FAWNL Division One South East Sun 11 February Sussex Transport Community Stadium

There was just the one change made to the squad that won at AFC Sudbury two weeks ago with Tierney Scott returning to her parent club, Portsmouth. Thus, Emily Linscer had a chance to stake a more regular claim to a starting berth. Reigning Player’s Player of the Year Ellie Russell made a rare but welcome appearance on the subs bench.

The two teams looked evenly matched from the very beginning and either of them could have taken an early lead.

An uncharacteristically heavy touch by Chloe Winchester was pounced on in an instant by the division’s second highest goalscorer, Grace Stanley. She advanced to the ‘d’ before laying the ball back for Katie Akerman to warm the gloves of Lauren Dolbear from just outside it.

Rangers ‘keeper Nicole Melling was then given her first test of the afternoon which she too passed with flying colours; racing out to smother at the feet of Shannon Albuery after Dani Rowe had slipped her teammate in.

Melling impressed throughout the first-half and needed her wits about her again when Jo Blodgett inadvertently flicked on Katie Young’s searching pass to Sammy Quayle. However, Gemma Worsfold showed great strength and awareness to dispossess Alice Curr, as the defender attempted to dribble out of danger. Only to chip straight into the netminder’s hands, on the turn.

Winchester won possession back in midfield and immediately threaded the ball through to Quayle, whereupon a combination of Melling and the assistant’s raised flag foiled the forward a second time in quick succession.

Moments later, a near carbon copy of Winch’s ball-winning skills saw the space in front of her open up, although a wayward finish failed to trouble the scoreboard.

Clearcut opportunities were proving hard to come by but Rowe caused problems via a left-sided corner that somehow evaded everyone, as it flashed across the six yard box, followed by a long-range effort that Melling caught comfortably.

Added time held one last hope of the deadlock being broken in the opening forty-five, thanks to Rowe’s right wrong delivery almost finding the head of Captain Worsfold. Melling, sensing and spotting the warning signs prior to claiming the cross for herself.

One can only assume an unseen injury forced the visitor’s hand at the interval, as usual number one Mya Francis-Pownall took over from the hugely impressive Melling for the second period.

Although, it was her opposite number who was the first to be called into action after the change of ends, when Dolbear got down to safely gather following some strong, defensive work by Young to nudge Stanley away from the target.

Not that even ‘Loz’ could do much about Akerman’s inswinging free-kick on the hour mark, tight to the byline, that at first glance looked like it had gone all the way in, only for Blodgett to claim the final touch from very close range, with the Super Hoops ‘X’ agreeing and awarding the strike to the latter rather than the former.

Undeterred, just a few minutes further on ‘Winch’ ensured Young had the time and space to look up, pick out the run of Albuery and play a perfectly-timed, long forward pass which simply required a single bounce before ‘Shan’ smashed a stunning volley over Francis-Pownall, to leave her rooted to the the spot and the majority of the Sussex Transport Community Stadium in awe at an incredible equaliser.

Albuery celebrates her stunning equaliser with her teammates.

However, despite a sudden increase in excitement, those levels dropped for the next twenty minutes, during which a flurry of substitutions couldn’t quite turn them back up a notch or two.

At least not until the dying embers of a match where the outcome might have changed either way, as both sides searched in vain for a late winner.

One of the Rebels’ recently introduced to the action, Caz Hodgson released Worsfold through the middle in the last minute, giving the Skipper a clean run at goal with an unmarked Albuery for company to her left.

Unfortunately, ‘Gem’ tried to catch Francis-Pownall out by shooting early but lacked the elevation/power to lift her shot above the custodian and the chance went begging.

Play soon switched to the other end; Ellie Searle enjoying a free run on the left flank and finding Stanley, who didn’t make a clean enough contact on the cross and Dolbear was able to clutch the striker’s glancing header.

Reds might have won it themselves, thanks to Winchester, although Alice Curr put herself in the right place at the right time to head Chloe’s teasing delivery off the line.

Then in the last of six additional minutes, a battling Worsfold was eventually crowded out in the penalty area, as she threatened to burst through the West Londoner’s rearguard and nab the full three points. While one last go resulted in Francis-Pownall holding onto a long distance shot from ‘Winch’ as the points remained shared.