Written By Gareth Nicholas
Playing on the recently installed 3G pitch at South Park (Reigate) FC, Georgia Tibble, Sophie Humphrey and Rachel Palmer were in from the off meaning spots in the (dugout) seats to begin with for Katie Young, Bridge and Emily Linscer, alongside the returning Winchester.
After November’s 8-0 thrashing of the same opposition en route to the second round of the Women’s FA Cup, this tie was a lot closer.
Although the visitors carved out the better opportunities early on, with two of them falling to Tibble.
The first came via a Becs Bell interception of home ‘keeper Zoe McNulty’s clearance that she passed onto Humphrey who, in turn, touched back for Georgia to curl narrowly wide of the right-hand post from the ‘d’.
Followed a few minutes later by Ellie Russell’s free-kick allowing Palmer to tee-up ‘Tibbs’ for a low fizzing shot that flashed across the face of goal, as the ball was worked from right to left.
Some wonderfully intricate one touch passing and moving then led to Gemma Worsfold playing a superb reverse pass into Keavy Price, up from the back, to smack against the near upright.
Midway through the opening half Niamh Andersson went long and sent Humphrey racing down the inside left channel, only for the ever alert McNulty to beat her to it by racing out of her area to get there first and clear the danger.
Bell tested the strength of the goalframe when she too hit the same piece of apparatus that had denied Price, just past the half-hour mark. Once again, a patient build-up eventually resulted in Tibble chipping in to Becs for her to turn and be frustrated by the woodwork.
Up to this point, it had been pretty much one-way traffic but that all changed as United started to turn the tide a tad, with Olivia Watson reaching the byline before pulling the ball back to a well-placed Lily Dent, who forced a fine save out of the previously under employed Lauren Dolbear.
Although the subsequent corner produced no further alarm, two chances inside two minutes certainly did.
Stringing together their own neat passage of play, the ‘hosts’ worked the ball out to Caitlin Savage on the right, with her cross almost capitalised on by Dent.
A rare slip by Tibble ended in another searcher by Savage only being partially met by Watson, prior to the Sussex side hitting back, courtesy of Captain Worsfold seizing on a misplaced pass and firing fractionally over the bar from long range.
Bell had her effort well held by McNulty, as we approached the interval, although it would be the yellows of Sutton that headed into the break in front.
‘If at first you don’t succeed….’ proved apt as Savage duly delivered from the right flank for Dent to deliver a telling blow; her attempt taking a defensive deflection to hand her team the initiative in the first minute of stoppage time.
Andersson’s drive and determination brought about the opening offering after the turnaround, when she robbed Savage and powered towards the target but marginally missed it, a fair way out.
‘Loz’ (Dolbear) then needed her wits about her to prevent Watson, from much closer in, doubling the South Londoner’s advantage.
The set-piece prowess of Jaz Backhurst, in the end, didn’t materialise due to her free-kick dropping the wrong side of the upright. Followed not long afterwards by Worsfold making the most of some midfield confusion and breaking clear before setting Andersson on her way, again.
While a cut inside and location of the gloves of McNulty closed one episode, good understanding between Palmer, Worsfold and Humphrey teased the audience into wanting more; an edge-of-the-box attempt by the latter merely lacking the power to seriously concern McNulty on this occasion.
Changes were afoot and the introduction of both Bridge and Winchester off the bench conjured up the desired effect.
Entering the fray a short while previously to the pair of possibilities described above, ‘Winch’ got on the end of Tibble’s byline ball in but couldn’t quite direct it on target.
A challenge that proved very much surmountable moments later, thanks to a repeat pairing up concluding with Chloe W. drawing a penalty box scrimash to an emphatic close.
Ten minutes further on and the rare but welcome sight of Bridge bursting the back of the net for only the second time this season, as the final piece of a jigsaw that had seen Palmer’s throw-in, a yard or two from the left-hand corner flag, make it’s way to ‘Bridgey’ in the eighteen yard box. HB’ proceeded to draw her own conclusion; drifting away from her marker and making room for a shot that nestled neatly just inside the far stick.
It required a tremendous block tackle by Emily Oliver to stop Humphrey making it three and dispatching an Andersson assist, within ninety seconds.
The recently introduced Young then hit a stunning long pass along the right wing for Bridge to latch on to, cross into the danger zone and fellow replacement Linscer to be repudiated from close quarters by McNulty at the expense of a flag-kick.
A semi-final at promotion rivals Fulham was finally secured in added time, with ‘Em’ playing a key role once more in supplying Humphrey, who’s excellent hold-up play invited Winchester to bury a beauty beyond McNulty.