Monday, 14 May 2012

Lincoln Ladies 4-3 Arsenal ladies

Continental cup group stage matchday two

Every football club has matches that are remembered as defining moments in its history. Manchester United's win over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup which saved Sir Alex Ferguson from the sack. Liverpool's win in the 2005 Champions League final, our very own Lincoln City's 2-0 over Wycombe which gave us the GMVC championship and promotion back to the Football League.
 In my view Lincoln Ladies football club will remember this day in much the same way as the other matches mentioned are remembered by their fans. The day that the rest of women's football sat up and took note. Arsenal have been the bench mark in women's football for the past 15 years and the Lady Imps have never got the better of them. Then ran them close in the FA Cup game at the start of the season but didn't really create many chances. Today they went one better and gained the win.

The Continental Cup is a competition for the 8 sides in the FA Womens Super league. The sides are split into two groups of four teams with the top two sides in each group going through to the semi final stage. Lincoln had been drawn alongside Liverpool, Chelsea, and the holders Arsenal; each side plays the others once. Lincoln had a bit of fortune with the draw as we get to play two home matches (Arsenal and Liverpool) and one away (Chelsea). After the draw its fair to say that most people expected Arsenal to win the group and the other three to fight over the second spot. In matchday one Lincoln scored a good 1-2 away win at Chelsea and Arsenal beat Liverpool away 3-0. All that meant that if Lincoln (or Arsenal) could win today they would claim a semi final spot, so the stakes were high.
I was a bit concerned that the gate for this game could well be a little on the low side. Quite a lot of City fans watch the Lady Imps and quite a few of them had got much sought after tickets for Gainsborough Trinity's promotion playoff final down the road. It was also the climax of the Premiership season and we all know that Lincoln has a high percentage of armchair Premiership fans who rarely go and watch any of the football clubs the City has to offer. In the end the crowd was excellent (helped by a promotion in the local paper) and will live long in the memory of every Lincoln supporter. Arsenal are (as normal) top of the league but (by their very high standards) having a bit of a wobble. They were recently knocked out the Champions League by Frankfurt and lost in the Women's FA Cup semi finals to Chelsea. The Lady Imps have played three league games and recorded a win, a loss, and a draw.

There were a couple of reunions on the pitch today. In goal for Arsenal was former Imps keeper Sophie Harris. Lincoln centre back Meaghan Sergeant was signed from Arsenal in the summer. Imps Captain Casey Stoney has also spent time at Arsenal during her career. Casey, who was celebrating her 30th birthday today, was on the bench today so i can only assume that she was carrying a slight knock. In her absence Sophie Walton took the armband and did a great job at captaining the side. I am not sure this Gunners line up had many changes from normal in it, apart from the goalkeeper, but any side that has the quality such as England international Rachel Yankee and Alex Scott in it is going to cause you problems. Arsenal have quality in all departments and a quality squad through out. In short you never get an easy game against them in any competition.
The Gunners were quick out of the blocks and forced the Lady Imps onto the back foot. They had already  blazed a chance over the bar in the first few minutes before they were awarded a penalty on six minutes when Gemma Davison weaved her way into the box and was bundled over thus giving the Gunners a penalty. Nicola Hobbs in the Lincoln goal guessed right and saved the penalty only for Kim Little to fire in the rebound.
This seemed to wake Lincoln up as we began to attack alot more. In the FA cup match between the sides Lincoln caused the Gunners problems with their set pieces and aerial threat.When Jess Clarke is on form there are very few players in the league that can deal with her and she made several great runs down the Lincoln right. Arsenal then adopted the same tactic as Birmingham did when playing against her. i.e just foul her. Lincoln caused a few problems from the free kicks and corners that she won and it soon became clear that Harris in the Gunners goal wasn't very confident about claiming the ball.
Lincoln looked like they had a decent shout for a penalty of their own when Megan Harris was bundled over in the box when going for a high ball but the ref was unmoved. I thought it was a spot kick but then i would do wouldn't i?
Following another foul on Jess Clarke, Lucy Staniforth sent a killer free kick towards a crowded area which Harris did well to parry out for a corner. From the resulting corner Staniforth again put in a first class delivery which Meaghan Sargeant met with a bullet header from about two yards out to get the Imps back on level terms. The Arsenal keeper ended up in the back of the net along with several other players and appeared to have taken a knock. As she lay on the ground receiving treatment several of the Arsenal players had surrounded the ref and were complaining about the goal and saying it should have been disallowed. Personally i think their skipper Gilly Flaherty took the protest too far and was lucky not to receive a card for dissent (Mouthing off in other words). I think we can deduce that the Arsenal ladies skipper looks to the men's side for advice on how to approach referees.
Goal! 1-1 and no amount of moaning will change it!
 Arsenal were clearly rattled now and had no answer to the set plays of Lincoln, or to Precious Hamilton and Jess Clarke's pace.
Even England international full back Alex Smith was struggling against Clarke, and after yet another foul was booked, and not before time if i am honest. From the resulting free kick Staniforth sent the ball in hard and low towards the near post. The ball took a touch off somebody and ended up in the back of the net. My initial reaction was that Rachel Daly got the last touch but it seems to have been given as an own goal. Either way it was 2-1 to Lincoln and the game had turned on its head in 9 minutes.
It was now Arsenal's time to roll up their sleeves and dig in. Although they had been under the cosh for the last twenty minutes or so they didn't panic and showed why they are the benchmark in the women's game. On 36 minutes Arsenal's Steph Houghton picked up a ball from the right, split the Lincoln centre backs, and drilled a low finish past Hobbs in the Lincoln goal. A cool finish under pressure and game on again. That goal seemed to calm the game down a bit as both sides seemed to be content to sit back till halftime. I felt sorry for Nic Hobbs in the Lincoln goal as all she had had to do was save a penalty, take a few goal kicks and pick the ball out of the net twice.

HT 2-2 We made our journey round the the clubhouse end of the ground which Lincoln would be attacking in the second half. Lincoln were out a good 5 minutes or so before Arsenal were and were put through a series of running exercises by the Imps fitness coach.

The second half struggled to live up to the first with Arsenal keeping the Imps at arms length but the Imps back line held firm against the Gunners. Hamiliton had a couple of good chances and runs, but chances were few and far between. Arsenal then took the lead when Kim Little latched onto a through ball, rounded Hobbs on her left hand side, and slid the ball home to give the Arsenal the lead for the second time in the afternoon. Big test coming up for Lincoln here me thinks.

The Imps didn't let their heads drop and upped their game once again. Midfield enforcer Remi Allen burst into the box and was dragged down thus winning a penalty. She dusted herself down and took the penalty and sent Harris the wrong way to level up the scores on 77 minutes. The game was turning into a classic and you couldn't pick a winner. Then in the 90th minute cometh the hour cometh the Imp.
didnt get the zoom to work in time. Doh
Lincoln digital ambassador Megan Harris who has been at the club for the last 9 years or so said in a recent Q&A on facebook that she really wanted to add some goals to her game but i am not sure that even she envisaged getting a goal like this. In the last minutes the ball fell to her 30 yards out Megan then met it on the volley and struck it sweetly into the top of the net giving the keeper no chance at all I have seen 90 games this season and i am sure that i haven't seen a better goal than that. It was a sublime strike that no amount of description for me can do justice to. The goal brought the house down and you could tell how much the goal meant to the Lincoln players as they did a mass pile on on top of Harris. Even Nic Hobbs ran 3/4 the length of the pitch to join in!
As normal in a situation like this he added on time seemed to drag but eventually the ref blew up for time and the Lady Imps had done it. They had beaten Arsenal, and thanks to Chelsea's 2-1 win over Liverpool, had booked their place in the semi final.
Pile on!!
In a performance like this is is really tough to pick out a lady of the match. Everybody had a great game and worked their socks off, you don't get a result against Arsenal unless you have all eleven players on top form. Despite Megan's wonder goal i would give the award to Lucy Staniforth. Her set pieces were top draw all afternoon. She took all the free kicks and the corners (from both sides of the pitch)  Arsenal never looked comfortable at defending them and they were the main difference between the sides.

The upshot of all this is that Lincoln now have 6 points, Arsenal and Chelsea each have 3, with Liverpool on 0, rock bottom of the group and eliminated for the tournament. If Lincoln gain a point at home to Liverpool in the final round of games they will win the group. Arsenal take on Chelsea in a winner takes all clash. However Arsenal do have the better goal difference.

Now that all the men's football has finished there isnt any excuse for not getting yourself down to Ashby Avenue to suport the Lady Imps. Next Sunday they are at home again this time back in League action. The opponents?...Yep you guessed it, good old Arsenal again. Something tells me they will be out for revenge...

Bring it on!!

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