By Kieran Moriarty
It was deja vu for Collingwood A in the Womens’ Floodlit Cup Final, as the defending champions retained their title with a narrow 1-0 win against a spirited Aidans A side. Ultimately the game was decided by the finest of margins, namely a second half goal from Smith which broke Aidans’ hearts.
This final presented an interesting subplot considering the matchup of these two Premiership sides. As has been the routine for several seasons, Collingwood A went into the final as league leaders of the Premiership, currently unbeaten for the season and with the highest goals scored and lowest number of goals conceded tallies in the division. In contrast, Aidans A were hovering above the relegation zone. However league positions only tell half the story. In contrast to their Premiership stalwart opponents, the Aidans Maidens are currently enjoying their first campaign in the Premiership following promotion last season and have exceeded all expectations so far, proving to be a well-drilled team whom have steadily improved as the season has progressed. Although league form would have suggested the Aidanties were the underdogs going into the game, the 3-2 classic which both teams contested earlier in the season indicated that this final was finely poised to be a contest in which anything could happen.
Immediately from the kick off, it was apparent that both teams were affected by the sense of occasion of this final. Consequently, both were guilty of being sloppy in possession and hitting long balls for strikers to chase and gamble on. Each defence proved to be composed and dealt with these route one tactics with ease.
As the game developed, players on both sides began to emerge as threats. For Aidans’, Uni Womens’ footballer Kate Bradley was demonstrating her class in the midfield, dominating the central area in the air and producing some deft linkup play with striker Sophie Forster, in an attempt to fashion some chances. One particularly mazy run saw Bradley beat three Collingwood players, before firing a low cross into the Collingwood area, in which there was no maroon shirt on the end of it to convert.
Nevertheless as the minutes ticked by, Collingwood gradually began to prove their title winning credentials and put pressure on Aidans’. The league leaders soon had far more possession of the ball and began to exploit the left wing in an attempt to breach the Aidans’ defence. Stockbridge was causing havoc down this side, troubling Annie Tonks with her rapid pace. Naturally, Collingwood’s winger was involved in the first clear cut chance of the game. An incisive through ball found Stockbridge and she raced to the by-line, before cutting back the ball. The ball was met by an onrushing Smith but she was only able to blaze her shot over the bar.
Captains Rachel Thorpe and Kate Petty were at the heart of the action, fighting for the cause for their respective teams in a game which was bogged down in the midfield area. With both ladies knowing chances were at a premium, they were leading by example by putting in some sterling challenges and trying to create any opportunities whatsoever. Thorpe in particular went on a marauding run upfield in which she demonstrated some fancy footwork to bamboozle some Collingwood defenders before winning a corner.
Aidans soon had a chance of their own, courtesy of the impressive Bradley. With a rare bit of space and time to kill, Bradley unleased a long range effort, which flashed over the bar, offering a statement of intent from the Aidans’ Maidens. However it was Collingwood who would finish the half with the game’s best opportunity. A corner on the stroke of half time caused havoc in the Aidans’ penalty box and was eventually cleared off the line from a Bradley header. Much to their relief, the referee signalled half-time to end what had been a close opening half.
With both teams aware with what was on the line, it was no surprise that the second half was a far more frenetic affair. Within minutes, there was controversy as Collingwood thought they had taken the lead. A cute through ball found Hassall, who clinically smashed the ball home, cueing huge celebrations. However their joy was immediately cut short as the linesman ruled out the goal as offside. The game restarted with Collingwood aggrieved and with Aidans’ under no illusion that they had received a warning of the threat their opponents posed.
Minutes later, Collingwood did get their goal and this time, it stood. Thorpe conceded what appeared to be a very soft free kick for a foul on the right wing. From the subsequent free kick, Hassall delivered a brilliant curling delivery into the packed penalty area. This cross was met by a smart run from Smith, who managed to flick the ball goal wards with a deft header which gave Brown no chance in goal.
From this point, it became an exercise in game management. Aidans’ had to gamble and began to have more possession of the ball in their search for an equaliser. However despite their best efforts and some good passing football, they could not break down the sturdy Collingwood defence. The latter stages of the game became a pitched battle in which both sides were able to do very little in terms of chances.
As the final whistle blew, Collingwood and their fans launched into ecstatic celebrations as they celebrated the successful defence of their title. For Aidans, it was a bittersweet experience. They had lost via an arguably harsh free kick but had proven categorically that they were capable of being more than a match for the Premiership leaders, who have delivered their fair share of thrashings to teams higher above them in the division. Based on this performance, there should be no doubts that the Aidans Maidens will secure Premiership safety and be playing in the top division next season.
As for Collingwood, sitting pretty at the top of the Premiership and with the Floodlit Cup in the trophy cabinet, a potential treble could be on the cards. After the game, Collingwood captain Kate Petty had this to say to Palatinate Sport. “It was a really close game and once again Aidans’ proved a tough side to break down. It was a good fight and the girls played brilliantly. We’re now unbeaten in 10 games and have to focus on the league now. But to win the Floodlit Cup again is fantastic!”
This was a very close game. However soon there will be the opportunity for scores to be settled in the quarter finals of the Womens’ Football Trophy as both teams meet again. Based on their last two meetings, one would bet it will be another game which will be too close to call.
Photograph: Kieran Moriarty