Crystal Palace Ladies ended a busy week off the pitch with a somewhat indifferent performance on it on Sunday, as they hosted Leicester City in the opening game of life in The FA Women’s Championship.
A game that went down as another first for Palace proved tough going for the hosts and ended in disappointment as they went down 2-0 to a strong Foxes team.
Palace, in front of the unique ranks of home support, started brightly, looking to take game on the front foot. However, the visitors showed their mettle, cohesion and determination as both sides traded blows throughout the opening spell. For Palace, Ashlee Hincks went close early on, although within a minute, the Palace keeper, Lynch was called into action with a fine double save, showing the form that has won many plaudits already this season. On 11 minutes, Palace were close to opening the scoring when Hannah MacKenzie headed well, from a Ciara Watling corner, and was denied by the crossbar.
Leicester continued to look dangerous, switching play well and exploiting their pace out wide. And it was through this route, that The Foxes broke the deadlock in the 18th minute, when Melissa Johnson was allowed time and space to drive in from wide, cut into the box and fire home from a tight angle. Following the goal, City looked the more dominant and sought to expose a rattled and somewhat sluggish Palace, as they searched for their second. A series of last ditched defensive efforts and the resolute Lynch in goal, kept the score-line to one, with Domingo going close a couple of times.
Palace slowly brought themselves back into the game as the half headed to a close, with the tireless Kallie Balfour seeking to take the game to the Leicester defence, but too often, found herself outnumbered by The Foxes defensive line. Hincks also went close with a late effort and a speculative through ball by Hope Nash nearly caught Lambourne out, as it bounced high and goalward but it was not to change the scoreline and the visitors went into the interval ahead.
The second half started with Palace looking to up the momentum, and with only two minutes on the clock, in the second period, a slick Palace move that saw a cross from Watling, back-heeled by Hincks, for Balfour to volley goalward, only to see a deflection take it over the bar. The 50th minute saw something of a turning point as a fine cross from Watling was well met, on the head, by Nash, who appeared to be felled by a Leicester defender. Genuine appeals were waved away by the referee, much to the Palace faithful’s disappointment. Soon after it was the visitors turn to go close as a long ball forwards left Lynch with no option but to leave her area to head clear. The recovering Freya Holdaway continued her run, beyond Lynch and took her place on the line, coolly chesting down and clearing the follow-up shot from Lynch’s intervention.
The 62nd minute saw the introduction of Leesa Haydock and Chloe Burr for Andrea Georgiou and Megan Chandler, as manager Dean Davenport looked to add steel to the midfield and inject pace out wide.
The game continued to ebb and flow with Palace looking much stronger than in the first half. However, a taste of things to come was seen in the 73rd minute when Lynch was again the saviour, saving when Johnson was through one on one, on the Palace goal. The relief, however, was short-lived, as following a deep free kick, Palace allowed the ball to be headed back across goal and then nodded home by Morgan, to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. To their credit, Palace, undone by their own lapses, fought to the end, with substitute Burr looking an increasing threat, following her introduction. However, It was a day of disappointment for Palace, who were simply not able to add the final touches of quality when needed.
At the final whistle, Palace were left ruing their occasional lapses in concentration and periods of being off the pace, but with plenty to learn from.