross into the area, Biggs breaking clear far side after it, Clarke saving at point blank range coming out to close her down.
Ipswich creating chances a shot angled in from distance on the right cannons off the post. Abrehart central curling a shot around the post from beyond the D. Ipswich finishing the game strong all Needham Market can do is try to thwart the advance, Clarke immense throughout out to save at the feet of O’Brien. The flag stays down as Biggs bursts through in behind in stoppage time, shots on the drive, falls to the ground beating it in frustration as she sees another effort wide.
Full time Ipswich Town Women 6-0 Needham Market Women
The final whistle blows and Ipswich finishing the game strong win comfortably 6-0 to make it 7 straight County Cup wins. Were on top from start to finish their attacking trio causing the Needham market defence all sorts of problems with their pace and movement. Chances created taking the lead after 22 minutes, going in 2 up at the break. Could have had more. Needham market having few opportunities up front couldn’t get the bodies forwards to worry the Ipswich backline. Ipswich strong in the 2nd period full of energy as Needham Market tired, more chances, the goals coming at regular intervals.
Women’s Football East – Player of the Match
Onto this afternoon’s Women’s Football East – Player of the Match. Difficult to pick one it has to be said but firstly huge credit goes to Needham Market goalkeeper, Danielle Clarke an ex-Ipswich player she was immense in goal pulling off some incredible saves and although her side eventually lost 6-0 without her saves it could have been double that. For Ipswich really hard to pick one player out was an all round team performance, Molly Sutherland was strong centrally commanding the midfield. The front three lively, Maddie Biggs a constant threat on the left first half right the 2nd, Lucy O’Brien through the middle but narrowly edging it the award today goes to Zoe Barrett, some great link up play and movement scoring 2 goals.
Congratulations to Ipswich Town Women on winning the County Cup for a 7th successive time.
An entertaining afternoon at AFC Sudbury, as always my thanks to the clubs for providing me with the team details and the staff at Suffolk FA too for their assistance. Women’s football in Suffolk is on a rapid upwards curve and whilst Ipswich continue to be out in front Needham Market are amongst the frontrunners looking to close the gap.
by Darren Gilham