FAWNL Division One South East Sun 24 March The Camping World Community Stadium

Manager John Donoghue welcomed back Rachel Palmer, Katie Cooper, Gemma Worsfold and Ellie Russell to the squad, finally easing some of the pressure on physio Maise Preston and her trusty treatment table. Palmer came in for Izzy Glass-Oliver, while the others all started amongst the substitutes.

So, a strong sixteen for a match against an Actonians side arriving in Horsham having won five of their last seven games and it was the visitors who created the first chance of the afternoon. A long ball over the top catching out the Reds defence and eventually forcing Lauren Dolbear to parry Tori St Clair’s stinging drive, after the Accies’ joint leading scorer had latched on to it, for a corner.

An offside flag stopped Shannon Albuery in her tracks, after Emily Linscer had guided a delightful through ball into the forward’s path, as the third-placed ‘hosts’ retaliated in their own bid to lay down an early marker.

Dolbear was called into action again when a Meila D’Santos cross took a wicked deflection off Chloe Winchester and almost fell kindly for Chihiro Ebine, though ‘Loz’ was out swiftly to nullify and clear the danger once more.

A similar opportunity presented an opening for Sophie Humphrey to test Elisa Dogor, with Mara Bramwell the unfortunate assist maker, only for the travelling netminder to deny ‘Soph’ on the turn as the number nine brought down Katie Young’s initial delivery on the edge of the box.

An end-to-end affair continued thanks to Roschelle Shakes, level in the goalscoring stakes with St Clair, flicking on a long clearance by Dogor to send St Clair scurrying through the middle before finally forcing Dolbear into another sterling stop.

Approaching the half-time interval, Young picked out Humphrey via a deep delivery but Dogor was equal to her effort a second time and the match would stay goalless at the midway mark.

St Clair remained a thorn in Worthing’s side after the break, soon latching on to a pass over the top and beating the offside trap; an extra burst of speed taking her past Emma Blakely to the byline, only for Dolbear to divert the ball to safety courtesy of a strategically placed right foot.

Perhaps proceedings required some fresh impetus ? If so, it nearly paid dividends courtesy of the recently introduced Russell supplying Palmer tight to the right-hand touchline. A slide-rule pass into the eighteen yard area had Winchester attached to it, with ‘Winch’ kept out from an equally tight angle by Dogor. However, the alert Sammy Quayle picked up the pieces and laid back to an unmarked Humphrey, only for a lack of power to give Accies’ custodian an easy gather.

Improvisation or a mishit resulted in Dolbear being forced to backpedal to tip over Ebine’s left flank cross-cum-shot, following good work in midfield by the tenacious D’Santos’ – coupled with a deft lay-off by St Clair, with her back to goal, – who won possession prior to spreading play out to her teammate for a further close call. Although Palmer needed to stay switched on with Jasmine Williamson looking to sneak in front of her and bury the close-range rebound.

Relentless, Actonians came close to catching Dolbear out, courtesy of Bramwell’s long-range free-kick cannoning back off the crossbar, requiring Russell to calmly complete the clearance.

If at first you don’t succeed though, try, try again and Bramwell certainly did that; striking the same piece of apparatus from virtually the same spot moments later, as a shell-shocked Reds rearguard, led by the head of Winchester, lived dangerously in a mirror image fashion.

Feeling left out, the bar at the clubhouse end of the ground caused calls to go out for our old friend/enemy, the much-maligned VAR once Albuery had become the latest person to test it, six minutes into stoppage time.

In fact, that would have rounded off a series of well-worked moves that saw great hold-up skills by Dani Rowe enabling her to hand over to Young; pre-empting a range-finding pass to Tibble – continuing her comeback from a lengthy spell out – and return to instigator Rowe, on an overlapping run who promptly fired over a brilliant cross, allowing a dummy by half-time substitute Gemma Worsfold to present what would quite possibly have been a match-winning moment to ‘Shan.’ Only for the brilliance of Dogor to turn her ferocious volley onto the frame of the target, the pairing of Jennie Brereton and Bramwell to crowd out Worsfold, then mop up and leave both teams to wonder what might have been.

In the end, a draw between previous opponents Norwich City, in second place and Queens Park Rangers, in fourth keeps the Reds neatly sandwiched between the duo in third, as the race for the top spots continue to hot up behind a seemingly uncatchable AFC Wimbledon.