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Monday, 12 March 2012

Lincoln Ladies 0-1 Arsenal Ladies

Women's FA Cup 5th Round
 Over the last six months or so i have really started to take an interest in women's football. For the past couple of seasons we have threatened to watch Lincoln Ladies but never got round to it. After watching the Women's International at Doncaster, and then one of Lincoln Ladies friendlies, i decided to do as many LLFC games as i can this season. Lincoln Ladies are playing all their home matches at Lincoln United's Ashby Avenue this season with admission being £6


Lincoln Ladies are one of the top sides in England but today they faced a stern test. Arsenal have been the dominant force in women's football for the last 10-15 years or so and are the current Women's Super League champions (and also the current FA cup and Continental cup holders). Lincoln's task became even tougher (as if it wasn't already tough enough) On Friday when due to the WPS league in America going belly up Arsenal snapped up seasoned England Internationals Kelly Smith and Alex Scott.

Lincoln however have plenty of International class and experience in their ranks in the form of Striker Jess Clarke, Sophie Bradley (who is sadly injured at the moment), and current England Captain Casey Stoney; who recently earned her 100th cap during the Cyprus Cup.

Today felt like the first real day of spring so after stuffing ourselves stupid in Yo-Yos all you can eat Chinese, we headed to Ashby Avenue for a few beers in the sun before kick off. I have always found Lincoln United's clubhouse to be very welcoming and so it proved today. What i really liked was the relaxed atmosphere both inside and outside the ground, with both sets of fans mingling in the sunshine. As you enter the ground there is a table selling merchandise and smart looking matchday programmes were on sale for £1.50. It looks like the club is really trying to encourage families to watch women's football and had erected a bouncy castle in one corner of the ground for the kids to play on. Nearby a BBQ was doing a roaring trade and made me regret stuffing my face earlier on. The only downside was that the PA system was dreadful and made hearing the line ups pretty difficult but luckily both sides players had there names on the back of the shirts with Arsenals being in fancy premiership style writing. The Gunners were in their traditional red shirts with white socks while Lincoln wore the new two tone blue away kit which looked quite smart. I am not sure if Lincoln wore the blue to show off the new kit or if Ladies Football follows the same lines as Rugby when kits clash (i.e the home side wears the change kit of if the kits clash) Or if the new home strips aren't ready yet. Anyhow it didn't matter i think the blue kit looks smart.


In the build up to the match the Lincoln management had made the point of not giving Arsenal too much respect and standing up to them. To this end Eminem's "I am not afraid" rang out over the PA system as the two sides took to the pitch for the handshakes. I don't know if they picked this song especially to fire the Lady Imps up or if it was just a coincidence. Either way it was a great tune to pick for the occasion. I fancy a lot of teams have been overawed by Arsenal in the past and lost the game in their heads before they even took to the field. But not Lincoln. Today they went toe to toe with their illustrious visitors and matched them for much of the 90 minutes.

Lincoln took the kick off and proceeded to boot it straight into touch (why do teams do this?) Lincoln had Jess Clarke and new signing Precious Hamilton up front and the pair of them worked extremely hard doing all the dirty work of harrowing the Arsenal defenders; giving them no time to settle on the ball and forcing them to hit it long. Although Arsenal slightly shaded the possession of the ball, they only created one decent chance inside the first 10 minutes or so when a low fierce shot brought a great save from Nicola Hobbs in the Lincoln goal diving full stretch to her bottom right hand corner with Rachel Daly on hand to clear the danger. Arsenal were being kept quiet due to the form of another new signing  Australian international Laura Alleway, and Casey Stoney at the heart of the Lincoln defence, who both pretty much snuffed out any Arsenal attack.
Then on 15 minutes the Gunners took the lead when England international Ellen White fired home following a misplaced pass from the home side. It was tough on Lincoln but when you are up against a quality side you just know any mistake will be punished. After the goal Lincoln didn't let their heads drop and battled even harder. Arsenal looked like they weren't used to teams having a go at them and were starting to moan to the ref whenever possible. Remi Allen and Lucy Staniforth in the midfield weren't taking any prisoners and won pretty much every 50/50 ball they contested.
Hamilton was being a real thorn in Arsenal's side with Clarke looking to feed of her. For all Lincoln's hard work however, they failed to really test Byrne in the Gunners goal from open play. Where they did look dangerous was from set plays as Lincoln were getting quite a few kicks around the box due to fouls mainly on Clarke. With Alleway up from the back Lincoln had a real aerial threat and the Arsenal keeper started to flap at all the corners and free kicks that went into the box.
HT 0-1

The main worry when a team puts in as much effort as Lincoln did in the first half is that they will run out of steam in the second period and then get picked off later in the game. Arsenal have more than enough quality to do just this and had the likes of Rachel Yankee on the bench just to make sure. Although much of the second period was spent in the midfield Lincoln never gave up. Chances were few and far between although Lincoln were getting some joy down there right hand side with full back Sophie Walton making some good runs forward and forcing the Arsenal winger to start trekking back. Again neither side really forced the others goal keeper to make a meaningful save of any note.  Lincoln did get in to the final third on quite a few occasions but lacked a real cutting edge (as did Arsenal it has to be said) In the end Arsenal were able to see the game out although i am sure that they knew they were in a game. Not many sides will match Arsenal this season like Lincoln did today and if the Gunners do go on to retain the cup i doubt they will have a tougher match that this.
FT 1-0

I haven't seen any attendance figures but i would have said there was a good 250-300 fans in attendance. Arsenal did bring a few but they were very quiet (just like the old 'Highbury the Library' days) If you haven't been down to watch the Lady Imps then you really are missing out.  As the league runs through the summer the weather is normally great, you can take your beer into the ground and you can pretty much sit where you want. The food looks great and the club really values your support. Its been a terrible few years in Lincoln footballing wise with City, United, and Moorlands all struggling in recent seasons so get yourself down and watch a Lincoln side that can play and its only £6!

Lincoln's Lady of the Match went to Laura Alleway who was the standout player for Lincoln today (with Jess Clarke a close second IMO) Reading the programme she says she is a big surfing fan and looking foward to doing some surfing because she misses it. I wonder if when she signed for the club she was told about the wonderful Skegness beach and its surfing possibilities. If that's what clinched the signing then hats of to the Lincoln managment team, it would be interesting to hear how she rates Skeg compared to the golden beaches of Australlia.
Skegvegas!!

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