FA WOMEN’S PREMIER LEAGUE – SOUTH
CRYSTAL PALACE LADIES FC 0 – 1 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR LADIES
Crystal Palace Ladies suffered the first league defeat in 25 games on Sunday at Bromley FC. Hosting Tottenham Hotspur Ladies, the Eagles knew that the challenge would be one of the toughest of the new season. Spurs, who had hit 10 past fellow League rivals West Ham in the cup last weekend are one of the title favourites this season and represent the level at which Palace have thought hard to be amongst over the past few seasons.
In front of a good size crowd, the match started well within the control of the visitors.
Playing at a fast pace with high press tactics Spurs set out their stall early on, not allowing Palace to find a foothold in the game. In that first 15 minutes Palace had to dig deep and regularly repel the chances created by the North Londoners, who looked very dangerous on the counter attack.
It was through one such move that Spurs capitalised, scoring through Baptiste only moments after Palace had themselves threatened. The direct route, particularly down the Palace left looked a real source of threat for Spurs and The Eagles dug deep in their bid to limit the damage: on more than one occasion, grateful for the agility and ability of their keeper Yardley, who pulled out a number of fine saves.
Palace slowly found their way into the game and matched Tottenham's work rate and possession. However this was dealt a cruel blow when captain, Freya Holdaway went down in the 17th minute, when making a last ditched tackle, resulting in an early and impactive withdrawal from the game.
Now more accustomed to what was needed Palace rallied and through Ali and Shakes started to create chances in and around the Spurs box. Palace had a number of corners and it was through one of these that they had their best, early opportunity, with the tenacious Ali heading just off target.
Palace grew in confidence as the half progressed and looked to the counter attack themselves, as a threat. On 39 minutes, Bryan was released by a perfectly placed pass. However, as she headed into open space in the Spurs half, she was brought down by the outpaced defender. This resulted in a yellow card and free kick, but showed the experience of the opposition, in game management and decision making. The continued Palace pressure drew results when in the 42nd minute, a good period of Palace passing was ended with Ellie Bailes being fouled in the area. Penalty to Palace. Full-back McRoberts took the responsibility and placed the ball to the ‘keepers right, only to see the Spurs number one tip it around the post. The resulting Palace corner came to nothing and the final few minutes of the half saw frustration creeping in to both teams, with Spurs having the final say, through a wonderfully taken free kick that Palace managed to scramble away.
Half time. 0-1.
The second half got underway, similar to the first, with Spurs out of the blocks quickly. With many members of the Charlton Ladies team in the crowd (a main rival for Spurs title ambitions and Wednesday evenings opponents for Palace), there was plenty to take in.
The Spurs pressure resulted in a number of corners and increased anxiety amongst the Palace faithful. However, thanks to some excellent handling by Yardley and the Palace players putting bodies on the line, the single goal remained the difference. Similar to the opening period, Palace started to find their feet after the opening ten minutes, with the Bryan and Shakes combination starting to look more threatening. And it was Bryan who went agonisingly close from the right angle of the box on 57 minutes when her shot across the ‘keeper almost grazed the far post. Palace were now well and truly in the game and the team appeared to acknowledge that they had the right to have a say in the outcome. Their possession was now more effective and confident and the chances continued to come.
The 65th minute saw another of the fine margins that the manager would later speak of, when Bryan reacted well to a loose ball behind the Spurs defence, rounded the ‘keeper and fired goalwards. Hopes, however, were dashed through a last ditched effort by a Spurs defender, who miraculously not only reached the ball, but headed it from under the bar and to safety. Fine margins, indeed.
Palace continued to push on, resulting in another fine save by the Spurs ‘keeper. However, as the match headed into the final 15 minutes, the heat and effort of the day appeared to take its toll on both teams. A scrappy ten minutes or so ensued where both teams knew that the next goal would be crucial.
Both teams had further opportunities with Bryan firing over from a free-kick and Spurs hitting the bar with a wayward cross. Typically, as the game entered injury time, The Eagles gave it their all; the pride, passion and determination that had seen the league unbeaten run last so long, on full display.
However, as the clock wound down, it became evident that grinding out the result in a game where chances came and went, is not as easy as Palace have been used to. A good sign, that they are now in the right company.
At the final whistle, both teams took the plaudits. Spurs for a well-earned win and Palace for performance that indicates that they are well at home in the top tier of the FA Women’s Premier League and are capable of mixing with the experienced and more fancied teams.
It was a game that could have easily seen the points shared. For all that Spurs looked the established top tier team and had quality throughout, had Palace been able to take on of their best two chances, few would have argued with a draw. Something that Palace boss Dean Davenport reflected on after the match.
“I am very pleased with what we showed today. I thought that we were a little cagey to start with and as a result Spurs looked to dominate. But, once we got ourselves into the rhythm of the game and upped our pace and levels, we looked good. We all know that this season will be a big learning opportunity for us, but we must also know that we are here on merit. We are (and showed today) capable of giving any of the teams a good game. As I said to the girls afterwards, those fine margins will decide games.
"Last season we may have had 5 or 6 good chances and scored 3 or 4. This season, we may only get 1 of 2 a game, and need to take them. With the injuries and absences we had today, (Dyett, broken leg, Igbavboa leg injury Donohoe unavailable, Holdaway leg injury early on) we showed that we do have talent and depth throughout; something that is so important in this league.”
Asked whether this was a benchmark for the season, he added: “Every game will be tough in its own right. Yes, the two games this week (against Spurs and Charlton) are against those who will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, but it is how we acquit ourselves in every match. All I know, is that if we are able to put a shift in like we did today, close those fine margins and keep the squad unity that we have built over the last few season, we will do our selves justice over the campaign.”
Palace Ladies play high-flying Charlton Ladies under the lights at Bromley FC on Wednesday 14th September. Kick off 1945. All support welcome for what will be another big test for The Eagles. Entry £3, under 16s are free. Doors open at 1830.