FA Women's Premier League (South East)
Sunday 20th September 2015
Crystal Palace Ladies 1 - 0 Enfield Town Ladies
Crystal Palace Ladies continued their 100% start to the season at Bromley FC on Sunday with a hard fought encounter against Enfield Town. With this being the first return fixture of the season, it was an opportunity for The Eagles to experience a side who may have adapted their strategy following an earlier defeat.
From the first minute, it was clear that the visitors strategy was actually one of disruption. Strong arm tactics and some, at times, bruising challenges led to a rather disjointed affair. However, allowed by the referee to continue, Palace soon found themselves needing to adapt their game and rely on attributes other than their free-flowing football to see them through.
The first half started with the hosts looking to move the ball quickly and incisively and on another day could have seen an early penalty. Convinced that the lunging tackle from the visitors defender was in the area, Palace were only awarded a free kick, outside the box.
However, as has been the case this season, The Eagles were a threat from set pieces and on 15 minutes, following another desperate foul, Palace opened their account following a sublime dead ball delivery from Freya Holdaway that saw Abi Igbavboa sweep in towards the far post to score. This was no more than the early Palace pressure deserved, and could, and perhaps, should have been added to throughout the first period, had it not been for a combination of good goalkeeping, some last ditched and legal tackles from Enfield and some indecision in front of goal by Palace.
It was all to inevitable that Palace would not go in at half time without picking up some battle damage, and on 30 minutes, The Eagles lost the influential Leanne Bell. Following good footwork and a burst of pace, Bell was tackled and upended at full speed, landing awkwardly on her shoulder. The 17-year-old was in real pain and unable to continue and was en route to hospital before the interval.
Mary Robinson took the place of Bell, and with Palace unable to convert further chances before half time, they led by the one goal at the interval.
The second half started brightly for Palace with Igbavboa, almost immediately, breaching the Enfield back line. Again however, it was the final decision making that cost Palace and allowed the visitors to keep a foothold in the game. Chances continued to come and go, with manager Dean Davenport bringing the powerful Roschelle Shakes on for Nicha Dyett in the 65th minute. However, whilst rarely threatening the Palace box themselves, the industry and tactics of the opposition kept Palace at bay.
As the half progressed, it was clear that Enfield felt that the one opportunity they needed was still a possibility. And with Palace failing to put the game to bed, the temperature was increased. This was never more obvious than the lead taken by the Enfield management team whose efforts to influence the game, pushed the referee too far mid way through the second half. Following a dismissed claim for a Palace handball, the tirade from the bench was too much for the official, who sent the coach to the stands for the rest of the game.
In what felt more like a cup tie, the final twenty minutes only saw both teams look for the goal that would determine the result.
On 70 minutes, Palace suffered a further injury setback when Captain, Katy Morris landed badly and suffered an ankle injury. She was replaced by Leesa Haydock as The Eagles looked to hold strong.
The Palace job became harder on 80 minutes when perhaps the most bizarre moment of the game took place. Following good Palace work in their own half, Gemma Bryan looked to take on the Enfield full back. Knocking the ball one side and attempting to run around the other, Bryan found herself second in the race for the ball and flicked out a foot at the opponents trailing leg. In what was, to everyone in the ground (including a bemused Enfield 'keeper), an obvious yellow card incident, the referee, who had not cautioned any player throughout the game, spoke with Bryan and dismissed her from the pitch.
The final ten minutes were as frantic as the preceding 80 and saw Palace dig deep and employ their experience and know-how to see the game out, for a deserved and very hard fought addition to their winning streak.
Speaking after the game, head coach Dean Davenport commented,
"We knew that Enfield would be a tough challenge today and they certainly were. They came here with a job to do and did it. Our players coped well with what was thrown at them today and should be proud of their efforts and the fact that they took the points. "
Asked about the strong arm tactics and officials decisions, Davenport was naturally diplomatic
"There is nothing wrong with a physical game. Our girls know that they will come up against this sometimes, and have to be able to deal with it. I felt they did today, although sometimes, when required, games like this need the ref to define the boundaries."
Dean remains as confused as many as to the sending off of Bryan,
"Yes, it was a petulant tap of her ankle and a certain yellow card. Both players got up with no hesitation or acting up and looked to continue. Gemma assures me that she did nothing further to warrant additional punishment and she was sent off. We will have to wait for the refs report to see what he says, but based on what we saw, you could say that it was harsh".
Looking at the result and the season so far, Davenport was naturally upbeat,
"It really has been a good start. 18 points from 18, with plenty of goals scored and only two conceded. The girls have worked so hard and, as shown today, have had to be shrewd at times; changing their game as needed. We have a strong squad where competition for places is tough. What we need to do, is realise that it is a long season and that our unity and strength is what will help us through tough games and occasions where we may feel hard done by. As I have said to the players, all we can do is go out, do our best to win games, move on and keep working hard. "
Asked about injuries, Dean admitted
"We took some knocks today. We have a couple that will hopefully be OK for next Sunday, away at Ipswich, but we have lost Leanne with a fractured collarbone. That looks like 3-4 weeks minimum which is a real shame for the youngster. But, as I said, anything we achieve this season will be as a result of the squad strengths.
Dean finally highlighted,
"It was great to see some new Palace faces down in the crowd today. It was a tricky one, with the men's team playing at Spurs at the same time, but seeing the support from Palace fans really makes a difference to the team".
Crystal Palace Ladies travel to Ipswich Town in The FA Women's Premier League next Sunday (27th) looking to make it seven wins.
Palace Ladies. South London And Proud.