Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Arsenal Ladies 2-1 Lincoln Ladies

Ever since i decided that i was going to follow and write about the lady Imps this season, this was a game i had marked down as a "must do". The majority of away games this season have been on Sundays meaning that fun away days on the train are virtually impossible. Being based in Retford which is on the main line to London made this an easy one to attend.
Booking railway tickets can be a little haphazard but the general rule of the thumb is you get the best deals if you book early. With that in mind i managed to secure return tickets from Retford to London at the price of £22. Leaving Retford at 8.50am which got us into London for just gone 10.30am. The return journey entailed leaving London at 8.05pm. arriving in Retford at 9.30pm.
Today was the last day of the paralympic games, so with that in mind its hardly surprising that the train was quite busy. Upon arrival in London you couldn't help but notice the difference from a year ago when i was last down this way. Kings Cross Station is now fully finished and isn't the dump that is was before, the police were out in force (although they didn't seem unduly concerned by our group of fearsome Lady Imps supporters) And you couldn't help but notice the amount of "Team GB" t-shirts on display.

None of us had eaten yet today so we headed for the McDonald's next to Kings Cross station. We had just missed the cut off time for breakfast, so it was Big Mac meals all round for breakfast. On this point i have to admit that it was my second one in just over 12 hours. I know its not big or clever but we needed to get some food in us before we started drinking. If anybody does know of a cafe type place near Kings Cross that we could visit on future away games in London could you please let me know.
Arsenal Ladies FC play nearly all their home games at the Meadow Park home of Blue Square Southern Division side Boreham Wood FC. To get there you need to get an overground train from St Pancras international station to Elstree and Borehamwood. We got the train heading to Luton and left from platform 2B(Northbound) and cost just over £7. The journey takes about 25 minutes and is mainly over ground. The trains aren't the most modern and do have a distinctly 80s feel to them. When you get to Elstree and Boreham Wood you need to turn left, walk a 100 yards or so to the highstreet the turn left and carry on down the highstreet till you come to McDonalds. You will then see a sign for Borehamwood FC directing you left. It was a glorious sunny day so as it had just gone midday we stopped in an Irish pub about half way down the highstreet to sample a couple of pints. In hindsight i should have worn shorts instead of jeans, but being hot did make the beers go down quicker.
Throughout the last week i had tweeted Arsenal and written on their Facebook page to try and find out whether or not there was a bar at the ground we could drink in. Although no information was forth coming we decided to take our chances instead of going to the Wetherspoons near the McDonald's. Upon arrival we found that there was a youth tournament going on on the practice pitches outside the ground with a brass band playing merrily away. Not your average pre match entertainment and it made a nice change. Much to our relief we discovered that Gallery Suite bar was open for business.
Now i am guessing here but it looked like this was the hospitality area that Boreham Wood use on matchdays as it looked very posh. There were plenty of leather sofas, stylish bar stools,the barman was well turned out in shirt and tie and Sky Sports News was on the TV. But above all this, it served a cracking pint, one of the best i have had in London in fact. If this is the normal supporters bar then the directors bar must be very special indeed.
Best pint of the season.
Given how good the bar was i was surprised at how few people were taking advantage of it. There was our merry little group, another lady imps fan and a couple of Gunners fans. Imps player Laura Alleway did briefly pop in to get some water. I could have asked her if she wanted a quick pint before the game but i got a little starstruck. The Arsenal fans were discussing the game and chatting about how many players they had out the team when we beat them 4-3 in the cup earlier in the season. I was tempted to point out that we had both Casey Stoney and Laura Alleway also out for that game, but i decided against it and let sleeping dogs lie. About 30 minutes before KO we supped up and made our way round to the turnstile and parted with our £5 entrance fee. Just inside the gate programmes were on sale for £1.
Arsenal (Or "The Arsenal") have always been known for doing things the correct way and having high standards in pretty much everything that they do in football. And this is clearly evident in the matchday programme. The men's side has always produced fantastic programmes over the years and the ladies issue is every bit as impressive. 18 pages, full colour with very few adverts, and plenty to read. With a cover price of£1 this programme is head and shoulders above anything else I have seen in the FA WSL. The away section is pretty impressive with a nice comment about the lady imps fan base. This programme, like the team, has set the bench mark in ladies football that others must try to match.
On the field Arsenal have been as dominant as ever this season. Although the scorelines may be getting closer they are still winning games, well clear at the top of the league, and are unbeaten this season in the WSL. They have only dropped points at Lincoln (3-3) Everton (2-2) and more recently a 1-1 draw at home to Bristol. All this added to the fact that the other teams keep tripping over themselves means that before kickoff the Gunners only needed six more points to take the title. In Europe they have been drawn to face FC Barcelona and on the domestic front they will face Birmigham in the Continental Cup final. Essentially, if you are going to get anything against Arsenal then you have to play very very well.
Meadow Park is a decent enough ground with one long seated area down one side, and uncovered terracing  behind each goal. Opposite the seated stand is a long covered terrace and it is here that we watched the game from. Normally we would go behind the goal but in this heat a place in the shade was the order of the day. We stood at the end that the Lincoln team were warming up at. This was certainly a day for watching as oppose to playing.
Rather them than me!
Since the mid season break Lincoln haven't really had a consistent line up in midfield and today saw another new combination with Megan Harris, Remi Allen, Lucy Staniforth, and Meaghan Seargent getting the line up. Up front the battle for places had been as tough but Precious Hamilton got the nod to lead the line with Jess Clarke playing just off her. Jess has been a thorn in Arsenal's side this season and gave Arsenal full back Alex Scott such a tough time at Lincoln. The two are England teammates so i imagine that Alex tried to be on the same side as Jess in the five-a-side training. At the other end Laura Alleway lined up at right back and had a huge challenge on her hands in the shape of Arsenal striker Rachel Yankee. Sophie Walton was at left back with England pair Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley making up the centre back pairing in front of Nic Hobbs in the goal.
Lincoln had a half chance in the first minute when Hamilton chipped a ball into the box but Jess couldn't quite control her shot and it looped over the bar. Arsenal soon got to grips with the game though and started to take control. Lincoln kept their shape well though, but struggled to keep hold of the ball for any length of time. In heat like this you need to keep hold of the ball and make the other side chase after it which is what Arsenal looked to do by stretching the game and using Rachel Yankee and Gemma Davison on the wings. Meanwhile off the pitch some of our pro Lincoln chants and comments were getting a few strange looks form the Gunners fans around us. Arsenal were looking dangerous but Nic Hobbs in the Lincoln goal was more than up to the task and pulled off some great saves to keep Lincoln in the match. After the way that Lincoln had been disciplined for the first 20 minutes it was a real kick in the teeth to concede a sloppy goal on 25 minutes. Yankee got the ball wide and whipped in a cross which Nic did well to get a fist on. However not for the first time this season, the Imps defence didnt react quick enough and allowed Jennifer Beattie not one but two chances to slam the ball home to put the hosts one up. Although the goal had been coming its always annoying to concede like this especially after some sterling defensive work earlier on.
It could have been 2-0 shortly after but Nic pulled off another trademark save from Nobbs on a one on one. Lincoln were rattled by the first goal and went further behind on 37 minutes. A Lincoln clearance was picked up on the touchline by Gemma Davison whose shot was well saved by Nic. Jordan Nobbs latched onto the rebound but Sophie Bradley made a fantastic clearance on the line. However, the ball only found its way to Rachel Yankee who easily finished from close range to put clear daylight between the two sides. Thankfully Lincoln managed to hold out till halftime without conceding again and give the gaffer a chance to settle them down and re think things. After the promise of the first twenty or so minutes it had all got a bit belly up for Lincoln and it was going to take a huge effort to get back in the game. This was the third away match on the trot that the Imps had faced a two goal deficit.

We took a stroll around the ground at halftime while feeling a tad sorry for ourselves. We slipped up here as it wasn't until we got to the entrance that we discovered that we could have nipped out for another pint in the clubhouse. Soon enough after some PA announcements that we couldn't understand, Lincoln were out and raring to go for the second half. One change for the Imps here with Sophie Barker replacing Meaghan Sargeant in the midfield.
For our part we decided to try and up the chants for the team with a few verses of "Precious Hamilton- goal machine" ringing out much to the bemusement of the Arsenal fans near us.
Arsenal started the second half in the same vein as the first, with Nic continuing to be in inspired form by make a great double save. At the other end Lincoln started to create a few half chances but the final ball all too often let us down when we got into decent positions. As the half wore on Arsenal started to take their foot off the gas and were happy to keep Lincoln at arms length. This allowed Lincoln to get Jess Clarke on the ball more and do what she does best; run at defenders with pace.
With 11 minutes to go Jess tore down the left, skipped past the full back, and burst into the box where she was tripped  by Arsenal skipper Katie Chapman, which gave the ref no choice but to point to the spot.
In Remi Allen Lincoln have one of the best penalty takers in the WSL, and there was little doubt in my mind that she would score. Up she stepped, sent Emma Byrne the wrong way, and all of a sudden Lincoln were back in the game. A game that in they looked well out of at half time.
Cue plenty of celebrating from us and gnashing of teeth from the Arsenal fans near us.
Lincoln did try and have a go at Arsenal and in the last minute they had a great chance to get an unlikely equalizer when Laura Alleway, up from the back, broke free and unleashed a shot from 20 yards which drew a top draw save from Byrne in the Arsenal goal. Four minutes were added but Lincoln just couldn't find the right ball and the Gunners held on to gain the points. Overall they deserved them but they will be disappointed for letting Lincoln back in the game when they should have been out of sight. As for Lincoln we should take great heart in the way we battled back and dug in but yet again soft goals cost us and you can't afford to give a quality side like Arsenal easy goals. As Casey Stoney said post game we gave Arsenal the goals instead of making them work hard for them. (Or words to that effect)

Our post game plan consisted of more drinking. I had booked us on the 8.05pm train back so we had plenty of time to indulge. First port of call was the pub opposite the train station in Borehamwood. On the door it said it had a smart dress code but we got served with no problems and sat out in the beer garden before our train back to Kings Cross. Once back in the big smoke we headed for Kings Kebabs over the road from the station, where the food was, as ever, first class. From here we took a short walk up the road to an O'Neills pub and just drank and relived the day. Although we lost, this was a decent day out. The weather was great, the girls had given it their all and we had had a good drink. What more can you ask for? We will definitely be back at Borehamwood  for more next year.
High praise indeed for the Imps fan base.

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