Palace Ladies returned to FA Women’s Premier League action on Sunday, away at Queens Park Rangers, for the second time in a week, following The Eagles success in The Capital Cup, last time out.
Other than the Capital Cup Final, on Sunday 6th May, The Ladies now have a one hundred per cent focus on the remaining League fixtures, with the aim of pushing the two other contenders, at the top of The League (Charlton Athletic and C&K Basildon), as much as possible.
Speaking before the match, Manager, Dean Davenport acknowledged
“Last week showed how QPR have progressed from when we played them at the start of the season. That is a real credit to Martino and his team. They are well organised, resilient and have a good spirit, so we will have to be patient and apply ourselves.”
The match started at a canter for Palace, who dominated early possession and looked in sharp form. The return of Gemma Bryan appeared key, with her pace and movement in and around the QPR defence always likely to create issues for the home team. Palace were rarely troubled in a first half that saw dominant displays across the team, with the returning Megan Chandler and the industrious Lilli Maple controlling the game from midfield. However, it was another in-form central player who opened the scoring for Palace in the 28th minute, when Ciara Sherwood added another to her tally for the season, with a free-kick whipped in, from the left hand channel, to which the ‘keeper could only get a hand to, before it nestled in the top corner.
The Palace domination continued throughout the first period and further goals could have been added, if it were not for some resolute defending by the hosts.
“The team went in at half time, knowing that they had bossed the game, but equally aware that they were only the one goal to the good,” commented Davenport. “In the past, on performances like the first half, we may have come in a few goals up, but the reality is, the teams we play have got stronger and are keeping themselves in games, so we knew that we still had a job to do.”
The second half started with QPR looking to maximise the position that they were in, being the sole goal behind. Their industry was notable and caused the Palace midfield more concern than the opening forty-five minutes. Again, Chandler was in fine form, controlling the play and regularly turning defence into attack, of which Palace had a number, without adding to the score. However, in the sixty-third minute, QPR breached the midfield and capitalised on a mistake within the Palace defence, following which the subsequent cross was turned into the Palace net, with QPR’s Mara Deluca claiming the goal.
Palace were immediately fired into a response and within a minute of the restart, the pace, power and accuracy of Gemma Bryan were demonstrated as she powered down the wing, cut into the box and instead of shooting, lay the ball into the path of the incoming Ellie Bailes, (pictured) who tapped home from close range.
The conceding of the QPR goal had clearly woken Palace, and they looked to respond further, and take a grip of the game, as they had in the first half. Late substitutions Stenning for Sherwood and Rowlands for Bryan, perhaps highlighted one of the differences between the sides; demonstrating the strength in depth that Palace have, this season; something that Davenport focussed on, after the match.
“We are really pleased with the result today, and of course, the three points. The girls put in a god shift and it was good to see the levels of performance, particularly in the first half. Today was as much about the three points, as we are keen to keep the pressure on those around us and continue to demonstrate our intent. What was good for us today, was the ability to change things in terms of starting line ups and substitutions. We had players coming back from injuries, who got valuable game time, and we had resilience on the bench – enough to ensure that our captain (Freya Holdaway) was not risked ahead of her first international call up. Perhaps what was most reassuring for the management was that we had a player who had been rested, ahead of this game (Megan Chandler) come back in and win the player of the match award. Again, showing our depths, even when we are still without Leesa (Haydock), Steff (Simmonds) and Nikita (Whinnett)”
Asked as to how the season run-in looked, Davenport added,
“It should be interesting. We still have to play the teams that are challenging around us, and they also have some tough games, beyond us. We are in a position to focus on our league games, whilst Charlton, to their credit, have some very significant cup action. With a number of key players returning, we hope to keep the strongest squad together and make the final third of the season something that everyone can enjoy.”
Next Sunday sees Palace Ladies at home to Swindon Town, with kick off at 2pm. The Eagles are likely to be without Freya Holdaway and Ciara Sherwood, who have both flown out on international duty with Northern Ireland, this week. Everyone at The Club would like to wish them the very best.