Report By Gareth Nicholas
Skipper Gemma Worsfold returned from injury to take her place in the starting eleven, with Becs Bell dropping to the bench where she was joined by Hayley Bridge, who replaced Chloe Lelliott.
Glorious Gander Green Lane sunshine and a pristine pitch made the perfect recipe for an entertaining afternoon. Particularly as the host’s last six games had seen them score twenty-nine goals – including seven at leaders Ebbsfleet United seven days ago in a remarkable seven-all draw.
So, obviously that didn’t quite happen ! An offside flag halting the progress of Worsfold and Sammy Quayle in their collective tracks, while Maddie Hotson found the target but also the gloves of goalkeeper Zoe McNulty.
Chances continued to be hard to come by and nearly a quarter of the game passed by until the first semi-serious one came via the visitors. Georgia Tibble drilled in from the left-hand byline, only for the ball to be calmly collected by McNulty ahead of the incoming Chloe Winchester.
Minutes later, Quayle fired in a low cross from the same side that Worsfold backheel-flicked into the side netting; the Reds gradually getting closer to breaking the deadlock.
Katie Young then played Hotson through the middle but a combination of the ever-alert McNulty and Gabby Howell ensured the matter went no further.
Less than sixty seconds after that precursor, the back of the net finally bulged. Tibble’s set-piece prowess proving deadly accurate yet again, except this time she didn’t need anyone else; her right-sided flag-kick going all the way into the far top corner, despite the best efforts of Emily Oliver on the line.
Tails now up, Winchester showed admirable battling qualities to dispossess Sophie Modak on the touchline, releasing Worsfold to drive towards the top end of the pitch and send in a cross that Tibble couldn’t connect cleanly with, miscuing wide, from the edge of the eighteen yard box.
Half-time was a mere heartbeat away when United responded courtesy of a corner played back by Howell to a waiting Darcy Wells, whose twenty yard effort drew a solid hold out of travelling netminder Lauren Dolbear.
The U’s attempts at playing out from the back partly derailed in the early stages of the second period, although Worsfold demonstrated a perfect calmness to pick out Quayle to stab factionally past the post.
Two-thirds of the way into proceedings, the guests were enjoying the majority of possession and made it count by increasing their lead through the medium of Palm(er) reading. Rachel launching one of her trademark long throws into the penalty area for Quayle to control, turn on a sixpence and fire home beyond the despairing dive of McNulty, all in one singular movement.
A Tibble corner then caused more problems for the South Londoner’s rearguard; requiring a close-range catch by McNulty after Nicole Ranes’ header had threatened to inadvertently set-up a loitering Ellie Russell.
Worthing might have made the game safe following Quayle’s break to the byline ending with a flash across the face of goal, that Winchester arrived just too late to apply the finishing touch to.
Substitute Niamh Andersson soon made an instant impact by knocking back to Tibble for a long-range blast that flew narrowly the wrong side of the upright.
The corresponding piece of apparatus fellow replacement Bell missed by inches when fizzing in a teaser after being set free on the right by Young.
Manager John Donoghue’s changes were certainly having the desired effect, with Bridge becoming the latest to benefit from Quayle’s industry, as the recent Portsmouth protagonist allowed Hayley to dealy long enough prior to teeing up a Tibble twenty yarder, once Sammy had slipped past a yellow shirt on the byline.
We were now deep into several additional minutes but there was still enough time remaining for ‘The Flash’ (Andersson) to leave a trail of defenders in her wake; cutting in off the left wing and giving Bridge one last attempt at icing the proverbial cake, only to denied by a fine save that saw McMulty go full-length to tip onto the woodwork, as the custodian kept out ‘Bridgey’ with a little help from her friend.