Sun 3 April The Crucial Environmental Stadium
Ashford Town

Becs Bell, Emily Linscer and Katie Cooper were all recalled with Amy Critchfield, Lucy Apps and the injured Hannah Hewlettmaking way.

The visitors, yet to taste defeat at all in the league though knocked out of the League Cup at home by their hosts back in February, made a fast start; going ahead after only four minutes.

Alissa Down’s corner wasn’t properly cleared and Hannah Pearson returned it to the penalty area, where Anya Kinnane helped it on for Kalani Peart to pounce on the bounce, chest past Katie Young and fire past Lauren Dolbear from close range.

Town almost doubled their advantage shortly afterwards when a left wing free-kick from Down caused more problems for the Red’s rearguard, before Ella Newman ended up slicing the ball onto her own crossbar and behind at the expense of a flag-kick.

However, Newman came close to atoning for that unfortunate error when she embarked on a blistering run along most of the left flank. Eventually crossing low for Cooper, only for the long leg of goalscorer Peart to divert the initial danger, although only as far as Sophie Humphrey who couldn’t quite keep her shot at the required height.

A lick of paint was all that prevented Humphrey levelling the score at the end of a tremendous run that began deep in the Worthing half, after she’d intercepted Jade Johnson’s attempted pass to Pearson. Leaving Ellen Clarabut trailing in her wake to break into the box, then beating ‘keeper and namesake Sophie Shults but seeing all her tremendous effort come to nothing, when the base of the far post got in the way and Ashford were able to clear.

It was a case of deja vu that saw Ashley Cheatley capitalise on a heavy Young touch to Linscer’s pass, resulting in a run to the eighteen yard area but a shot wide of the target under the close attentions of the well-recovered Young.

Roared on by an expectant crowd, the home side had their work cut out against the champions-elect, with netminder Dolbear in particularly fine form.

That form was needed when Peart played a lovely through ball for Lavana Neufville to race away from Linscer, only for her goalbound attempt to lack power and Dolbear was able to block, with Skipper Charlie Carter completing the clearance.

Worthing’s number one then pounced on Neufville’s close range header, following another Down corner from the right that Kinnane won and Cheatley nodded back in, even changing direction to grab the ball.

No let up by a class outfit meant that Lauren’s reflexes were tested again, after Chloe Lelliott’s stray pass presented Jordanne Hoesli-Atkins with an opportunity to slip in Peart. A fortuitous rebound later and her effort was smothered by the host’s stand-out performer, ably assisted by Young who finished mopping up.

Regrettably, not even Super Woman could prevent Neufville increasing the lead, a little over ten before the break.

Clarabut’s long throw from the left was held up by Ruby Linton, then Down’s delicate dink picked out Neufville on the six yard line to head home.

The pressure was finally alleviated by the ever-dangerous Newman, in the closing sixty seconds of a breathless opening period, via a typical long ranger almost catching Shults out. An excellent parry permitted Bell to let the ball gradually drift out for a corner.

Normal service resumed after the interval as Carter had to head off the line, though Bell did well to take down a long ball by Young and, when forced to turn, appeared to have (possibly) been tripped by Johnson. The referee not agreeing, Cooper robustly dispossessing Peart and Gemma Worsfold lashing over the crossbar from distance.

Cheatley and Johnson both hit too high but it was the home team who came closer to hauling themselves back into the game, thanks to a superb pass from Newman that she bent beautifully round Pearson to leave Humphrey with an unopposed route to goal. Sophie cut inside the recovering Ashford eight, only to lift above the crossbar.

Town’s Down then went from creator to taker, by robbing Worsfold and deceiving Dolbear with a twenty-five yard dipper that the previously unflappable custodian could merely wave at, as she was beaten all ends up.

Ensuring that wouldn’t happen again, Lauren went airborne to spectacularly tip over Cheatley’s rocket and got her body behind the ball to block Kinnane’s near post effort, following Linton regaining possession off Lelliott in the home half of the field and holding off Newman before slipping her in.

Star performer Dolbear frustrated Cheatley once more, moments later, by pushing her latest shot over the top after Kinnane had skipped past Carter and escaped from sub Critchfield.

Neufville and Kinnane exchanged passes on the left, once the former had nicked the ball off Young, with Leufville returning to sender one last time, though Dolbear’s services weren’t required when the latter lampooned over the target.

Regrettably, the guests offered no respite and made their next opportunity count, as a long pass down the left again saw Kinnane beat the offside trap and enjoy the freedom of the eighteen yard box, to knock across for Cheatley to make it four.

An identical approach on the opposite wing resulted in the Tangerines – bedecked in purple today – nearly go nap, thanks to Cheatley making headway, getting the better of Critchfield, then bamboozling Carter in the box but unable to complete her brace, thanks to the left boot of Dolbear.

There was still time for a fifth and Neufville duly obliged; swapping passes with Cheatley before slotting home seven yards out.

In the afternoon’s dying embers, Molly Thorns climbed off the bench and came within inches off grabbing a consolation; stretching to reach fellow replacement Apps’ right-sided flag-kick and making contact with it but, frustratingly, not quite enough to register on the scoreboard.