After a fortnight off – thanks to Hastings United’s withdrawal from the Sussex Cup – Reds returned to action at the Sussex Transport Community Stadium against divisional rivals and league leaders AFC Wimbledon.
The win at Old Actonians fourteen days ago had come at a price, with injuries ruling out Sammy Quayle and Rachel Palmer. That meant starts for Chloe Winchester and Izzy Glass-Oliver, accompanied by Club Captain Gemma Worsfold. Sophie Humphrey commenced on the bench alongside Emily Linscer and new signing Leah Morris, fellow newbie Tierney Scott went straight into the team for her debut, after joining on loan from Portsmouth and Niamh Andersson was recalled in the absence of Hayley Bridge.
We’d barely got underway when debutant Scott showed great strength and determination to steal possession away from Rosie Russell, then turn Steph Mann before firing a fine long-range volley narrowly wide of the near post.
Less than sixty seconds later, Worsfold, on the stretch, couldn’t quite reach Andresson’s right wing cross but then linked up nicely with Becki Bath, to open up an opportunity for the latter to force Lauren-Aime Allen into the first save of the afternoon, after fifteen minutes.
Bath also had the next chance, thanks to Katie Young’s unerring accuracy via a raking ball down the left that saw the striker get the better of Kelly Highman, though blast over the top on the edge of the box.
It came as a surprise, therefore, when the visitors took the lead. Lauren Dolbear did well to tip Ashlee Hincks’ free-kick onto the crossbar; Emily Donovan leading a line of three blue shirts that were quickest to react and heading home the rebound, despite a scrambling ‘Loz’s’ best efforts.
Buoyed by the goal, AFC threatened a second courtesy of Highman’s long ball forward falling kindly for Ellie Dorey, only for Young to block Skipper Hannah Billingham at close quarters.
However, the next strike went to the hosts, following Winchester releasing Scott to burst clear over the halfway line and eventually, calmly play a pass across to her left for Bath to curl home a stunner, millimetres inside the ‘d,’ into the top corner, against her previous club to level the score.
‘Winch’ was at it again moments later, this time supplying Andersson to send in a delivery that bounced and sat up nicely for Worsfold to nod towards the target but straight into the hands of Allen, as she squeezed in between two defenders.
An unfortunate slip by Glass-Oliver let in Ashleigh Goddard, although Emma Blakley slid in to save the day, approaching the interval, prior to Andersson’s pace proving too much for Billingham; her subsequent low cross sailing through the six yard box to Scott, who won a corner.
That flag-kick resulted in Blakely getting her head to Dani Rowe’s set-piece and Bath seeing her initial attempt repelled by the (hands in front of her face) of Billie Brooks, then her follow-up hitting the side netting.
Less action but more goals was the story of the second-half, initiated by Hincks’ swivel and swish providing a great through ball that Dorey took in her stride. Dolbear rushed out to the precipice of her eighteen yard area to meet both the guest’s forward and the backtracking Andersson. Despite the minor calamity, if finished more hunky for the hosts than Dorey, as she buried her shot behind the onion bag.
Duly recovered, Andersson then played a peach of a pass to set Scott on her way to break into the box with Highman in hot pursuit; the Dons’ defender getting a vital toe in to snuff out the danger.
Highman’s heroics proved to be even more decisive, just shy of the hour mark, thanks to Dorey latching onto Hinck’s flicked header in the centre circle and bursting between Rowe and Young, before finally finding the bottom corner, seventeen yards out, to restore her side’s advantage.
A quarter-of-an-hour remained when Wimbledon made it three, once Dorey outmuscled Scott and hit a dropping ball on the volley over to Hincks to go one better and dispatch similarly into the top bins.
If anyone thought that was that, they were very much mistaken, as Young caught the travelling rearguard napping along with the equally-alert Worsfold, who got there ahead of ‘keeper Allen to convert and leave the game on a knife-edge.
Allen was then called into action twice in the closing stages, of which there were many due to AFC’s time wasting tactics nearly coming back to haunt them.
Firstly, pulling off a brilliant stop to divert Young’s towering header, from a Rowe free-kick, behind for a corner that resulted in Blakely being frustrated via a combination of the custodian and Russell, on the line.
Defence soon turned into attack, during around fifteen added minutes, when Blakely was a whisker away from positively redirecting Glass-Oliver’s intuitive near-assist. Allen out to smother in the nick of time.
Unfortunately though, it wasn’t to be and AFC Wimbledon continue their ‘march to the arch’ ahead of next Sunday’s intriguing league meeting in South London.