Palace Ladies were edged out of the SSE Women’s FA Cup on Sunday, by fellow FAWPL contenders, Coventry United Ladies.
In a fixture that is always closely contested, the match started at a pace and had twists and turns a plenty.
The early stage of the game proved to show that Palace had not played for a few weeks and this was capitalised on by the Midlanders. As early as the fifth minute, Coventry were awarded a penalty, converted by Helen Dermody and Palace found themselves a goal behind.
The game, from that point, ignited and saw a combative performance from both teams, with Palace, initially struggling to take a grip on the game, often due to an effective and tactical midfield display by Coventry. On the occasions that Palace did break through, notably Gemma Bryan and Ellie Bailes, some last ditched defending prevented a Palace equaliser.
Despite frustrations felt by players and crowd alike, at some of the decisions against them, The Eagles battled hard to assert some dominance. The unique nature of the match continued in the thirty-sixth minute when Coventry player Keely Davies fell awkwardly following a tackle by Ciara Sherwood. Lying motionless, it was clear that there was a problem – one that ultimately led to the conclusion of the first half being delayed by around an hour, whilst treatment was undertaken and an ambulance awaited.
The half ultimately resumed, with Palace looking far more assertive; concluding after nine minutes – for the fifteen minute half time break!
Palace came out in the second half with renewed purpose and clarity, dominating possession with far higher quality play, as they returned to their usual rhythm. Chances were created and denied, until the sixty-third minute when Nikita Whinnett, in her first match after a long injury lay off, crashed home an angled volley off the underside of the Coventry bar to make it 1-1, in what was now a floodlit and archetypal cup tie. Despite the vast improvement of the Palace performance and multiple chances, Coventry managed to repel wave after wave of Palace attacks, even as late as the last minute when Sherwood went so close for Palace, but was denied by the ‘keeper. Almost inevitably, a match that was almost three hours old by full time, entered extra time, to add another chapter to a bizarre afternoon in Chislehurst.
The additional thirty minutes saw Palace continue to threaten and Coventry whose resilience continued, kept the score line level – aided by a number of notable saves by from visitors’ ‘keeper.
Naturally, the final chapter of the story of the game was the dreaded penalty shoot-out, with the match ending 1-1.
Following an afternoon of every conceivable incident, now capped by penalty saves and misses it was Coventry who ultimately triumphed, winning out 3-2 on spot kicks in a nail biting conclusion to a quite incredible match; the visitors progressing to the fourth round.
Speaking after the game, a bemused Dean Davenport concluded,
“Naturally, we have a group of disappointed players in the changing room tonight. Whilst we were not at our best to start with, I thought we were fantastic in the second half and extra time. The girls showed real resilience and professionalism to deal with the delay and comeback. And to be honest, we were probably the team most likely to win in game time. As for the penalties? It is a shame that such a game comes down to that, and even more so that, just as against Spurs in the cup last season, we were edged out. But that doesn’t take anything away from what the players put in today.
That said, to be honest, when you see a player suffer an injury concern as we did today, the real importance is how she is, what was done to ensure her welfare and that she is OK. Everyone connected to Palace wish Keeley the very best.”
Asked as to looking forwards, Davenport added,
“We are in good shape as we focus on some hugely important league games ahead, so we need to take those positives and really push on. We would love to have progressed in The Cup today, but we know how important the next few months are in terms of The League, on and off the pitch, and that will now take one hundred percent of our focus.
With injured players returning and new signings available, we are in a good place as we head into the Gillingham game next weekend. We hope that the fans can come along and back us as they did today. They were excellent – and had all that entertainment for £4!”
*The news on Keeley at this time is that she suffered a broken rib and damage to her coccyx, but travelled back to Coventry on Sunday night and is recovering. Everyone at Crystal Palace FC wish her a speedy recovery and Coventry the best in the next round.
Palace Ladies host Gillingham Ladies next Sunday at Bromley FC. Kick off is at 2pm with further details, this week across Palace Ladies social media.