Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Lincoln Ladies 2-0 Chelsea Ladies

After a short break for the Euro 2013 qualifiers which for England included a fine 2-0 home win over Holland and a 4-0 away battering of Slovenia, it was back to the bread and butter stuff of the WSL action this weekend as Lincoln Ladies welcomed Chelsea Ladies to Ashby Avenue. Although Lincoln have recorded a couple of wins in the cup this season at home, they are yet to gain a home win in the league this season. Having drawn with Birmingham 2-2, Arsenal 3-3 and suffered a 1-2 defeat to Doncaster so far.
The league is starting to settle down and three points for Lincoln would get them back into the bunch of clubs just above them (one being Chelsea) on 8 points. A defeat for the Imps would leave them looking over their shoulders at the bottom two Doncaster and Liverpool.
Beating Chelsea is easier said than done though as they are having a decent season. The highpoint for them i would say was beating Arsenal in the FA Cup semi final and they were only seconds away from lifting the trophy until a late Birmingham equaliser denied them before the lost they lost on penalties.
They are however the league's entertainers; having scored the most goals but also let a few in. Lincoln have also scored and conceded a fair few, so it had all the makings of a highly entertaining game.The sides had already met once this season when Lincoln gained a good 2-1 away win on matchday one of the continental cup.
In truth what we actually got was a classic case of a game of two halves. Jess was still out injured so Carla Cantrell and Precious Hamilton again led the line up front for the Imps. In Casey Stoney (a former Chelsea player) and Sophie Bradley, Lincoln had the same centre back pairing that had kept clean sheets for England in the past week, and with them now playing a handful of games together this season i hoped that we would see a much more solid back line for the Imps than we had  in recent weeks.

Normally i go behind the goal that Lincoln attack but because we had the rare occurrence of a sunny day in Lincs i chose to stand behind the goal Lincoln were defending as it is the open end of the ground. As it turned out it was the best choice as most of the action was at that end. Chelsea seemed to be quicker to the ball and had more of the play in the first half. The blues seemed to be most dangerous down their left hand side. This meant that Sophie Walton had to be on the top of her game but she was more than up to the task, with Remi Allen helping out to cover the back four. The two of them scrapped like mad in the first half and stopped the Chelsea attack in its tracks. Although the visitors had more of the ball they didn't really make Nic in the Lincoln goal make a save. Chelsea thought they were in when a misplaced cross from Casey Stoney was picked up by Chelsea but Sophie Bradley was there to help her partner out.
 One of the problems for Lincoln was that the front two were coming back to defend which meant that when we got the ball back our strikers were in our own half so it made it hard to exert some pressure of our own when we won the ball back.
Chelsea missed the best chance of the game when one of the strikers missed a decent chance when a ball fell to one of the strikers following a corner, but thankfully from a Lincoln point of view she flicked it over the bar with the outside of her boot. After that chance Lincoln settled a bit more and spent more time in the opposition's half, although neither side created a clear cut chance. Lincoln gained a few free kicks after some uncompromising Chelsea tackles but Lucy Stainforth's deliveries into the box failed to create a chance for the Imps.
I was glad when halftime arrived as it gave manger Glen Harris time to reassess the situation and work out a way to get the Lincoln midfield on the ball more and play in the Chelsea half alot more.
Glen Harris deep in thought
It was a cagey opening to the second half as both sides looked to keep the ball much better than in the first period. Lincoln won a free kick inside the first minute but Collette McCallum fired her free kick straight at the keeper. A few minutes later the comedy moment of the match arrived, when Rachel Daley managed to hack the ball clear and sent it into Remi Allen's head, but she was soon up and raring to go again.
A game changing moment happened in the 60th minute. Chelsea gained a free kick about 25 yards out and Danielle Buet stepped up to take it. It was a great effort that crashed against the bar and was cleared to safety; it was a cracking free kick but i am sure that Nic would have had it covered if the ball was on target.
Chelsea were ruing that about five minutes later when Carla Cantrell latched onto a through ball and chipped the ball over the advancing Telford in the Chelsea goal to give the Imps the lead. Normally when a side goes behind you get a response but in this case it seemed to fire the Imps up even more. Precious had a couple of chances to put the game to bed and we even got a sight of centre back Stoney getting forward and slinging in a decent cross. Katie Rood was introduced into the action and she harassed the Chelsea defence and didn't allow them to settle. With the clock ticking down and the Imps manager shouting at the side to keep the ball Cantrell put the game to bed, when instead of taking the ball to the corner decided to cut inside and fire in a shot which hit the inside of the post and went in to give Lincoln a 2 goal lead and the three points. And it was a crucial three points as this win lifted the Imps up to third place in the table, three points behind Birmingham who are in the second Champions League spot. It has to be said though that four clubs (Lincoln, Bristol, Everton, and Chelsea ) are all on 8 points and only separated on goal difference.

The talking point in the aftermath of the game was regarding some of the comments made by the Chelsea management team in the official match report on the WSL site. I have read it and will give you my views on certain things that he said.

"Lincoln are not a better side than us in my opinion"

(Lincoln have now beaten Chelsea twice this season, once home, once away)

"They didn't win a corner all game and that shows you what kind of side they are"

Goals win games not corners. Not forcing corners doesn't mean you are negative. Could it be that most of our shots were on target and the keeper held them instead of putting them out for a corner?

He also made a reference to Lincoln "not being great upfront". I will agree that we didn't create many chances today but the ones that we did create we took, and how many other sides have knocked 7 goals in two games past League leaders Arsenal? We have only scored two goals less than Chelsea in the League this season and have had our most dangerous player out through injury for the past month or so.

I understand that football is an emotional game and things do sometime get said in the heat of the moment but this kind of stuff does few favours for anybody. What it has done is written Glen Harris' team talk for the away game with Chelsea, and if twitter is anything to go by the girls will be pretty fired up for that one. A bus load of angry fired up women isn't something i would want to experience.

On a much happier note i just want to say a big well done to Meaghan Sargeant who now goes away with the England U19's for their European championship in Turkey. This does mean that the Imps will miss her for a couple of games but it does mean she will get a decent tan and hopefully help England to win the championship.
Meaghan Sargeant
And on the same theme its great to see both Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley called up to represent Team GB in the Olympics later this summer. I have no doubt that you will both do your club and country proud.

291 witnessed the game today. Lets see if we can beat that next week against Bristol on Saturday

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

England Ladies v Holland Ladies

As most people with a pulse will know, we are currently halfway through the 2012 European football championship. As is the norm whenever there is a major football championship, English pride is at its peak.The pubs are packed, people who don't normally follow football are glued to matches such as the Czech Rep v Poland and debating who should be England's 3rd choice right back. Plus all the shops have stocked up with unofficial England "merchandise" (Or cheap England tat if you want my take on it) Face paint, red and white wigs; you get the drift.
Takeways and off licenses are also doing a roaring trade with my former Taekwondo sponsor the Retford Charcoal Grill in particular seeing an increase in business from all at Mind of an Imp HQ. Last night England recorded a fine 3-2 win over Sweden to give them a great chance of reaching the knock out phase of the competition. All of a sudden all the bitching about good old "Arry" not getting the England job seems to have disappeared.
The aftermath of England v Sweden at HQ

While the Mens side are away in Eastern Europe the Ladies side face a huge match in their quest to qualify for the 2013 Ladies European championship in Sweden. Group leaders the Netherlands were in town and before the game sat 5 points ahead of England having played one game more. Only one team qualifies automatically from the group, with the second placed side going into the playoffs. For England to have any real chance of winning the group they really needed to win this game. A draw here and a win for the Dutch in Serbia in their last group match, would see them win the group regardless of what England did in their remaining matches against Slovenia(A) and group whipping girls Croatia.(H)

The venue for today's encounter was the City of Salford stadium which is home to the Salford City Reds Rugby league side who currently sit 10th out of 14 teams in Superleague. The ground is a new stadium and was only opened for the start of the current season. I must admit that I was a tad surprised at the choice of venue. Not the area of the country that the game was being played in. I think it is great that the Ladies side play their matches around the country as it helps to promote and build the game and its about time that the North west got a piece of the action.
What I was surprised at was the FA's decision at choosing a rugby ground to host it when I am sure that the likes of Oldham, Stockport, Bury, and Rochdale would have jumped at the chance at hosting a match like this as it would have given one of them a shot in the arm when lower league football is really struggling. I like to see all levels of football helping each other out so in my view this was an opportunity lost. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the City of Salford stadium or that they didn't do a good job hosting the event, I just felt the FA missed a trick here in helping out lower league football. I wonder if the RFL will return the favour and play a Ladies rugby international match at Sincil Bank or Spotland in the future?
The big news to have come out of the England Ladies camp over the past couple of months has been the appointment of Lincoln Ladies captain Casey Stoney as full time England Captain after Faye White retired to start a family. In truth it wasn't a huge surprise as Casey was the Vice Captain before and has captained England in a number of occasions in the past during her 100 plus cap career. As a Lincoln fan its great to see one of our players given this honour and I am sure that she will be a fantastic Captain for England. For those reading this who haven't seen or heard her before i have dugout a fun interview she did at an England training camp when she was interviewed by fellow Lady Imp Jess Clarke and former Lady Imp Sue Smith.

It may not be the most serious interview the football world has ever seen but its a hell of alot more interesting than hearing the England Men's Captain good old  Stevie G droning on and on reeling out cliché after cliché in every press conference.
Casey wasn't the only Lady Imp on England duty today as fellow defender Sophie Bradley had also received a call up. I am pretty sure that Jess Clarke would have been in the squad (She has been in the last few and scored against Serbia last time out for England) but her injury sustained against Arsenal a few weeks ago put her out of contention for the squad for today's match and Tuesday's away game in Slovenia. I am sure England will want to get her back fit just as much as Lincoln do.

We had booked tickets for today's match a few weeks ago with the cost being a very reasonable £5.50. Today's game was also being screened live on BBC 2 which is another boost to the Ladies game. Although interest is nowhere near as big as it is in the Men's game, things like the BBC screening live games and the success of the WSL show to me that the Ladies game is moving in the right direction and interest is growing. Slowly but surely is the message.
Even with one or two hold ups and a 50 mile an hour stretch on the motorway we still managed to arrive about an hour and a half before kick off. One problem about these new stadiums is that they are often built in the middle of nowhere until other units, Pubs, and Fast food outlets etc. are built along side. Sadly this was the case here as there is very little around the stadium for adult fans to do (Go for a drink etc) The pubs i had been told about were a good 20 minute walk away which didn't seem very appealing.
It was a different story for younger fans and families as the FA and the WSL had really put on a great range of activities for kids to get involved with, ranging from a mini football game, face painting, and various football skill challenges. There were also a few stalls selling women's football magazines and other bits and bobs. The WSL League winners trophy was on display so it would have been rude not have had my picture taken with it wouldn't it?
 Lets hope its on its way to Lincoln in the not too distant future dressed in red, white, and black ribbons. All of this was a huge improvement on the last qualifier at Doncaster which had precisely nothing for the fans to do pre game. Its great to see stuff like this and although as a slightly overweight 33 year old male with no kids it wasn't really my scene, but its great to see the FA doing stuff like this to get kids into sport and make it a real day out for them. The weather was pretty good so it really was crying out for a fan's beer tent to be set up. Perhaps theme the beer to whoever was the opposition? The Dutch have a fine range of lagers that are perfect for afternoons like this. There you go FA, another idea for you to help market the game to fans.

Speaking of the Dutch, a small but very vocal group of their fans had made the trip to support their side and were milling around outside the ground before kick off. A few of their number were dressed in the traditional Dutch national team fans uniform. That being and all orange suit, fluffy clogs, and crazy head wear. In this case big fluffy lion's manes (Because of the lion on the Dutch FA's badge i assume) The outfit is completed with a Dutch national team scarf. They seemed very friendly and were happily posing for photos for people and chatting to fans in between chanting "Holland (Clap clap clap) Holland" and banging on various instruments. This was quite funny at first but quickly got a tad irritating. This is the first time i have ever seen anything like this at a football game. Its certainly not the kind of thing you see at Barrow away on a September evening. I didn't get a picture of them outside the ground but did take one of them with the England mascots inside the ground.
One thing that was proving to be quite elusive was the matchday programme, but after making a few enquiries we found that they were on sale from a small window next to where people were collecting their matchday tickets. It cost the standard £3 and was a decent read, as is the norm with England programmes.
Once inside the ground you find a tidy new style stadium. We were sat opposite the main stand which was larger than the stand we were sat in. At either end of the ground there are terraces although only the central bits of the terraces were open as the sides were covered with huge England banners. With it being a UFEA match no beer was on sale inside the ground. On the plus side this gave us chance to watch the sides warm up and it was noticeable that the Dutch were first out by a good ten minutes or so. Another noticeable feature was that we seemed to have ended up in the block of seats that the majority of Dutch fans had bought tickets for. Cue more chanting and instrument playing. They did add a bit of colour and atmosphere to the day but we decided to move once the game kicked off to save our ear drums slightly. Its good though to see that rival football fans can sit together and have a bit of banter without kicking seven bells out of each other.
England started the match with a defence made in Lincoln as Sophie Bradley lined up alongside skipper Casey Stoney. Given that England had to win tonight i was surprised to see that it was the Dutch who settled first and looked a bit sharper than England on the ball. Given what was at stake its perhaps not a surprise that neither side dominated or carved out many clear cut chances. England were looking dangerous on the counter attack and saw a great chance go begging when Eniola Aluko ran clear with the ball but elected to shoot when a better option (in my view) would have been to have passed to the unmarked Jill Scott to her left. Scott was playing a bit further forward than she did in the last game v Serbia and was causing plenty of trouble with her height
At the other end the Dutch fans thought their side had taken the lead but thankfully from a England fans
perspective Manon Milis' shot hit the side netting. Chances-wise that was pretty much for the first half.
 The Dutch would have been happy with the way that they went about their work. England had been disappointing and i am sure Hope Powell; the England boss, would be eager for her side to up their work rate. About 10 minutes or so before halftime i snuck off to sample the food on offer. For £2.80 i bagged a hotdog that was different in the respect that it had two smaller sausages in it instead of one long one. It was pretty average stuff and not a patch on the splendid tucker served up by the Lady Imp caterers.
England looked like they had a wake up call in the dressing room at halftime as they looked a much better side in the second half and put the Dutch on the back foot right from the off. England had let the Dutch settle in the first half but they didn't repeat this mistake again. England won a free kick in a decent position but Rachel Yankee only managed to fire the freekick into the wall. Moments later England had their best chance of the game when Steph Houghton broke free but the Keeper was smartly off her line to smother the ball and just beat the England player to the ball.
Shortly after England were awarded another freekick in a similar position to the last one. As Yankee again lined it up i commented to my travelling companion that she couldn't do any worse than she did with the last one. Just as i said that she went and unleashed a fantastic shot right into the top corner which gave the Dutch keeper no chance.
1-0 England with 67 minutes gone.
Now it was the Dutch who needed the result and they had a great chance to draw level when one of their wingers sent in a curling cross that struck the inside post but thankfully the ball bounced back into the arms of  England keeper Rachel Brown before the on rushing Dutch players could pounce. That was pretty much the Dutch's only real effort as England's backline stayed pretty strong and it wasn't until injury time that Brown had a save of note to make when she had to hold on to a 20 yard thunderbolt.
It had been a game of few chances but the win for England was huge. Qualification for Euro 2013 is now in their own hands as two wins against Slovenia away (Live on the FA website) and Croatia at home in September will be enough to send them to Sweden as group winners.
As for the Dutch. Well its the playoffs for them but they could console themselves with the fact that they did actually gain some points in this group. Unlike their male counterparts over at Euro 2012. As of yet no venue has been decided for the last home match of the group against Croatia but i am hoping that its a London venue so i can take a couple of days off for it and be able to sink a few beers pre match. :)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lincoln Ladies v Liverpool Ladies Highlights.

Here's the highlights from Lincoln Ladies' 3-2 win over Liverpool Ladies in the Continental cup at the weekend. Enjoy chaps. The win means that Lincoln will now face Birmingham City at home in the semi finals which i believe are to be played on the first weekend of September. The other semi sees Bristol host holders Arsenal.

The first Liverpool goal is very similar to the kind of thing that use to happened to me and the guys when we were in our prime playing "up the field" in the mid to late 90's. As a member of the goalkeepers union i felt sorry for Nic in the Lincoln goal. These things are sent to test us as they say. She has made plenty of great saves this season and is far too good a keeper to let it get to her. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lincoln Ladies 3-2 Liverpool Ladies

Continental Cup group stage match day three.

On the face of it there wasn't an awful lot for either side to play for here today. Lincoln had already qualified from the group after a tight 2-1 win away at Chelsea and a cracking 4-3 win over holders Arsenal at Ashby Avenue. Liverpool on the other hand had lost both group games and had no chance of advancing to the semi finals. However with both Arsenal and Chelsea both on three points if the Imps had lost here today a win for either of them could see them top the group so Lincoln needed a point to make sure all their good work in the first two group games didn't go to waste.
Liverpool are having a poor season to date and are bottom of both the WSL and the Continental Cup group. In the league they had only managed to collect a solitary point from their 5 league games scoring four goals and shipping in 13. However after the Imps defeat to Doncaster last time out (who were before kick off, bottom of the league) I am sure they would not be taking anybody lightly.
This was the first home match of the season that was to be played on a Saturday so it was and ideal opportunity to take the train to the game and stop off at a few pubs and the chippy en route to the match. The Nosey Parker pub being a good halfway stopping point and decent place to watch some of the cricket. Luckily i was just getting to the ground when it started to rain which was a bit of a bugger as there was a cricket game waiting to take place at the pitch outside the football ground.
I had managed to pick up a Lincolnshire Echo on the way to the ground and had a good read of the sports section in the clubhouse while supping a pint. The Echo really seems to have upped its game this season with its regards coverage of the Lady Imps which is great to read. Its certainly better than reading the depressing stories about Lincoln City being skint. The main thrust of the interviews was the need to bounce back after the Doncaster game, and to make sure that their good start to the season didn't go to waste.
It was still pouring it down as we went through the turnstiles but it eased off just before kick off. The crowd did seem a little down on previous home matches. Whether it was down to the on/off rain, or the fact that the Imps already qualified for the semi finals i am not quite sure. It could be down to the fact that it was a Saturday. The Imps have rearranged a couple of Saturday games to be played on a Sunday so it maybe that Sunday is seen as WSL day for many folk. Whatever the reason it was strange that the crowd was about 100 or so down on the crowd from the Doncaster game that was played midweek.
Just another sunny Lincs afternoon.
On the pitch Sophie Bradley started her first game of the season alongside fellow England centre back Casey Stoney, in what was another new centre back partnership for the Imps this season. Meaghan Sargeant was given a start at Left back. With Jess Clarke still out the Imps went with Carla Cantrell and Precious Hamilton up front. So far this season the partnership hasn't quite sparked just yet but thankfully they played much better in this game and look like they are starting to understand each others game.
Nice to meet you, to meet you....
It was Lincoln who kicked the game off and proceeded to boot the ball straight out of play. They did quickly gain the upper hand however as Liverpool struggled to cope with the Imps' crisp passing football. The downpour before the game had certainly made the surface slicker which helped the Imps passing game. The first half-chance arrived after about 5 minutes or so when Precious skipped past the fullback and crossed the ball over to Collette McCallum who failed to get a good contact on the ball.  Minutes later she had another good chance when she collected a great crossfield pass, turned the Liverpool right back inside out, but after doing all the hard work unleashed a tame shot along the ground that was comfortably collected by Davis in the Liverpool goal. The Imps were winning a few corners and the Liverpool defence didn't look too comfortable in dealing with them as Lucy Staniforth's deliveries were as ever first class.

But then after making all the running in the game the Imps found themselves behind on 17 minutes and i am pretty sure they wont concede a more bizarre goal this season. Under no real pressure from Liverpool Sophie Bradley knocked a harmless looking back pass back to Nicola Hobbs for her to clear. However the ball took a bobble just as Nic went to clear it and nestled in the far corner of the net. This was a real howler for Lincoln but you can't really blame either party. It was just one of those freak incidents that happen in football from time to time i.e Paul Robinson in Croatia a few years ago. 99 times out of a hundred the keeper launches the ball. However the annoying thing about this kind of thing is that it never happens to a team when they are 4-0 up. It was a huge kick in the teeth for Lincoln and a good test of their mental strength and resolve. A test i am pleased to say they passed with flying colours as the game went on.
Lincoln went up the other end of the pitch and laid siege to the Liverpool goal. Sargeant hit a piledriver from just outside the box which drew the save of the day form Davis.
The Imps were soon level though and it was Carla Cantrell who grabbed the goal. Again it started with a Staniforth ball in. A shot was blocked by the Liverpool defence but the ball fell to Cantrell who spun and unleashed a powerful low shot into the back of the net; 1-1 with 25 minutes gone.
You would have thought that from now on Lincoln would go on and really take the game to their visitors but it was Liverpool who took the lead again. From a decent attack they won a corner and, just like Doncaster in the previous match, scored from it; Hannah Keryakoplis lost her marker and unleashed a bullet header into the back of the net. There are two ways you can look at this goal. From a Liverpool view you could argue that it was a well worked move to allow one of their players to break off and win a free header, but as a Imp it was disappointing to see the player get free and being allowed a free header. Manager Glen Harris made a point in his programme notes about the need for players to concentrate for the full 90 minutes and cut out individual mistakes so i am sure he would have been most unhappy with the marking for the goal.

Thankfully though Lincoln again hit straight back and again it came as the result of a corner (It would seem that nobody can defend corners in the WSL) Stainforth again sent in an absolute peach of a ball and following a goalmouth scramble Megan Harris managed to bundle the ball over the line for 2-2. It was the midfielder's third goal of the season and made her the club's top scorer this season.
Lincoln had a golden chance to take the lead in the last minute of the half when another Precious cross was poorly dealt with by the Liverpool keeper as she tipped it to McCallum at the back post who's volley went well wide.
That was the last action of an interesting first half and if the score stayed as it was Lincoln would have done enough to top the group regardless of what happened between Arsenal and Chelsea on Sunday. Although the defending from Lincoln had been suspect at times there were also plenty of positives. Meaghan Sargeant had made some good forward runs from full back and had looked solid defensively too. McCallum had managed to get into the box a few times and with a bit more luck could have grabbed herself a goal. The most pleasing aspect for me was the form of the front two, as both Hamilton and Cantrell had worked very hard for each other and were a real handful for Liverpool. Both Allen and Walton had also covered plenty of ground for the Imps in a half that Lincoln shaded overall.
It was Precious who had the first chance of the second half and it was a good chance as the shot was played through, the Liverpool defence appealed for an offside flag that never came and she fired her shot wide. Both managers looked like they had read their sides the riot act at halftime as the second half was much tighter with both sides looking a little more solid than in the first.
Lincoln started to make a few changes with Daly replacing Sargeant in a like for like swap. Hamilton again had a good chance but Davis just got a finger tip to her shot which flew across the face of the goal. The referee and his assistant somehow managed to miss the save and signalled for a goal kick. The fact that the Liverpool stopper smiled when one of the crowd shouted out "Nice save keep" said it all. It was a decent save as well by the way.
With about 20 minutes to go the Imps replaced CC with Martha Harris who was making her first appearance of the season and she showed some great touches and certainly got stuck into the Liverpool players. Hamilton was becoming a real pain for the Liverpool defence and on another day could have had a hat-trick; when she is in this mood she is pretty much unplayable. Not only was she creating chances for herself but she also set up chances for Allen and McCallum. Megan Harris had a decent chance to grab her second goal of the game but her header flashed just wide of the post.
Lincoln made their last change with Barker replacing Bradley but the game was looking like it was heading for a draw (which suited Lincoln.) Then Lincoln won a corner and from yet another trademark Staniforth delivery Lincoln (and England) Captain Casey Stoney rose majestically like a salmon to bury a header from about 5 yards out to give the Imps the lead for the first time in the match. So three goals for Lincoln and three assists from Lucy Staniforth who had a big hand in all three of them.
For the last 7 or 8 minutes or so Liverpool actually dominated more than they had done in the previous 80 odd minutes and had a flurry of free kicks and corners around the Lincoln box but the Imps managed to see the match out and make it three wins out of three in the Continental cup group stage, and they have certainly been entertaining with a total of nine goals scored and six goals conceded. There is never a dull moment when Lincoln Ladies are concerned, and as a fan its better to see a 3-2 battle than a 1-0 tussle, although i am sure the management team would beg to differ.

Before the match Glen Harris had said in his echo interview about the need for the side to show character. In coming from behind twice to win the game i felt they showed character by the bucket load today so a big tick can be put in that box. Especially impressive was the team's reaction to the first goal, with a special mention to Nic in the Imps goal. Incidents like this can destroy a keeper's confidence but she just brushed it off and got on with it. There are still defensive issues to resolve but that will come once we get a settled back four. Having secured top spot in the group the Ladies can sit back tomorrow with feet up, watch the Euro 2012 games on the box and wait to see who they will face in the semi finals.
Staying on the International theme. The Lady Imps have a couple of weeks off for the international break. I would like to congratulate Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley on their call up to the England squad for the European championship qualifier against the Netherlands at Salford. I am looking forward to cheering them on at the game next Sunday! (Got tickets a week or so ago)  Lets hope it's a fine England win.
Also on the International front its great to see Remi Allen, Sophie Walton, Lucy Staniforth, and Rachel Daly all called up for an England under 23 training camp. Congratulations to all involved and its great to see so many Lincoln players getting international recognition and it shows how bright the future is for Lincoln Ladies FC.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What to expect at Hucknall Town FC

Today I received information (from a rather shady source it has to be said) that another match had been added to the Imps' pre-season campaign. Hucknall Town are to provide opposition for the Imps on Saturday the 14th of July at their Watnall Road stadium.

Hucknall Town play at step 4 of the football pyramid (The Evo Stick premier division) which is the same league Lincoln United compete in and finished comfortably in midtable last time around.  This time last year the club were on the brink of being wound up so i am sure they will look back on the season just gone as a success.
They have recently installed a new manager and its the familiar face of Brett Marshall who guided Retford United to the NECL Premier division last season. Given this it wouldn't be a huge surprise if one or two former Retford players got a run out for the home side.
As for the ground itself, well its not the best nor the worst that you will see. You get two terraces behind each goal (one covered one not) And seating two thirds down one touchline There is a large clubhouse at one end of the ground to quench your thirst in, although the last time we went there was a second hand auction going on in there. Its also means you can have a decent drinking session around Nottingham and jump on a tram up to Hucknall. Admission for league games is £7, although no word on pre-season prices.
Here's a bit more info and pictures from the last blog i did at Hucknall Town v Retford United in pre season last year.

Hucknall Town v Retford United 

Just another tit bit of pre-season info. It appears that Newark Town are issuing a programme for their friendly at home to the Imps on the 24th of July. So no need to panic all you paper chasing Imps out there.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Lincoln Ladies 1-2 Doncaster Rovers Belles

Get well soon Jess!

When the fixtures came out at the start of the season it was the two matches against Doncaster that I was looking forward to the most. Lincoln and Doncaster have been long term rivals in the men's game over the years and now provide each other with the only local games in the WSL. Living in Retford, I have had to put up with plenty of Rovers fans giving in large over the past 7 years or so about how well their side have done, although they do seem to have quietened down a considerable amount the season just gone for some reason. Even so if the Imps won here tonight I fully intended to let the Donny fans at work know the result. 

When the club was named Doncaster Belles they were one of the most famous and respected clubs in women's football. They can certainly lay claim to being  the most successful women's team from the North of England with an impressive tally of 6 women's FA cups behind them. However since they linked up with Rovers things have gone down hill with success thin on the ground. Doncaster Belles had a proud name and history so why they would want to spoil that by merging with Rovers is anybody's guess.

Last season they finished second bottom of the division and have started poorly this time around. Before tonight's match they sat bottom of the table without a single point collected from their opening three league matches. Although they were only a minute away from getting a point at Bristol  last time out until the hosts got a last minute goal in a 3-2 win. Its been a similar story in the Continental cup; with the club having lost both matches so far and been eliminated from the competition with a game still to play. The sides only win this season came in the fifth round of the FA cup when they scrambled past Barnet Ladies 2-1 in extra time.

Going into the game I had Lincoln as favourites to win but as we all know football has a wonderful way of kicking you in the nether regions when you least expect it. Although Lincoln had played very well in their last league game against Arsenal, that performance, and point, would be wasted some what if they didn't collect the points from tonight's match.  Lincoln are also have a glut of home games in succession so it is important that they take full advantage of them.
As these two sides are quite close geographically it is not uncommon for players to transfer between the two sides. In the summer both Sue Smith and Leandra Little left the Imps for Doncaster. Unfortunately for Sue Smith she sustained a nasty injury in the first match of the season and will be out the whole campaign. Lincoln recruited Precious Hamiltion from Doncaster and the striker has now scored as many goals for the Imps this season as she did for Doncaster in the whole of last season. It would appear that goal scoring is Doncaster's biggest problem as they scored the lowest amount of goals in the league last season (9 in 14 games) and are the lowest scores in the league this time around (3 in 3) Although in their defence they do have a game in hand (at least) on all the other teams in the division.

Entering the ground and picking up the programme (this month's She Kicks included again) one of the first things we noticed was that Jess Clarke was hobbling around the ground with a brace on her leg. So you didn't have to be a medical expert to realise that she wouldn't be taking part in tonight's encounter which is a blow to the Imps because she really has been one of the stars of the Imps campaign this season. Reading manager Glen Harries' programme notes it seems like we may be without Jess for a couple of games. Lets hope it is only a couple of games and she is back terrorising defences in the WSL very soon. On the plus side it was great to see Katie Rood in the match day squad. This was her first appearance in the squad this season due to her international commitments with the New Zealand under 23 side. She was described in the programme for the first game of the season as being a quick striker. At times this season the Lady Imps have had limited options up front so her return was most welcome. Also returning to the bench was defender Sophie Bradley who has been struggling with injury.
It was a great evening for watching football. weather wise and a decent crowd was in for tonight's derby match. Football is a sport for all and attracts fans and followers from all ends of the social spectrum. I have seen many weird and wonderful things in football grounds. However nothing quite prepared me for what i saw/heard tonight. A couple of Belles fans had brought along with them an old style hand bell to ring and support their team. It was novel to begin with but after a while got a tad irritating. But that's the glory of football if we all did the same thing and never saw anything different it would be boring.

The bell however was quickly silenced as Lincoln were quick out of the blocks and had their visitors chasing shadows. Lincoln's first effort  of note came from a trade mark Lucy Staniforth free kick that nearly caught the Doncaster Keeper out of position. Lincoln were in control of the game. Although Lincoln had bossed the opening ten minutes or so it was Doncaster who created the best chance when a long clearance split the Lincoln defence and only a very smart save from Nic Hobbs prevented them from taking the lead.

Lincoln got the goal they deserved on 10 minutes. A corner was swung over by Staniforth from the right (as i looked at it from behind the goal) and Rachel Daly headed home from close range. To the guy with the bell "You're not ringing any more!"

The Imps sensed blood and continued to push forward. They had a golden chance to double the lead when Staniforth played a smart through ball to Collette Mccallum but the Donny keeper just beat her to the ball.  Five minutes later an almost identical move ended with the same player launching the ball over the goal and stand. They were two decent chances and ones that the Imps would later rue. Lincoln were still well on top but former Imp Leandra Little was solid as a rock for the visitors and was pretty much thwarting the Imps attack on her own.
After those two let-offs the Belles started to get back into the game and forced a couple of corners that Lincoln managed to scramble away.
Donny were level shortly after though, after the Imps failed to clear their lines and allowed Millie Bright to just beat Nic in goal to the ball. If that wasn't bad enough worse was to come a minute later.
The Imps were pretty shell shocked after surrendering the lead and conceded  a corner after the restart. Doncaster crowded the box and sent the ball to the back stick where Katie Holtham was waiting to head the ball home to give the visitors a 1-2 lead. Two goals in a minute and much frantic bell ringing.
Lincoln did try and take the game to Doncaster and did fashion a couple of half chances from corners but the Belles managed to hang on till half time. The scored line was tough on Lincoln after the way they bossed the game in the opening 25 minutes but the failure to covert the possession and chances into goals had cost them.
The Lady Imps made a positive start to the second half and were almost level when Precious Hamilton hit a fantastic shot against the bar from about 30 yards out from almost the left touchline (Again as i looked at it) Had it had the fortune to have gone in, i am sure that there would have been a debate amongst the fans as to whether or not she meant it or was it meant to be a cross. In my view seeing how there were no Lincoln players even in the box i think that she definitely meant it.
In truth that was as exciting as it got in the second half as the game became rather flat and got bogged down in midfield. Lincoln did try to chance it and when Sophie Bradley came on her long throws did cause one or two problems for Doncaster but the Imps were still struggling to muster a serious shot on target. Katie Rood was brought on for her Lincoln debut with about 20 minutes to go and was very busy closing down defenders and trying to force them into errors. However the longer the game went on you just got the feeling that it wasn't quite going to be the Imps day.
In the dying moments Lincoln thought they had an equaliser after a scramble from a corner but the ref had seen something and called the play back. Lincolns frustrations were there for all to see as a couple of players got booked for taking there protests a little to far. The whistle went shortly after and consigned Lincoln to their first home defeat of the season.

All sides had a couple of bad games in a season and the Lady Imps are no different. In the second half they never really got going and they seemed a little sluggish. I am sure though that lessons will be learnt and you have to remember that this is a young side so you are going to get a little inconsistency in performance levels. There were a couple of bright spots. Kate Rood will give them a different kind of threat up front and it was good to see Sophie Bradley get half an hour under her belt. I felt sorry for Precious who did plenty of running up top but the support was just a little to slow in reacting to her holding the ball up. A couple of times she drifted which helped Doncaster as it meant that Lincoln were short on bodies in the box.
The crowd was also a very pleasing 274 and even with this disappointing result i am sure they will be back a week on Saturday to see the Lady Imps take on Liverpool in the Continental Cup.

Thanks for reading.

Come on you Lady Imps.
Here's a bell orientated video to try and cheer us all up a bit.