Sunday 6th June
Bedfordshire Women’s County Cup Final
A trip down to Bedfordshire this Sunday for one last County Cup Final and one I haven’t attended before as Bedford Ladies face AFC Dunstable Women.
Normally the season would be done and dusted by now, and I would be grateful for the chance to rest before it begins all over again, but this time around with the ongoing Covid pandemic having disrupted another playing season, the FA have where wanted extended the season into June. Competition in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk set to continue for another fortnight, today’s final brings an end to the season in Bedfordshire.
The County Cup Final in recent years dominated by Bedford Ladies and Luton Town Ladies winning the last 8 between them, Bedford the current holders winning against Luton back to back on 2018 & 2019. No competition last season due to the pandemic, Beds FA along with their counterparts in Norfolk and Suffolk going ahead with their County Cup competitions when the country came out of it’s 3rd lockdown at the end of March.
Bedford Ladies have won the County Cup on 5 occasions first in 2012, then back to back wins in 2014 and 15 then most recently 2018 and 2019 the Covid pandemic seeing no final played a victory to day would see Bedford win the trophy 3 times in a row. One of the leading female clubs in Bedfordshire along side Luton and Dunstable all playing in the ERWFL Premier Division, competitive rivals all three. Bedford have a strong youth section with two senior sides, the Development side completing in Beds & Herts Division Two.
Despite being an established side in the ERWFL Premier Division AFC Dunstable Women came close to folding a couple of seasons back due to a shortage of numbers, Ashley Pead coming in to manage the side, something of a rebuilding process with a young squad followed, the ERWFL Premier Division a tough league to blood a young side but they have doe well improving all the time and getting back to the levels where they will once again being pushing Bedford and Luton for honours in the county.
Road to the Final
Both sides along with Luton Town Ladies receiving a bye to the quarter finals of the County Cup. Bedford began their defence of the trophy at home to Beds & Herts Division Two side Biggleswade United Ladies, newly established with ambitions to become a leading force in women’s football in the county were outmatched on the day by Bedford who dominated to win the game 9-0. AFC Dunstable Women were away in their quarter final taking on Luton Town Ladies Reserves. A battle between the sides Dunstable edging it 2-1 to progress to the semi-finals with Tia Steadman netting both goals.
Bedford were to take on AFC Dunstable Women Blues in the last 4 of the County Cup, won the initial game 2-0 booking their spot in the final the game voided however, and Bedford made to play it again. Dunstable’s Blue side a growing force in their own right didn’t make it easy however Bedford went on to win the game 3-1 to set up today’s final. A tough test for Dunstable in their semi-final away to Luton Town Ladies, was a determined performance though that saw the sides finish the game to send the tie into a penalty shootout. Goalkeeper, Ciara Taylor a recent addition for Dunstable the hero as she saved Luton’s 6th penalty as the shootout entered sudden death to send Dunstable into the final.
Into June the venue for today’s final, Cranfield United FC, just off the A421 through the village of Cranfield you come to the ground, parking around 3 sides of the pitch, fenced off the playing surface looking superb the grass lush. A clubhouse, with bar and kitchen hatch serving hot food and drink at one end a small seated stand between the dugouts. A good size offering plenty of width. A few spots of rain about before kick-off, the dark clouds pasting however leaving behind a sunny if somewhat muggy afternoon. Traffic was a nightmare, but I suspect I was the only one who travelled from Norfolk today.
Bedford Ladies starting XI – Alex Shore, Mollie Robinson, Stephanie Fisher, Sophie Mulvihill, Zara Carroll, Jasmine Ajayi, Shianne Swares, Destiny Pap, Gemma Franklin (C), Setor Acolatse & Natasha Fensome. Subs – Ashley Emerton, Mollie Marshall, Carissa Kaczorowski & Rianne Townsend-Brown.
AFC Dunstable Women starting XI – Ciara Taylor, Shauna Smith, Mollie Burgess, Nicole Raffermati, Jodi McClelland (C), Chloe Esposito, Louise McCay, Rebecca Devereux, Gemma Darvill, Chelsea Jeffrey & Tia Steadman. Subs – Darcy Collins, Hannah Ring, Louisa Sexton & Ella Claridge.
(roll on roll off substitutes)
Both sides play in blue as a rule, Bedford with the change strip today wearing white shirts with black shorts and socks to have the kick-off 1st half with Dunstable all in blue opposite. Bedford play the ball right for Destiny Pap moving forwards, Gemma Darvill stepping in to win it for Dunstable has support on the inside from Nicole Raffermati, the pair exchange passes Darvill powering on down the wing gaining ground before she is stopped by Mollie Robinson as the full back comes sliding in to take the ball out for a throw in.
Dunstable with the early pressing keep the ball down the right working a cross on across the top of the area Bedford send it clear helped on up to the right with captain Gemma Franklin looking to get hold of it carry it forwards before being chopped down, Bedford getting the free-kick. Players go forwards the ball sent long up into the area, headed out by Dunstable, Shauna Smith the rolling ball comes to Shianne Swares 25 yards out, one thing on her mind striking the ball her attempt charged down.
Mollie Burgess with the ball at her feet playing on the left of defence for Dunstable lines up a fantastic pas sending it long into the path of Darvill on the moves taking it in her stride, runs on checking back aiming to reach the area before Sophie Mulvihill put in the sliding tackle for Bedford. Swares bringing the ball on through the middle, Louise McCay getting across to halt her progress, the midfield area lively. McCay with another strong challenge moments later to deny Setor Acolatse. Chelsea Jeffery with space on the ball central for Dunstable 35 yards out receiving the ball from Rebecca Devereaux on the left attempts to put it into Darvill’ run out wide right, plays it too close to the keeper allowing Alex Shore to come out of her six yard box and claim.
Two committed side Swares lays it wide for Pap on the left, up the wing, Darvill coming back closing in to challenge, allowing Burgess to clear the loose ball. Both side looking to work the width, Darvill and Devereaux for Dunstable, Pap and Franklin for Bedford all with driving runs when the ball is laid into their feet. Devereux plays it inside from the right into Chloe Esposito 25 yards out turns and strikes the ball goalward skipping up off the grass, Shore is right behind it see it up into her arms. Darvill strong on the ball takes it on right on for Jeffery into the right channel carrying on into the Bedford area comes inside, shift right, then left, failing to get a cross away before being closed down by Zara Carroll.
Dunstable with a corner on the right, the ball headed away out of the box but no cleared Dunstable keep players up close the ball down sent back in cleared for a 2nd time then Bedford break, out to the right the ball fired up to Natasha Fensome in attack, hasn’t seen much of the ball early door running at the back tracking Dunstable defence let’s fly from all of 30 yard out her shot bouncing wide. Bedford getting Acolatse up with Fensome the pair combining outside the box right side slip the ball inside for Franklin running in behind, Taylor alert quickly out to save sliding it at the attackers feet.
McCay spinning in the centre laying the ball out right for Darvill power forwards, Robinson across to close her down, the result a throw to Dunstable. Dunstable come close to opening the scoring are doing well keeping the ball in the final 3rd without so far finding the final ball, do so this time a a cross is flashed in across the six yards box to be met by Tia Steadman to hit it from close range goal bound, but for Shore down low at the post the make the blocking save. The ball out for a corner on the left.
Dunstable with the early pressure has taken Bedford a little longer to find their rhythm. T he corner swung inwards under the bar punched away well by Shore, Bedford break quickly right side Acolatse on up the field for Fensome she has the vision to spot Pap sprinting away up the left her pass pinpoint picking her out brings the ball into the box up against Burgess, shifts left then back inside attempting to find space to shoot, Burgess doing well however putting a leg in to block cut the ball out.
Fensome leading the line for Bedford uses the space well, never still, never staying on one defender, moving right seeing the ball rolled into her exchanges passes with Franklin on the wing going beyond her wide shoots on the angle driven wide at the near post Bedford claiming it took a nick of a Dunstable body win the corner. The delivery looping in near post Fensome heads it down, striking a Dunstable head, instinctive sent over the bar for a 2nd corner. From the right a 2nd time fired into the six yard box runners racing in Franklin rises well meeting it to blast her head wide beyond the far post.
Robinson on for Acolaste on the right times her diagonal ball up towards the area perfectly seeing Fensome burst in behind between the centre backs, Taylor with quick reactions out to close her down sliding in to claim the ball, as Fensome lunges for it. Dunstable attack the ball out on the left Devereux inside for Steadman outside the box, Jeffery with her whip a dangerous ball across the area looking for Darvill far side, two defenders and the keeper closing in Darvill appears to be bundled over, despite appeals nothing is given.
Jasmine Ajayi along side Swares in the middle for Bedford has won her fair share of tackles gets into a shooting position 20 yards out as Fensome top of the area, sees a ball from the right into her feet and lays it back to her, Ajayi striking it 1st time sees her bending effort roll wide of the far post. The game is flowing well moving from one end to the other both sides looking to attack, Carroll with a clearance at the back finds Fensome away clear on the left breaking into the area, closing in on goal, strikes the ball hard before she is closed down, Taylor with a superb save diving to her left to push the rising ball behind with her gloves.
GOAL! From the resulting corner however Bedford find the opening goal, little Taylor can do about it, the delivery is perfect fired in fast across the face of goal to the Bedford players attacking the far post, Mulvihill meeting it driving a bullet of a header into the back of the net 1-0. 22 minutes played.
Stephanie Fisher recieves a talking too from referee James Cantwell, as she brings down Dunstable’s. McCay 35 yards from goal. Jeffery on the free-kick sends it long to the far post, Shore comes and punches the ball down to the left, Bedford can’t get it away Dunstable snapping in to get the ball is eventually cleared to the right for a throw. Bedford play the ball out from the back into Fensome on the halfway line is brought down the advantage played as Pap races on looking to get on up the wing her touch allowing Dunstable captain, Jodi McClelland to come and clear the ball over the hedge for a throw.
Darvill is a threat down the right for Dunstable getting on with the ball taking it to the by-line presses on into the area looking to cross, Mulvihill in to block it. A corner for Dunstable on the right in central, Devereux up but can’t get enough on it to take it beyond the goalkeeper. Dunstable committing the foul as Bedford once again struggle to get it clear. Swares does well getting hold on the ball in midfield for Bedford left side has Fensome drifting across as the passing option sends it forwards, McClellan looks to have it only for the defender to slice her clearance, the ball deflected into the box beyond Fensome off like a hare after it, Taylor sharp comes out to claim it holding onto the ball as Fensome runs into her.
Bedford attacking right side release a shot from distance no idea who took it the ball racing in from 25 yards flashing wide of the near post. The cars exposed behind the goal I’m glad I’m parked well out of the way.
GOAL! Ajayi fouled inside the Dunstable half a free-kick given to the right of the centre circle. Carroll over it has a good set-piece on her fires the ball in through everyone Taylor may not have expected that reacts well to push the ball away to her right, the ball left of her goal Bedford are alert whilst Dunstable remain static Franklin and Fensome through on the follow-up, Franklin left retrieving the ball spinning to lift it back in across goal evading Taylor, Fensome is there unopposed in the middle to raise her leg and guide the ball home 2-0.
Fensome causing the Dunstable defence problems with her movement drawing players out of position going into the right and left channels looking for the ball, moving right this time Burgess goes with her needing to slide in to defend on the attacker as she goes to shoot. Franklin is upended on the right for Bedford, Carroll on the set-piece goes for goal, a good range strike, the cars behind the goal saved as a spectator claims the ball as it drops over the bar.
Esposito on for Devereux on the left the cross fizzed inside for McCay top of the D the Dunstable midfielder striking it 1st time slicing her shot wide. McClelland with a vital interception eft side to deny Fensome as Acolatse looks to send the ball on. Swares and Ajayi work the ball well central up into Fensome outside the box right her flick to the right seeing Franklin break in behind, Smith lunging in with a timely tackle to stop her shot. A strong finish to the 1st half from Bedford, Ajayi turning central has support from Fensome dropping deeper, Acolatse going beyond her Fensome rolls the ball into her feet Acolatse turning to strike a shot from 25 yards out Taylor moving across sees it wide of the near post.
Bedford come on through the middle Acolatse right playing it crossfield for Pap on the left 25 yards out drops it into Fensome outside the box the attacker turning on the ball to clip a shot in towards goal, on the rise Taylor is right behind it a confident claim high. Dunstable get the ball on down the left Devereux inside for McCay central 20 yards out sees her effort charged down, the ball put back to Devereux left tries again, McCay top of the D seeing the ball across her body before striking it frustrated as her attempt races wide.
Strong tackling all round some decisions frustrating Dunstable. McCay adjudged to have fouled Ajayi outside the centre circle Carroll up to take it again, keeps her shot lower this time but the keeper can see it wide. Fensome and Acolatse break through the middle seeking to get into the Dunstable area, Raffermati doing well in the defence to get in between the pair thwart the attack.
Half-time Bedford Ladies 2-0 AFC Dunstable Women
A 2-0 lead for Bedford at the break both goals coming after a good chance for Dunstable at the other end. Bedford taking a while to settle into the match, Dunstable applying pressure early on getting forwards well, both side using the width the midfield battle committed a good contest Bedford scoring at timely intervals to get themselves into a good position going into the 2nd half, work for Dunstable to do if they are to get back into the game, 2-0 though can be a tricky score-line.
A double change for Dunstable at the start of the 2nd half, Hannah Ring and Darcy Collins on for Smith and Jeffery. No changes for Bedford as Dunstable get the ball moving 2nd half. Fisher defending on the right as the ball is played out to the wing. Bedford straight on the attack the ball worked across the pitch out to Pap on the move left side strikes it on the angle, Taylor down low at her near post making a comfortable save.
Fensome left clips a ball over the top into the area for Acolatse, struggles to bring it down to shoot, allows Devereux to get in her her and clear the ball for Dunstable. McCay out on the right wins a throw as Dunstable advance, the set-piece put into the path of Darvill 20 yards out blazes a shot over the bar. Swares retrieves a ball fed out into space on the right for Bedford swinging a cross back in across goal, Franklin closing in far side connects with in but turns it wide. A pause in play Pap down with an injury but is okay to continue for now.
Carroll defends in close on Steadman top of the area as Devereux advances down the wing sends the ball into her. Moments later Carroll is called into action again as Dunstable work a throw into the area from the left of Devereux. Bedford with a free-kick on halfway, Ajayi knocking it down into the path of Acolatse top of the D opens her foot to turn the ball goalwards in low Taylor down is right behind it.
Darvill still carrying a threat on the right for Dunstable breaks on in behind up the line, Steadman with a good near post run, Darvill wraps her foot around the ball, lifting it in, Shore can’t get there Steadman is inches away from heading it beyond her. Pap having sustained another knock has to come off for Bedford, on in her place on the left Carissa Kaczorowski. Ring chips the ball from 25 yards out, on towards the top of the area looking for Darvill, Mulvihill closing her down the ball running on behind for Shore to gather.
GOAL! 18 minutes gone in the 2nd half and Bedford find that all important 3rd goal, Ajayi lifting a ball up from the middle high to drop inside the area left of goal, Fensome getting onto Raffermati the Bedford attacker using her body well, experienced as it bounces difficult to deal with keeps her marker at bay before striking a fierce shot low wide across the keeper into the bottom corner 3-0.
A blow for Dunstable frustration showing the weather warm a drinks break called soon after a break in play, time to regroup. Play resumes Ring with good work on the ball right side passes inside for Burgess to send it on for McCay who in turn looks to put it into Steadman’s feet as she moves across the D from the left to the right, Robinson with a vital tackle stopping the Dunstable attacker getting in behind on goal.
Ring wins Dunstable a free-kick wide on the right, players come forwards the delivery in near side defended well by Ajayi, the break is on Bedford moving left get up the pitch quickly cut out by McClelland, the ball still alive left side Bedford fire it in central to Fensome, Esposito in on her with a fine tackle to win the ball. Acolatse comes off for Bedford to be replaced by Rianne Townsend-Brown.
GOAL! Bedford pressing forwards extend their lead the ball played out to Fensome drifting into space on the right takes the ball on driving to the by-line into the box flashes a cross into the six yard box, Franklin is there to smash goalwards a defenders dive to block, Taylor making a good save the ball still alive however Franklin sharp to scoop it up wide beyond the despairing Taylor to the right of goal 4-0.
Ring brings the ball on central for Dunstable strong riding a challenge surges on has McClelland with her, Dunstable’s captain brought down a free-ick given 30 yards out. McClelland over it goes for goal her shot blasted wide. Dunstable visibly frustrated fell decisions are going against them. Darvill continues to attack down the right powers forwards squares it top of the box into Steadman’s path the strikers 1st touch a little heavy let’s Shore snatch the ball up into her body.
GOAL! Darvill’s determination pays off as she pulls a goal back for Dunstable, getting players up central Bedford don’t get clear the ball won back play turned around 30 yards out the pass is perfect into Darvill right into the area pace taking her on blasts her shot on the angle wide across the keeper 4-1.
15 minutes left to play plus stoppages, Dunstable find another level of energy as they look to rally, tempers though will need to be left in check. McClelland doing well at the back clearing the ball as Bedford drop it in left for Kaczorowski to chase, wants Taylor to come but can’t risk it clearing the ball to the left. Bedford with the throw allows players to come forwards crossed into Franklin top of the area back to goal she pushes it out for the advancing Carroll to hit from 25 yards out, her attempt running wide across goal.
The game has suddenly livened up, Dunstable upping it, Bedford have responded well. Jeffery comes back on for Dunstable replacing McCay. Fensome with a shot on the angle from the left see Taylor down low at her near post to claim.
GOAL! Bedford score a wonder strike to effectively kill off the game, attacking on the left, Franklin pushing on across the top of the area, Dunstable clear it back to the left Bedford regaining possession the ball squared to Ajayi some 30 yards out left of the D wraps her foot around the ball and sweeps a looping shot beyond Taylor before she can move 5-1.
Dunstable hit with another blow nevertheless look to get on the offensive, Darvill right side surging on into the box, Carroll comes sliding in to make the tackle. The game becoming stretched as players tire. Ring with Steadman top of the area for Dunstable played back for Jeffery to hit from distance her strike charged down. Dunstable with a throw right keep players up Bedford can’t get it away Darvill with a strike from outside the box charged down by Carroll. A corner won on the left.
A double substitution for Dunstable before it’s taken Devereux and Esposito off, Louisa Sexton and Ella Claridge coming on. An inswinging delivery into the six yard box a good height attacked by Burgess sails over the crossbar. Bedford make a late change Ashley Emerton on for Kaczorowski. Franklin goes left on for Fensome, McClelland in to tackle the ball out for a throw. Fensome’s last action of the game as she is replaced by Mollie Marshall.
The game moving into stoppage time Bedford attacking left side on for Townsend-Brown central lays it wide to the right the advancing Emerton her target but the pass doesn’t quite reach her, Dunstable bring it away played up to Jeffery turns over halfway into Ring beyond her moves left, Mulvihill steps out of the backline to tackle her. Collins with a great ball upfield to Darvill on the move right side crosses into the box for Steadman near side knocks it back for Claridge to strike her attempt charged down Bedford straight on the counter the ball long up to Townsend-Brown to hit on the run from distance sends it over the bar.
A late corner for Bedford right side long to the far post knocked goalwards Taylor though takes high back on her line. Bedford with the energy in the closing moment push on Ajayi right side seeing her cross charged down for a corner. Dunstable clear, the ball though quickly back with Bedford Franklin central sending it to Ajayi to her left to hit from distance the strike over the top.
Full time Bedford Ladies 5-1 AFC Dunstable Women
Bedford Ladies win the Bedfordshire Women’s County Cup for a 3rd successive year. In the end proving too much for Dunstable. Despite starting the slower, Dunstable having opportunities Bedford came back to score twice to lead 2-0 at the break finished the 1st half well. Play stretched in the 2nd period Dunstable continuing to look a threat Bedford got the crucial 3rd goal going on to add a 4th the goal at regular intervals during the game hurting Dunstable, who never gave up however pulling a goal back, a wonder strike from Ajayi effectively sealing the win.
Women’s Football East – Player of the Match
Time for the Women’s Football East – Player of the Match is once again a tough one, not often I have a nailed on candidate. A few performances to mention. Some great saves from Ciara Taylor despite the score line for Dunstable. Gemma Darvill’s performance deserved a goal, her pace and power on the right a threat for Bedford throughout the game. For Bedford, Gemma Franklin was a threat out wide too, picking up the ball and driving forwards bringing others into play linked up with Fensome well. In midfield it was a battle ultimately won by Shianne Swares and Jasmine Ajayi for Bedford both putting in several great tackles with Ajayi scoring a brilliant goal. The award though goes to Bedford’s Natasha Fensome scored twice, her movement off the ball causing Dunstable issues all game, is a hard player to mark and is more often than not clinical when given a chance in front of goal.
Congratulations to Bedford Ladies upon another County Cup victory.
An entertaining game the score-line perhaps not telling the whole tale. Nice to finally get to a Bedfordshire County Cup Final. Has been a long while too since I’ve opted to decamp to a hotel for the night get the report written instead of burning the midnight… usual well past it oil. My thanks to both teams for providing me with the team details and Mark from Beds FA for their help today as always much appreciated.
by Darren Gilham