Report By Gareth Nicholas
After two previously high-scoring friendlies against Montpellier Villa and Sutton United, Reds went up against a team that have risen to the same ranks over a similar amount of time. Operating out of South West Division One, the Portsmouth-based visitors provided a stern test on a day almost the exact polar opposite to the wind and rain twenty-four hours beforehand.
New signings Izzy Glass-Oliver, Emma Blakeley and Dani Rowe were in the starting line-up, after their identities could officially be revealed. No more trialists, which had caused the last game at the Sussex Transport Community Stadium two weeks ago to be played under a cloak and dagger facade.
Both elevens, by and large, cancelled each other out in the early stages, as clear cut chances proved hard to come by.
Although Lauren Dolbear, keeper of more than a dozen clean sheets last term, had to stand tall to ward off the danger of Kim Fuller, when she was slipped in, after eight minutes.
The guests threatened again a short while later, only for Amber Howden to head Kirsty Pierce’s left wing corner over the target.
Within seconds, a flag-kick up the other end eventually fell to Katie Cooper but she too was unable to quite keep her effort low enough.
Travelling netminder Georgia Jenkins then passed her first serious test with flying colours, by getting down well to turn Chloe Winchester’s shot around the upright for another set-piece.
While that particular one may not have resulted in a goal, the next, not long past the half-hour mark certainly did.
Georgia Tibble memorably opened the scoring in last season’s League Cup final victory against Dartford straight from an identical dead ball but, with her on the bench, responsibility was handed over to Captain and left-sided defender Rachel Palmer.
Swinging it in from the right, Palmer’s piece de resistance did likewise; crashing into the back of the net, off the inside of the far post.
Should the woodwork not have appealed for an assist, Glass-Oliver was ideally placed, in case. However, the one occasion Emma Moody – or indeed anyone for that matter – managed to shake her off all afternoon, a slide-rule pass picked out the run of Skipper Charley Wilson-Wilton, who fired a low attempt inches wide of the far stick.
A minute before the break, the Greens may, once more, have edged in front. Though the imposing figure of Dolbear soon alleviated any concerns, when she came out smartly to smother at the feet of the unnamed number twelve, following Moody’s through ball.
First-half stoppages initially promised a different outlook on proceedings, thanks to some quick and incisive passing concluding with Sammy Quayle sending Cooper clear. Once again, Moody made mischief for the homesters by timing her tackle to perfection, ensuring the game would remain goalless at the end of the opening period.
Changes-a-plenty during the interval saw Moneyfields introduce six new faces, alongside the additions of Emily Linscer and the aforementioned Tibble for the Rebels.
It was one of that group who forced Dolbear into the spectacular; arching backwards to stretch, airborne and divert Lucy Nightingale’s deep cross-shot over the top. Eight minutes elapsing in a mirror-image of beginnings to the original forty-five.
‘Loz’ met a corner with force when punching it (partially) clear, surpassed by a palpable sense of relief as Nightingale came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on a second occasion, outside the area.
Further substitutions led to Club Captain Gemma Worsfold marking her return from injury and one-time Reading and Chelsea starlet Beth Burgess entering the fray for Moneys.
Those swaps would be key later on, as eight (not three) was the magic number. That being, in minutes, how long was left on the clock at the precise moment Burgess applied the decisive, close-range touch to Moody’s right flank delivery.
A mere two to go and celebrations were quickly mooted, courtesy of the assistant referee’s flag indicating Wilson-Wilton’s ‘goal’ be ruled out for offside. Putting paid to Burgess’s hopes of adding the role of provider to that of goalscorer, as her free-kick instantly had fellow replacement Kiera Heslam scampering down the left, prior to reaching the byline and laying the ball across for a disallowed effort.
Finally, added time included the telling presence of former Wales international Quayle almost altering the outcome again.
This time however, it was all her own doing; wrestling possession away from the clutches of another ex-Pompey player, in the form of Bekah Tonks, fractionally inside the defender’s own half. Driving forward, into the penalty box where the actions of custodian Jenkins guaranteed it would end honours even.