Sunday 5th February
ERWFL Premier Division
It is becoming an intense battle at the top of the ERWFL Premier Division with just 4 points separating the top 6, all with ambitions to win the title an achieve promotion to the FAWNL. Today’s it’s a clash of the top two with leaders Luton Town Ladies away to Hertfordshire rivals Stevenage FC Women.
Luton Town Ladies now back on top after setting the pace early on, the chasing pack gaining ground Stevenage FC Women briefly on top themselves just 2 points back in 2nd. Behind them all on 18 points newly promoted sides AFC Sudbury Women & Needham Market Women along with Haringey Borough Women and Essex side Bowers & Pitsea Ladies.
Stevenage FC Women looking to bounce back to the FAWNL at the 1st attempt suffering relegation last season ending a 6 year stay in the FAWNL, recoding a 6th placed finish along the way. Achieving promotion to the FAWNL though no easy task as today’s opponents Luton Town Ladies will testify. The ERWFL Premier Division featuring some strong sides very competitive with just the title winners going up. Stevenage though are well placed to mount a title challenge assembling a strong squad, briefly taking over the lead a fortnight a go a 1-0 loss in a controversial game at Haringey Borough Women last Sunday seeing them drop back to 2nd. Amy Makewell leading goal scorer with 11 goals from 10 appearances, Becky Shepard and Emily Schofield with 6 and 5 respectfully. Have played 3 games more than Luton so a positive result is vital to stop them pulling away.
Luton Town Ladies themselves a long established side in the FAWNL their run in the 4th tier coming to an end 3 season’s ago. The Covid pandemic disruption no doubt hindering their attempts to get back to the FAWNL are no back in strength ready to make a solid promotion push. Got off to a flying start with a 100%, 8 game winning streak seeing them pull away from the chasing pack. Were dragged back into the mix by the sad withdrawal of Harlow Town Ladies due to the pitch issues at the Harlow Arena, those points 6 in total wiped off saw those behind right back in it. A draw with King’s Lynn Town Ladies their only points dropped so far returned to the top with a 3-0 home win against Royston Town Ladies last Sunday. Jess Mckay and Lil Sanders are both on 11 goals from 13 appearances each with Leyah Maddix netting 8 from 13 played. Nikki Baker stepping down as first team manager, Rob Burton taking on the role this season with Myles Maddix as head coach.
The County Ground, Letchworth the venue for today’s game, situated by the Hertfordshire FA’s offices the artificial pitch and stadium seeing a number of improvements in recent seasons with an updated bar and cafe area behind the main stand serving hot and old drinks. The main stand covered offering plenty of seating with terraced stands behind one goal and the opposite side of the pitch, where I headed to today to have the low sun at my back, albeit putting me in the shade in what was otherwise a pleasant, mild and still day with no wind or rain forecast excellent playing conditions.
Stevenage FC Women starting XI – Tea Oldroyd, Lucy Webster (C), Anna Re, Nicole Farmer, Vicky Neal, Holly Greenwood, Hannah Bodily, Erin Price, Jodie Bellinger, Kelsey Millen & Emily Schofield. Subs – Katie White, Shianne Swarres, Becky Shephard, Amy Gooderham & Amy Makewell.
Luton Town Ladies starting XI – Angelika Kopec, Maria Taylor, Hannah Major, Tanya Blacksley, Elly Wade, Kiera Palmiero, Jess McKay (C), Fi Constable, Andie Dickens, Lil Sanders & Leyah Maddix. Subs – Hannah Payne, Shanice Lewis, Shakeela Hussain, Adi Milton & Lilac Wilson.
(roll on roll off substitutes)
Both sides naming 5 on the bench with plenty of attacking options to bring on, Luton to get the match underway wearing orange shirts and socks with navy coloured shorts. Stevenage lined up opposite wearing red top coloured shirts fading to black about the middle, red shorts with white socks.
The ball played back to captain Jess McKay in the centre of midfield she clips a diagonal pass long out to the right as Andie Dickens breaks up the line, Anna Re dealing with the threat at left back for Stevenage. Play paused with an injury on the far side of the pitch, Stevenage’s Emily Schofield having taken a knock before the dig outs the trainer called on, Schofield accessed and waved back on as play resumes. Lil Sanders showing good pace in attack linking up well with Dickens on the right in the early exchanges as Luton press the ball and get it moving quickly.
Stevenage captain Lucy Webster at right back has a decent throw on her as she looks to get Kelsey Millen away up the flank, McKay tracking back to lunge in with the challenge take the ball away from the attacker. From the resulting throw higher up the pitch Webster gets the return pass down the line and wraps her foot around the ball to send a dangerous cross into the six yard box, long Jodie Bellinger latches onto her inside the area but can’t smuggle her shot past goalkeeper, Angelika Kopec as she stoops to grab up the ball.
A competitive midfield battle going on Luton moving in quickly to close Stevenage down on the ball, Erin Price however managing to evade a tackle stretching forwards to lift her pass long out to Millen breaking on the right wing in behind, Tanya Blacksley comes out from the centre to charge down her cross. Millen finding space on the right a good outlet for Stevenage as they continue to be harried on the ball in the centre of the park, bringing the ball inside links up with Price the midfielder unable to thread the ball behind an organised Luton back line.
Two sides looking to get at each other no one afforded much time on the ball, neither wanting it looking to get the ball moving, Stevenage caught out with a high line as Kiera Palmiero sends the ball forwards for Sanders racing clear out wide left her ball driven into the box from the angle racing through the six yard box Leyah Maddix getting it under control left side turning back inside unleashing a low drive towards goal, a Stevenage defender blocking it with goalkeeper Tea Oldroyd down having it covered behind.
Luton with good pace up top Maddix getting onto the ball central carrying it forwards, sending it through for Sanders clear of the defence, Oldroyd aware of the threat quickly out of her area to kick the ball clear, Fi Constable closing down well to take on possession left side bringing it down for the shot, swerving in towards goal, the curl may well have seen it race narrowly wide of the top corner, however Oldroyd has gotten back into position and leaping up snatches the ball down safely. Luton getting on top in midfield putting the Stevenage defence under pressure with Constable wriggling free on the left wing driving into the corner her cross into the box headed away by Vicky Neal, coming back to Constable, winning a corner kick. Players up from the back the far post attack as the inswinging delivery comes in however a push is spotted by the referee Stevenage have the free kick.
McKay is dominating the midfield for Luton in the opening 15 minutes with the ball at her feet powers her way forwards evading two tackles before releasing a long pass out to the right, a little too much on it for Maddix to chase down. Millen out on the right remains the best outlet for Stevenage to counter as Price picks her out with the past in behind whips a great ball into the box bouncing through the six yard box to the far post Schofield after it held off by a defender the attacker can’t get enough on the ball to send it past the keeper as Kopec comes to claim.
Neal with a timely interception at the back cutting out the attempted through ball for Sanders as she attempts to spin in behind. A strong pressing game from Luton getting into Stevenage forcing errors inviting mistakes while getting the ball moving quickly when they have possession. Sanders is down for Luton on halfway looks to have picked up a knock, needs to come off the visitors making a change sending on Shanice Lewis to join Maddix in attack. The game being played at a high tempo while having a cagey edge to it.
Luton with a free-kick inside the Stevenage half right of the centre circle players coming forwards from the back as the ball is flighted in to the near post attacked Elly Wade very nearly connecting with the header, wouldn’t have counted however as the offside flag is up against her. Luton showing good energy frustrating Stevenage who want to press themselves but have the middle so congested it’s had to pick a pass. Hannah Major doing well at the back for Luton on the right as Stevenage look to get forwards with Schofield and Bellinger combining.
Constable attacking on the left for Luton cutting back inside across the top of the box 20 yards out fires it across to the right side, Re turning to charge down Dickens as she lines up a shot. Kopel’s turn to come rushing out of her area to clear as Re clearing the ball from the back almost sends Bellinger through to attack the area. Stevenage need someone to get thing’s going give the hosts some thrust and that person is the captain herself as brings the ball under control halfway on the right she shifts infield going to a powerful run forcing her way all the way into the box left of the D, before being chopped down by Major. Penalty!
Major is shown a yellow card. Bellinger the player placing the ball on the spot to take the set piece for Stevenage. Her strike send it low to close to the keeper, Kopec going the right way down to her left to get her body behind the ball and save turning it away to the left, scrambling across goal between the keeper and her defence prevent any follow up getting through the ball cleared long.
Lewis coming forwards with the ball for Luton heading central has Sanders up in support, the move breaking down as she fouls Neal off the ball. Dickens a threat on the right for Luton going on before sending a cross from the touchline deep into the box, Webster heading it clear for Stevenage at the far post. Half a hour played and Stevenage make their first change in midfield bringing off Greenwood and sending on Shianne Swarres. Straight into the action in to win the ball on the left linking up with Bellinger the ball crossed into the Luton area cleared by Maria Taylor. Stevenage press the ball in the final third coming to Swarres 20 yards out clips a high ball up into the box has Kopec back pedalling back on her line the ball drops onto the crossbar and over.
Webster getting forwards on the right tracking inside sees a deflected shot claimed by the keeper. From Oldroyd’s goal kick Swarres on halfway heads the ball on for Millen her touch up top taking her away to the right away from her marker moving into the right channel opts for the early shot 20 yards out rising but never troubling the keeper. Swarres’ introduction having an immediate impact. Stevenage getting after the ball better taking the game to their opponents. Swarres winning control of the ball on halfway threading a pass into Schofield left channel knocking in on heads for the box has her heels clipped right on the edge by Major, risky when already on a yellow. Stevenage have a set-piece in a dangerous position left corner outside the box players forwards as Swarres stands over it. Strikes it well angling in towards goal past Kopec smashes down off the cross bar then scrambled clear by the Luton defence. Stevenage ending the first half strong Swarres from another set-piece from distance to the right smashing it low past the far post.
Sanders ready to return to the field for Luton coming back on for Lewis. Wade defending well top of the area on Schofield as the Stevenage attacker looks to bring the ball on from the left. Maddix pulled down on the right Luton with the free kick 30 yards out the strong ball in no one can reach it as it whistles in past the far post. Maddix bringing the ball on well through the middle for Luton lifting it out to the right wing for Dickens her cross dipped in near post held well by Oldroyd getting down to catch.
Kopec out smartly to the left corner of her area to get hold of the ball as Millen looks to break as a good diagonal pass is released from Price in the middle. The first half draws to a close with the goals still intact… just!
Half-time Stevenage FC Women 0-0 Luton Town Ladies
Goalless at the break, Stevenage with the better chances striking the woodwork twice and seeing a penalty saved. That said for much of the first half Luton were the better side starting the game well closing the ball done, competitive in the middle showing good energy though out. Frustrating Stevenage moving the ball about looking to carve out an opening. The middle of the park often congested, Webster looking to get her side going with a thrusting run that led to the penalty ultimately saved by Kopec. A change on the half hour seeing the introduction of Swarres and Stevenage getting hold of the ball in the middle and applying some pressure of their own ending the first period strong while Luton look a threat on the counter with pace up top. Well poised for the 2nd half.
Both sides unchanged at the start of the 2nd half, Luton out early ready to go as Stevenage get the 2nd half underway. The ball sent on the diagonal out to the right, dealt with comfortably by Taylor for Luton. Webster getting forwards well on the left for Stevenage at start of the 2nd half tracking inside picking out Swarres central 30 yards out she sends it on for Millen attacking right wing her cross whipped into the box cleared by Blacksley. Stevenage press the ball in the final third successfully appealing for a hand ball and getting the free-kick in a threatening position 25 yards out to the right of the D. Players forwards as Farmer stands over it, catches it well floating it in towards goal loops down onto the cross bar the woodwork coming to Luton’s rescue again.
The free-kick count beginning to add up Stevenage with another from deep flicked on outside the box cut out well by Blacksley at the back for Luton. Re with an ambitious attempt from half way that sails over. Luton have the ball in the middle Maddix surging on has Constable to the left sends the ball on in turn threaded into the box for Sanders pulling off her marker left of goal Oldroyd rushing out to close her down goes to ground at her feet the striker taking the ball around her and shooting, the ball cleared off the line by Neal for Stevenage!
GOAL! Looking threatening at the start of the 2nd half Luton expose Stevenage on the right to open the scoring. The midfield pass finding Dickens bursting away on the right wing heading for the by-line before sending a superb cross in along the face of goal to be met by Maddix at the far post to turn back across the keeper and in 0-1.
Luton make an immediate change after scoring breaking on Lilac Wilson for Major with Palmiero going to right back. Almost straight away an opportunity to extend the lead and McKay’s pin point pass from midfield finds Sanders pulling off into the channel right of goal into the box, setting up a 1 v 1 versus the keeper, Oldroyd back in her six yard box poised, as Sanders goes to strike it across her into the bottom corner, Oldroyd down smartly low getting a touch to deflect it wide beyond her far post for a corner kick. Oldroyd coming to claim as it is flashing in near side.
Wade in hard on Bellinger catching her on the toes a painful one a free-kick out wide Webster to launch it into the box headed clear by the Luton defence. Dickens with the neat flick on as the ball is fed into her knocked on for Sanders the bounce however favouring Re allowing the full back to nick it away with her boot outside the D. Dickens with a 25 yard strike that swerves wide of the right post. Stevenage make a double change in the 57th minute bringing off Bellinger and Schofield with Becky Shephard and Amy Gooderham joining the attack.
Webster strong going forwards on for Price the midfielder making ground evading two tackles before laying the ball off for Gooderham out wide left the substitute winning a throw then a corner. On the left a high looping ball dropping into a crowded six yard box, an infringement spotted Luton have possession. McKay is hauled down as she bursts forwards with the ball a free-kick top of the circle players up from the back the ball dropped into the box, Wade attacking it getting a glancing header sending it wide of the left post.
Another shirt pull spotted, this time on Webster some 30 yards out players up into the box spots Gooderham totally unmarked free left sends her the pass shifting inside Gooderham attempted cross/shot flashes behind the goal. Luton with another change bringing off Dickens for Adi Milton. Is a competitive tussle between two committed sides. Millen appeared to have brought down Sanders, however it’s the Luton player that recieves the booking. The free kick right of the circle played early long to the far post with Gooderham closing in the ball too close to the keeper however Kopec claiming it.
Luton attack on the right Sanders with McKay in support the ball taken to the by-line the cross lifted in taken by Oldroyd. Luton defending their box as Stevenage press, Milton unlucky to have a handball adjudged against her another set-piece for Stevenage in a threatening position 20 out left of the D. Before it’s taken Luton making a change bringing off Maddix with Lewis going back on.
GOAL! Webster over the set-piece a two player wall giving her a good sight on goal, strikes it high looping up towards the far post has Kopec worried the keeper throwing herself across her goal can’t reach it as it drops under the cross bar and goes in off the upright for the equaliser 1-1.
20 minutes left to play Stevenage getting back on level terms the woodwork on their side at last as Webster sends the free-kick home. Katie White introduced for Stevenage out on the right replacing Millen. Swarres holds of Milton as the Luton player attempts to get forwards her attempted shot from 30 plus yards out falling wide. A robust challenge on Re sees another decision going against Luton whose frustration is beginning to show. McKay with a fantastic turn in the middle to release the ball forwards Sanders looking to deceive Neal drawing her one way then turning inside, Neal experienced however getting her left heel up to stop the ball in it’s tracks kill off the attack.
Swarres not afraid to have a go from distance with a vicious strike fired over from 25 yards out. Luton making a change bringing off Taylor for ex-Stevenage player Shakeela Hussain. Bodily with a rare surge forwards on the ball threatening as she links up with Price who finds Swarres to the right back inside Bodily is fouled outside the box by Wade. Webster over the set-piece a little further out than her goal, sweeps the ball in to be attacked far post Price the closest to it but no contact out for a goal kick.
Webster with good defensive work having already gone to ground trying to deal with the initial threat posed by Sanders right of the D, sweeps the ball away before the attacker can reclaim it. Luton get a free-kick inside the Stevenage half Wade up from the back getting onto the end of it inside the box heading over. Luton bring Dickens back on for Luton replacing Sanders with 10 minutes left on the clock. Both sides still after one another the energy levels haven’t dropped the fouls adding up Stevenage using the width more with Gooderham on the left and White on the right. Bodily the latest player substituted with striker Amy Makewell coming on.
White fouled out wide on the right Stevenage with another free-kick look a threat from a dead ball situation. Swarres to deliver the ball knocked down across the six yard box skips up to White at the near post lifts her hurried shot over the bar. Stevenage applying all the pressure now late in the game attacking on the right Makewell taking the ball off White on the right shifting inside to angle a cross into Gooderham inside the box at the far post, stooping to head the ball doesn’t get a firm enough touch to take it past Kopec the keeper claiming solidly.
Lewis carrying the ball on for Luton left side sending a cross in towards the top of the area cut out by Neal. Stevenage are straight on the counter attack, Prices pass cut out by Wade at the back for Luton. Dickens with the ball on the right combining well with Hussain the cross into the box easy for the keeper. Gooderham driving on with the ball on the left Wade coming back to challenge on the by-line Gooderham winning a corner off the defender. Lifted in near post Kopec up well to knock it down and clear. The game moving into stoppage time Price with a diagonal ball out to the left looking for Shephard a corner won.
GOAL! One last chance for Stevenage to send players forwards into the box, one of those Neal hasn’t come forwards for a corner all 2nd half but then they have all been from the left this one is on the right. Shephard with a superb kick to angle the ball in across the face of goal with pace, players racing into meet it one of those Neal nails the header to bury the ball into the back of the net to win the game for Stevenage and races over to Shephard in celebration 2-1.
Little time left on the clock for Luton to get a goal back a sucker punch right at the end of the game, Stevenage scoring from another set-piece. The clock ticking down game management now from Stevenage win a free-kick run the ball into the corner.
Full time Stevenage FC Women 2-1 Luton Town Ladies
The final whistle blows and Stevenage come back from a goal down to win it at the death to claim the 3 points and return to the top of the ERWFL Premier Division. Strong and a threat from set-pieces all game the tally adding up as the game progressed. Luton starting the game the better winning the ball well and keeping Stevenage quiet, the game changing with a thrusting run from Stevenage’s captain and the resulting penalty, saved but it gave Stevenage the kick they needed then Swarres’ introduction brought a more competitive edge to the midfield. Goalless at the break Luton were to make a fast start to the 2nd half scoring early and with 2 good chances to add goals. Webster was to strike home the equaliser with 20 minutes left Stevenage coming back strong taking the game to Luton, almost held on but the set-pieces kept being given away with the winner coming from a corner at the death. A thrilling game at the top of the ERWFL.
Women’s Football East – Player of the Match
Onto this afternoon’s Women’s Football East – Player of the Match. Was a great game a good contest between two committed sides and several performances of note to mention. Firstly for Luton. Elly Wade was strong at the back with a number of important tackles and looked a danger from a set-piece. In the middle captain Jess McKay was strong, ran the show in the early stages with good tacking movement and passing. Andie Dickens was also excellent out on the right a threat going forwards creating opportunities in the final 3rd. For Stevenage, Vicky Neal had a strong game at the back reading the game well especially when her side was under pressure, popping up to score the winning goal. Shianne Swarres’ introduction changed the game for Stevenage making them more competitive in the middle and adding and edge to their attack. The award winner however was chosen before the final whistle and an in agreement with the match day award, goes to Stevenage captain Lucy Webster. Had a fantastic game at the back. When the game needed something extra she provided it giving her side the lift they needed got forwards well and scored the equalising goal.
Another excellent contest from the top of the ERWFL Premier Division. Expect little else these days is a great league to watch and highly underrated. My thanks to both sides for their help with the team line ups today much appreciated onto the next one.
by Darren Gilham