Palace Ladies FC made the long journey to Lowestoft for their penultimate match of a successful season, on Sunday.
The hosts, a much improved side since their difficult start to the season were out to prove a point following their conceding of nine against Palace last time around.
The game kicked off with a brisk breeze behind The Eagles. As predicted, the usual passing game was affected by the conditions and a determined and diligent defensive line from Lowestoft.
Despite the far superior levels of possession for Palace, the score remained goalless until the half hour mark. Varying the tactics, Palace looked to go long from 'keeper, Chanell Yardly whose kick evaded the high defensive line.
In a race to the ball that only had one winner, Gemma Bryan applied a deft flick to clear the advancing 'keeper and nestle in the back of the net.
Palace looked to continue the pressure and convert chances and were further rewarded just before the break, when some industrious play was rewarded when Leanne Bell instinctively, stabbed home from close rage to send The Eagles in two up at half time.
The second half started with the hosts looking to wrestle back some control, in a performance that belied their league position. However, in doing so, they were left exposed to the counter-attack. With the pace and activity of Bryan and Nicha Dyett up front, the threat was very real and proved definitively so in the 58th minute when the two combined for Bryan to spring the off-side trap and coolly settle, take a touch and fire home passed the 'keeper.
Despite the 3-0 lead, the plucky hosts stuck to the task and made Palace pay for taking their foot off the gas. This saw the hosts grab a deserved opener when hesitation in the defence allowed Waters to pounce and slot home. This glimmer of light inspired Lowestoft to push on and they again benefitted when a ball over the top led to a coming together in the box, that the ref adjudged to have been a foul by Spokes. The resultant penalty was duly dispatched by Moore to set up a potentially tense end to the game.
Palace now dug deep into their reserves and fought to retain a grip on the game. This made for a tight affair in the centre of the pitch with a only occasional glimpses of quality. However, it was the ever-reliable Bryan who sealed things on eighty-four minutes with another superb piece of play, resulting in a clever run, good control and another, of many this season, top class finishes into the bottom right corner.
Palace, to their relief, saw the game out to run out 4-2 winners. Whilst there was a rightful pride in another victory at the end of the game, it was a somewhat muted affair, through a combination of relief, tiredness and respect for their opponents.
Speaking after the game, Davenport was first to praise the opposition.
"I thought Lowestoft played very well today and credit to them, because I know how tough things have been for them this season," he said. "What they have achieved through any number of issues this season is fabulous, and we really hope they continue as strongly as today, next season."
Asked as to his own teams performance, Dean was clearly pleased, saying: "In tricky conditions, the girls applied themselves well today. We were not, perhaps, as cohesive as we would have liked, but I thought the work rate was excellent, as was the adaptability shown. Not every match will be as we want it, so we have to deal with things as they happen."
"Gemma was quality again today," he said of Bryan. "When we needed it most, her touch and finishing was spot on. She has been very consistent over the season and showed it again today. However, as Gemma knows, she is one part of a squad, all of whom have been superb for us all season."
Asked if he was ready to consider the achievement that a draw or win would bring, against Norwich next week, Davenport was typically coy.
"Plenty of people are doing the talking about going unbeaten, for us," he said. "Yes, we are close to something special on top of our targets for the season, but we are not really talking about those until it is relevant. The girls have one more game to prepare for and execute. This in a week that sees us receive our league trophy at half time at Selhurst Park in front of the Palace faithful on Saturday! So, the girls will have to be as switched on as ever on Sunday!"
Before the trip to Norwich, for their final match on Sunday, Palace Ladies will be presented the League winners trophy by the FA Women's Premier League, at half time in the Barclays Premier League match against Stoke on Saturday. A moment that a huge amount of hard work and dedication over a long time deserves.