Palace Ladies ended a testing Summer with victory against Spurs in The Continental Cup, on Saturday night. Playing at the highest level in the club’s history, for the first time, The Eagles produced a display that fully warranted the hard work and determination displayed to gain a place amongst the elite teams in women’s football.
Under the lights at Bromley FC, Palace welcomed a Spurs squad that finished with due credit at this level last season; with both teams engaging in a London Derby that delivered on drama.
So, following weeks of off-pitch drama, it was time to play some football. And, from the start Spurs, with flight of foot, deft touches and fluidity took the challenge to the newcomers and thoroughly tested the hosts in the opening twenty minutes. Palace worked hard to restrict Spurs in key areas and remained resolute in their defensive shape, although the creativity and pace of the Spurs midfield and forwards was always a threat. On the occasions that the Palace lines were breached, Megen Lynch proved to be in fine form in the Palace goal. For Palace, set-pieces were always a viable outlet; one such opportunity, only just over the bar from Ashlee Hincks.
However, on 37 minutes, the Palace resilience was breached when a loose ball fell to midfielder Josie Green just inside the left hand corner of the box and a well hit shot cleared the crowd of players and into the top right corner. Whilst the goal was deserved through the Spurs' possession and quality, Palace had applied themselves equally well, in their adjustment to a new level of football and would have been pleased to have reached half time, level.
The second half saw The Eagles react to the positives of the first half and the request at the interval to push up and believe in their abilities. Immediately, Palace were seeking to force the tempo a little more, bringing Kallie Balfour and Hincks into the game, far more through open play. Indeed, it was the pace of Balfour that seemed to unsettle Spurs at times, with hints of her being able to exploit the space behind a high Spurs defensive line. Spurs themselves, didn't rest on the one goal lead and went close, during the early phases of the second half, hitting the bar on one occasion. However, it was the improving Palace who scored next, when in the 64th minute, Balfour latched on to a good through ball, had a shot blocked and calmly controlled the rebound to round the keeper and slot home, bringing delirium to the Palace faithful, and a little bit of history for Balfour; the first ever player to score for Palace at this level.
The Palace joy was almost short-lived however, when the referee judged that Addison had been fouled in the Palace box. The resulting penalty was crashed against the post by Addison, only adding to a thrilling last twenty minutes. Both teams went for the win, with chances either just off target or, in Palace’s case, dealt with supremely by the ‘keeper. Lynch was in inspired, confident form, rightly earning player of the match.
The score after 90 minutes was a well-earned 1-1 for Palace in their inaugural outing at this level. However, under Continental League Cup rules, these group stage games offer one point each for the draw, but a bonus point for the winners of a penalty shoot out. So, the drama continued, and on a night that was as much a celebration for what Palace have achieved in recent months and seasons, The Eagles were not letting the game go without a fight. In front of the vocal, passionate fans, the shootout was played out.
With Palace up first, player after player coolly and expertly dispatched their penalties into either corner of the net (Kallie Balfour, Chloe Burr, Anneka Nuttall, Leesa Haydock, Ashlee Hincks). These excellent spot kicks proved sufficient due to the unfortunate Hector, shooting over with Spurs’ fourth kick; Palace winning 5-3 and grabbing the additional point.
Speaking after the inevitable celebrations had calmed, a rightly proud Davenport commented,
“I am truly proud of what the girls achieved tonight. This was a very tough challenge for our first game at this level and they showed that we are here on merit. Without a doubt, Spurs were the dominant force in the first half, showing that they have what it takes. For sure, they benefitted from the stability between seasons and are in very good shape, but from our perspective, it was as much about the application as anything. The team showed that what we have been working on in training is understood. Their shape and understanding of the situations they were in, was really good to see. Everyone knows that we are a few weeks behind everyone else, so our more expansive game will develop as the start of the season progresses. That said, I thought our management of the game and failure to buckle under pressure earned us the right to equalise and go to pens. Seeing the reaction, on and off the pitch, was true reward for the ups and downs of the last few months, but perhaps the most important part of the game tonight was, that every player in red and blue, whether existing or new to our club, showed every ounce of the Palace spirit that we expect to see. What they gained tonight was something that they can fall back on, in tough games throughout the season – that resilience and belief, that as a team, they have the opportunity to mix it at this level.”
Palace travel to top tier Yeovil Town Ladies in match day two of The Continental Cup, next Sunday.
The opening Women’s Championship fixture for The Eagles in Sunday 9th September against Leicester City, at Bromley FC.