When you play one of your best games of football for some time, scoring five goals at home as a team and a hat trick for your leading scorer, how do you follow it up?
That was the question that The Palace Ladies first team squad were posed this week. For Head Coach, Dean Davenport, the answer ahead of the Easter Sunday trip to Portsmouth was simple,
"We need to look at the game on it's merits, plan and be prepared, and then execute the game plan, in a bid to seal three more points as we look to consolidate the hard work put in this season."
Clearly keen not to get carried away off the back of a dream performance last week, there was certainly a need to keep feet on the floor. But in the week leading up to the trip to the south coast, it was easy to see why so many players just couldn't wait to start the next game. Following a period of weeks affected by postponements and some stuttering performances, Palace certainly seemed to be back in the groove and keen to maximise momentum as they arrived at Fareham Town FC.
The first thing that was obvious upon arrival was just how much of a treat the surface had been at Beckenham Town FC the week before - something that had clearly aided the Palace style. In contrast, the surface this week was what is often described as a leveller - a pitch that had it's fair share of imperfections; something that both teams would have to adjust to.
As if to prove the point, hat trick scorer from last weekend, Gemma Bryan wasted no time, putting Palace one up inside three minutes when she latched on to a pass, beating the offside trap and scored past Pompey 'keeper Paines.
The Palace momentum moved up a further gear as they pressed a home team that was rocked by the early setback. This paid dividends in the tenth minute when the lead was doubled from a corner that defender Rosie Paye headed home - her first for Palace since signing earlier in the season.
To the credit of Portsmouth and as a warning to Palace that no result would be guaranteed, the hosts struck back two minutes later, following a free-kick awarded for a back pass to the 'keeper. The quickly taken kick saw Stephens break clear and score the third goal in the first ten minutes.
The game did then settle into a more realistic process, albeit any rhythm was adversely affected by the pitch conditions and interventions by the officials. The Eagles, having to adjust their tactics to the conditions, were rewarded when Bryan bagged her second after a quality counter attack that resulted in another cool finish in the 33rd minute.
Despite captain, Sarah Jones, going close with a header from a Pam McRoberts corner, the 1-3 score line was taken into the break by Palace who were urged to keep to the plan and momentum in the second half, by Davenport and the coaching team.
True to his requests, Palace emerged at the start of the second half as they had for the first and were awarded a penalty within the opening minutes. Needless to say, Bryan stepped up for her hat trick goal and calmly dispatched the ball for Palace's fourth of the afternoon. The following twenty minutes saw both teams have opportunities with the hosts certainly not willing to give up without a fight. And it was the home team that scored the next, when in the 68th minute, following a HIllier flick on, Samantha Quayle tapped in, past an on-rushing Chanell Yardley. The goal, naturally, buoyed the south coast team and Palace were placed under a ten minute spell of pressure that saw Pompey go close, not least when Alma Donohoe reacted in time to clear off the Palace goal line in the 75th minute.
However, The Eagles rode the storm and another fine performance from Bryan was capped with her fourth goal in the 81st minute when she collected a good pass and beat a retreating and weary defence to conclude the scoring for the afternoon, as both teams saw the game out without further addition.
Speaking after the game, Gemma was quick to praise her team mates, despite the obvious interest in her current form that has returned seven goals in the last two outings.
"We knew that today was not going to be easy, as Portsmouth are a decent team and well organised. We knew that we couldn't get carried away with last weeks performance, but wanted to use it as a positive and something to work from. Obviously, getting the early goal helped and it was then a case of keeping to the plan and adding where we could; with all the girls really working hard."
Asked as to her second hat trick in successive games, Gemma added, "It is good to score, but it isn't possible without the hard work of the team. The goals we score are because of a team effort and it is great to be a part of it."
Dean Davenport was also keen to praise the side, "There were a number of factors that prevented us playing our ideal game, at times today, but that is part and parcel of football at any level. what we had to do was deal with those issues and adjust as needed. I was proud of the way the girls did this, and it gives us good momentum as we head into a tough final away game of the season at Coventry, next week."
Asked as to how he sees the remainder of the season, he added, "It's simple. We have three more games and we will look for three wins. Our aim is to take the most we can from these. As far as we are concerned, there is plenty to play for. Yes, where we are, in our first season at this level is terrific, but we are always looking for the next level of improvement."
Palace Ladies are on the road again next Sunday (23rd) as they travel to Coventry who sit one place above them in The League.
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