Sunday 8th January
FAWNL South East Division One
Wishing you all a Happy New Year! A huge personal milestone to kick-off 2023 with this report being the 500th! Come along way from what was initially just a go at trying something new as I looked to continue my coverage of woman’s football following the folding of my WSL team Lincoln Ladies. The Supporting Women’s Football Blog eventually growing into Women’s Football East as I felt all of the teams across all leagues in the region deserved and needed more coverage. Hopefully have played a part in that and there’s plenty more games let to cover.
Today’s game comes from FAWNL South East Division One a trip to St Neots Town FC to watch Cambridge United WFC take on newly promoted Ashford Town (Middlesex) Women.
Both sides with a comfortable firs half of the season placed in mid-table looking to push on up the table in 2023. The 4th tier of the women’s football pyramid getting ever stronger, but with the sad demise of Wymondham Town Ladies leaving the league a side down it highlights how fragile that growth remains and the hard work clubs have to do to play at this level.
Cambridge United WFC now a long established club at this level growing strong links now with their respective men’s side with 4 games to be played at The Abbey Stadium throughout this season. A stark assessment of the squad taking place at the end of last season seeing some players moving on Cambridge United have steadily been recruiting looking for the right players to build the side going forwards with Sarah Wiltshire the stellar sighing during the summer has weighed in with 15 goals so far top scorer from 11 appearances. Francesca Partridge another new addition to the attack scoring 6 to date.
Defender Abbie Jackson coming in from Ipswich Town Women before Christmas, Cambridge have continue to recruit building a large squad with Sydnie Naylor joining having had playing experience with Arsenal and Notts Forest. Another 2 new addition announced before today’s match too with defender Mayzee Seymour coming in from Harlow and Bella Simmons re-joining the club after spells away with Royston Town Women and rivals Cambridge City Ladies. 11 points from 8 played will be aiming to push into the top 5.
Ashford Town (Middlesex) Women are newly promoted to the FAWNL for the first time in their history having won the London and South East Regional Premier Division like the ERWFL an extremely tough league to get out of. That said Ashford made it look easy last season winning all but 2 of their 20 league games and those ending in a draw. Have several familiar names in the side with experience at this level having played for Denham United Ladies, most notably Alissa Down who captains the side. Ashley Cheatley top scorer for the Middlesex side so far this season netting 13 goals from 12 appearances with Alissa Down on 7 from 12 played. Collecting 10 points from their opening 8 matches are well clear of the bottom two just a point behind today’s opponents and well placed to challenge for the top 5 themselves. The points shared between the sides when Cambridge United visited Ashford at the beginning of the season the game ending 3-3.
St Neots Town FC’s, Premier Plus Stadium the venue for today’s league encounter the grass pitch looking in great condition with a 4G pitch situated behind the main stadium. Viewing all round with covered terraces both ends and a seated stand housing the changing rooms and clubhouse beneath. The wind fairly blustery prior to kick-off dull and overcast a strong down pour coming minutes before kick-off retreated to the stands to take my notes, as it was the rain would stop the instant the players walked out onto the pitch taking the windy weather with it. The sun even poking through for a moment.
Cambridge United WFC starting XI – Lauren Webb, Abbi Griffin, Abi Davies, Abbie Jackson, Rachel Kosky, Gisela Otten (C), Sammy Edgar, Sydnie Naylor, Ella Marden, Bella Simmons & Sarah Wiltshire. Subs – Alysha Stojko-Down, Francesca Partridge, Libby Fraser & Mayzee Seymour.
Ashford Town (Middlesex) Women starting XI – Sophie Shults, Ellen Clarabut, Jade Johnson, Hannah Duncan, Laura Huse, Aimee Durn, Alissa Down (C), Kayleigh Currivan, Millie Constantine, Elizabeth O’Callaghan & Ashley Cheatley. Subs – Eman Kassem & Ellie Luscombe.
Bella Simmons is in the starting line-up for Cambridge today with the other new signing Mayzee Seymour on the bench, Abbi Griffin a late change to the starting line-up coming in for Carrie Bennett at left back. Ashford travelling up from Middlesex with 5 players unavailable naming just the 2 on their bench. Having left the pitch after the warm-up to some pretty unsavoury weather the players return to bright sunshine prompting a change of ends with Ashford switching ends to put the sun in Cambridge’s faces in the first half (not that it was going to last long) Cambridge to get the game underway wearing amber coloured shirts with black shorts and socks. Ashford also known as The Tangerines in their away kit to day a very nice looking all purple affair.
The ball played back to the defend, Ashford rush forwards to close down pressure the ball centre backs Rachel Kosky and Abbie Jackson manoeuvring the ball out for Cambridge into midfielder Sammy Edgar who sends it long to the right for Ella Marden, Ellen Clarabut heading it away for Ashford. The visitors bring the ball on up their left the diagonal ball into the box intercepted by Cambridge’s Jackson cleared away to the right. The recent rain making the pitch slick the ball skipping on players sliding in. Ashford presenting a solid back line with the midfield close not allowing Cambridge any space to exploit through the middle.
Cambridge look to get the ball out wide Abi Davies passing it on for Marden on the right wing presses forwards breaking into the area holding off her challenger closing in on the near post pulls the trigger, Ashford goalkeeper Sophie Shults down smartly to save push the ball wide across her six yard box, Bella Simmons retrieving the ball beyond the far post turns back inside see’s her shot blocked by centre back Laura Huse the rebound straight to Sarah Wiltshire her first time shot similarly blocked by Hannah Duncan.
Coming on with the ball through the middle Ashford captain Alissa Down opens up her body attempting to thread the ball through to Ashley Cheatley in attack, Jackson with a timely interception for Cambridge. Ashford sitting back a little allowing Cambridge time on the ball at the back a clever pass from Davies brought down well by Wiltshire in attack she flicks it over the top on the right for Marden to attack can’t quite get to it before the ball runs out of play.
Marden with a strike from 25 yards out coming in from the right wing fired straight at the Ashford keeper. Shults untroubled. Sydnie Naylor looking sharp on the ball in the middle for Cambridge moving left to combine with Simmons, the forwards pass, cut out for Ashford’s Huse. The defender hurt is down needing treatment after assessment is allowed back on. Cambridge applying some pressure now as Naylor comes on with the ball well plays it on for Wiltshire 20 yards out left of the D is forced out wide the keeper initially coming towards her back peddling as Wiltshire wriggles free of her marker to play the ball back across the top of the box for Naylor positioned inside her strike rising Shults is back in position to catch it cleanly.
No advantage for Ashford as referee Richard Fullicks brings play back for the set-piece a free kick some 35 yards out, Down on the ball plays a teasing ball in across the far post, no one there to attack it. Cambridge get caught on possession as they play it between themselves at the back Kayleigh Currivan stealing it then threading a pass into Millie Constantine pulling away right of the D to shoot, Lauren Webb shuffling across her goal though has it covered seeing it safely wide of her right post.
Jackson finds Simmons out wide on the left on half way, turns pulling neatly away from her marker on the ball to run in behind and send the low pass into Wiltshire central, carries the ball wide left into the area before cutting back inside to scoop a lobbed shot up over the keeper, the ball landing on the roof of the net. Ashford are a little slow to close Cambridge down as the defenders look to get the ball into the midfield with Edgar, Naylor and captain Gisela Otten attempting to speed things up get the ball into Wiltshire to run at the visitors defence.
A late flag see’s Simmons waved offside, as Wiltshire lifts the ball in to the middle from the right wing, Shults rushing out to save bravely at her feet unaware of the raised flag. The goalkeeper down for a moment able to play on. Jade Johnson bringing the ball on for Ashford on the right passing it forwards for Constantine the ball cut out by Griffin for Cambridge. Constantine getting involved in the action in a central position with a clever turn on the ball 25 yards out looking to find Elizabeth O’Callaghan in the box as she breaks inside from the left, Kosky with a fine headed clearance for the hosts.
The game settling down Ashford’s attackers looking to press Cambridge’s defenders as they linger on the ball at the back now force an error win a free-kick just outside the box to the left of the D. Down is something of a dead ball specialist over the free-kick a packed penalty box ahead of her strikes the ball well low and hard through bodies Webb would have seen it late but close to her adjusts quickly to get down to make the save with 20 minutes gone.
GOAL! Having had a free-kick moments before Cambridge have players up as they get the ball out to Simmons on the left inside the area has support with Wiltshire plays the ball back into her the Cambridge number 7 taking the ball across the top of the area looking for an opening, well tracked instead sees Otten free to attack the ball central lays it into her path, Cambridge’s captain running in to strike the ball 20 yards out rising with a bit of swerve Shults may well have got the faintest of touches as she throws herself up at it the ball cannoning down into the six yard box off the crossbar, players rushing for it, Naylor first to arrive smashing the ball into the back of the net to score 1-0.
Ashford looking for a quick response from the restart as Cheatley gets on the move with the ball through the middle attempting to release Constantine into the box from the right side the pass a little to heavy Webb able to claim. Ashford battling for possession in the middle Aimee Durn breaking clear 25 yards out, Jackson reading her intent rushing out to charge her strike down the ball deflected up into the air over Jackson into the box, scrambled away at the far post for a corner kick. Down to take an inswinging delivery to the far post Duncan under it sends her header up over the crossbar.
The Cambridge goal livening Ashford up as they look to better compete for the ball Naylor escaping with it to the left for Cambridge sends it on for Wiltshire pulling into the channel turning inside with the ball pulling the trigger from 20 out can only pick out Shults in the Ashford goal. More good footwork from Constantine as she comes away with the ball in the middle support from Durn the ball lifted into the box as Cheatley bursts forwards can’t quite take it before it runs out of play. Marden moving inside from the right feeding the ball across the area 20 yards out for Wiltshire her effort sliced runs narrowly wide of the far post.
Ashford win a corner on the left players coming up from the back with 15 minutes left in the first period, Down with another inswinging delivery beyond the far post turned back across goal inside the six yard box attacked, Kosky throwing her body up to block the ball deflected away for another corner.
GOAL! Ashford have looked a threat from set-pieces and from the 2nd corner they score another potent delivery from Down this time her inswinging ball in low at the near post wrong foots Webb, the Cambridge goalkeeper unable to adjust as she struggles to keep it from crossing the line, Ashford equalise the players rushing to Down to celebrate 1-1.
Cheatley with a strike from outside the box for Ashford left of the D swerves wide of the far post. Durn seeing the ball into her feet central goes on for Ashford not closed down pulls the trigger her strike from distance racing wide of the far post. The visitors on the front foot in the latter stages of the 1st half. Getting a little ragged in the middle a few late challenges coming in. Otten with the ball for Cambridge into Naylor going forwards with Wiltshire plays it out to Simmons wide left into the area attempts to get a shot away off the outside of her right boot, the ball cut out by the back tracking Huse behind for a corner kick.
Ashford with plenty back for the corner clear as the ball is played in to the top of the area. Edgar with a great times pass forwards for Cambridge to Wiltshire in attack carrying it forwards Huse gets on her shoulder to defend see the ball back to her keeper. Johnson needed in defence too to deal with the threat of Wiltshire as the Cambridge striker evades a tackle on the top of the area comes left.
Ashford with a free-kick wide on the right as Otten pulls down Cheatley. Down to play it in a dangerous cross in through the six yard box, met by Huse at the far post headed home however it won’t count as the offside flag is raised against her a close call. Another free-kick for Ashford this one 30 yards out to the left, Down goes for it this time her shot rising over the bar. Into stoppage time Cambridge on the attack the ball into Wiltshire 20 out finds Simmons wide left to the by-line cuts it back up to Edgar to play across the area into Marden right corner, Down back to put in the tackle before she can get a shot away.
Edgar with a crisp pass into Wiltshire racing forwards in attack her touch sending the ball out to the left, tempting Shults to come for it, Wiltshire winning the race however, the goalkeeper caught out of position as players rush back to defend the goal the angle against Wiltshire shifts it between her feet to create a better one, not much to aim at Shults back to cover her near post Wiltshire looks to place it no power the goalkeeper can claim it.
Half-time Cambridge United WFC 1-1 Ashford Town (Middlesex) Women
An intriguing first half, a bright start from Cambridge allowed the ball, a cautious start from Ashford allowing their opponents to come on kept a solid shape slow to close Cambridge breaking the dead lock in the 20th minute taking the lead woke Ashford up as they looked strong in reply getting set-pieces to trouble the hosts finding the equaliser from one. Both creating other opportunities Cambridge closest to getting a 2nd level at the break set up perfectly for the 2nd half.
The weather remains settled the suns brief appearance over the clouds returning. Ashford to get the 2nd half underway neither side with a change. Down with the ball her pass forwards into Cheatley is tackled by Edgar. Ashford get the ball into Cheatley as she breaks into the box on the right, Jackson defending the ball off Cheatley for a goalkick.
Marden with the ball at her feet on the right for Cambridge turns infield 25 out lifts a diagonal ball into the area is over Wiltshire falls to Simmons breaking in behind at the far post the flag up denying her a shot. Durn is brought down 25 yards out giving the visitors another free-kick to the right of the D. Down’s shot striking the Cambridge wall deflected up and behind for a corner on the left. The delivery swung in across goal, Jackson up decisively at the far post to head the ball clear for Cambridge.
Ashford making a lively start to the 2nd half a more open game. Naylor controlling the ball well moves wide picking out Simmons on the left flank can’t find Wiltshire with her lay off. Naylor with a good win taking the ball high on the right forwards for Wiltshire wide of the area the angle acute can only send her shot across the face of goal. Ashford with a throw on the right Cambridge looking to defend it, won by Otten her well struck clearance catching teammate Davies on the side of the head knocking her to the ground. Play stopped, Davies needing a few moments to get her bearing is made of tough stuff however and able to play on.
Both sides looking to get the ball moving faster in the final 3rd Wiltshire moving about the defence coming right has Simmons over on that side with her as she sends the ball on Simmons in a race to the box with Duncan the central defender doing enough to get a touch on the ball take it away from the attacker allowing her keeper to claim. Wiltshire does well to spin off the defence break into the area left of the D, swings her foot through the ball looks certain to score, not sure if Shults got a touch on the ball as she throws herself down, the ball runs wide however and a goal kick is given.
Cambridge turning the screw as they look to retake the lead the Ashford defence starting to tire. Cheatley in attack however retaining a good turn of pace breaking towards the box forcing a block from both Jackson and Kosky before the ball is cleared to safety. Naylor into Simmons left plays in on for Wiltshire a fraction ahead of the defence, shoots from the left of the D her effort brushing the side netting. Cambridge making the first change of the game bringing off Naylor in midfield, replacing her with Alysha Stojko-Down.
Stojko-Down straight into the action with a diagonal ball for Marden to chest down bringing her inside 20 yards out then strikes the ball on the volley goalwards attempting to chip the keeper a fine attempt but an equally good pluck down from Shults. Marden with the ball out on the right squaring it into the six yard box for Wiltshire won’t sit for the attacker as both Huse and Duncan get a blocking tackle in to deny a clear shot. Shults down needing treatment in the Ashford goal, the bench calling the rest of the players over for instruction with 20 minutes left to play.
Both full backs are tiring for Ashford, Johnson stretching to make the challenge, does well to deflect the ball off Simmons for a goalkick as she attempts to break on the left. Cambridge with the momentum getting the ball into her attackers, Currivan with Down winning it back on for Constantine up with Durn and O’Callaghan on the right the shot struck from outside the box over. The visitors regrouping to battle for possession higher up the pitch Down out to Johnson on the right Down breaking forwards right of the area Johnson picking her out with the pass cuts back inside to shoot, her strike knocking another Cambridge defender to the ground, but again up and okay.
Marden has picked up an injury for Cambridge needs to come off Francesca Partridge on to join the Cambridge attack. Cambridge win a free-kick out wide on the right inside the Ashford half an opportunity for players to come forwards from the back Wiltshire to play it in superb flighted towards the far post Kosky bursting from the pack up to head it, a glancing header sent wide wouldn’t have known it but her fellow centre back Jackson beyond would have had the better chance.
Another chance for Cambridge moments later as the hosts feed the ball through the middle into Simmons in attack going forwards rides a challenge to get into the area before pulling the trigger Shults down smartly making an excellent save to turn the ball wide of her left post for a corner kick.
GOAL! Cambridge with plenty up for the corner looking to press the advantage, the ball fired into the area Ashford get it clear out to Cheatley holding position halfway left side sees the ball into her feet and turns the counter is on as she races forwards Cambridge’s defenders frantically racing back as Cheatley turns inside getting past one inside to send the ball out to O’Callaghan right in the clear, Webb makes the call to come out to the top of her area and try and close the attacker down can’t get down in time as O’Callaghan slots the ball under her to send it through into the open goal beyond 1-2.
15 minutes left to play and Ashford having been under some pressure from Cambridge find themselves in front with a superb break from a corner. Cambridge get after the ball from the restart looking for a quick reply, Wiltshire winning a corner on the right. Played into the area headed out to the left retrieved by Simmons her strike back in blocked at the near post. Simmons over on the right now sending the pass inside for Wiltshire 25 yards out moves across the area looking to curl a left for shot into the top corner sails wide of the post.
Huse with an interception at the back for Ashford as Davies attempts to play a diagonal pass into Partridge. Simmons inside form the right with the turn on the ball top of the box to clip a cross into Wiltshire attacking the six yard box the flag raised even before Wiltshire buries her header into the back of the net, no goal. Davies breaking up the pitch on the right for Cambridge sending a dangerous cross into the six yard box, Johnson rising at the far post to head clear for Ashford. Duncan in to close Wiltshire down as she attempts to get onto a Davies pass.
Ashford with their first change late in the game Constantine comes off with Ellie Luscombe coming on. A much needed injection of pace Luscombe after the ball inside to Durn tackled by Otten into Stojko-Down on for Simmons right her cross cut out by Huse inside the six yard box. Cheatley alert to any chance Ashford have to counter, finding the ball at her feet 30 yards out moves inside before shooting putting the ball straight at Webb.
Simmons winning Cambridge a late corner on the right before it’s taken a change for Ashford, Clarabut struggling needs to come off on comes Eman Kassem. The corner into the mix the header powers over the crossbar. Ashford working hard to defend their own goal alert whenever a counter in on to relieve the pressure breaking forwards Down into Cheatley across the top of the area her shot drilled wide. Davies coming off for Cambridge with Seymour on for her debut at right back. Down shown a yellow card for Ashford late in the game.
A free-kick to Cambridge left side flighted into the near post area, Shults up amongst bodies getting her fist n the ball knocked down the keeper is grounded as Cambridge attempt to get a shot in along the ground Shults able to snatch it into her midriff.
Full time Cambridge United WFC 1-2 Ashford Town (Middlesex) Women
A battling performance from Ashford sees them come away with the 3 points and their first win of 2023. The result seeing Ashford climb 3 places to move up to 5th in the FAWNL South East Division One table. Level at the break Cambridge looked to be turning the screw 2nd half getting forwards well creating chances coming close to taking the lead themselves before being hit with a sucker punch a break form their own corner, taken well by Ashford to take the lead themselves with 15 minutes left to play. On another day might well have been 2-1 the other way but that’s football you take your chances Ashford working hard throughout had to dig in as a team at times and their defence was superb. Cambridge will be disappointed had the chances to win the game themselves just weren’t taken on the day.
Women’s Football East – Player of the Match
Onto the first Women’s Football East – Player of the Match of 2023. It’s not often they’re easy and today is not exception some fine performances all round. Firstly for Cambridge, Sarah Wiltshire did everything she could to get a goal with some great runs and movement on and off the ball. Bella Simmons was impressive on her return to Cambridge United lively on the flank looking to combine with Wiltshire create chances. So too Sydnie Naylor in midfield good control and movement throughout. Ashford with a hard working team performance had to dig in at the back at times. Alissa Down dangerous on the ball be it in play or dead. Sophie Shults strong in goal with a couple of crucial saves, the centre backs superb too. Hannah Duncan with several strong challenges and well timed interceptions is just edged out by fellow defender, Laura Huse, again work hard throughout tacking and winning the ball when called upon.
That’s it then the 500th match report written and as exciting as the first. Been doing it for a while now and it’s knowing that every game is different that makes it so special after all I only write the words it’s the players who make the content. 500 down and plenty more to come still lots of teams I want to see in action. Another enjoyable game good to get the new year started my thanks to both teams for their help today.
by Darren Gilham