Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lincoln Ladies 2-1 Everton Ladies.

At the start of the season, the Lady Imps' aim was to finish in the top two of the WSL thus gaining a place in the Women's Champions League. Unfortunately for one reason and another that target is now beyond them. One of the reasons for this is the club's home form. This was the team's last home match of the campaign, and up until now only one home win in the league had been recorded; a fine 2-0 win over Chelsea. If the Imps were to add to that total then they would have to be at their very best today to defeat an Everton side that sat 2nd place in the table, one point ahead of Birmingham (who have a game in hand) and who couldn't afford to drop any points in their final two games of the season if they were to claim the second Champions League spot. The reverse fixture earlier in the season saw the Blues run out 1-0 winners in what was by all accounts a tight match.

Last week the WSL took a break as it was international week. England completed their European championship qualifying campaign with a solid 3-0 win over group whipping girls Croatia, on Wednesday evening. Two of the goal scorers that evening were on show today. Everton's Jill Scott got the ball rolling with the first goal and Lincoln and England skipper Casey Stoney bagged the third. Lincoln were also represented by Sophie Bradley and Jess Clarke who was an unused substitute. Alongside Jill Scott, Everton were also represented by Fara Williams in the starting line up, with young striker Toni Duggan coming off the bench to make her international debut. In goal Everton had Rachel Brown who was also in the England squad . Today all seven lionesses started.
Staying on the international theme Lincoln also had Laura Allaway away with the Australian national side on their tour of the USA in which she sustained a slight shoulder injury which kept her out of today's match. However the club are hopeful that she will be able to take part in the Imps' last game of the season away at Chelsea. Imps striker Katie Rood was at the match in her tracksuit but not in the matchday squad so i assume that her knee injury is still bothering her.
Although there has been quite a few changes and set ups in the Lincoln midfield, in the second part of the season one player has remained a constant and in my view is the Lincoln Ladies player of the season. Remi Allen had been the most consistent Imp this season and is the workhorse and ball winner in the Imps midfield. Pretty much the same job that Jill Scott does so well for England. The battle between those two was going to be fascinating to watch as the game went on.

Lincoln lined up with Nic in goal, a back line of Sophie Walton, Casey Stoney, Sophie Bradley, and Meaghan Sargeant. Midfield consisted of Remi Allen, Megan Harris, Sophie Barker, and Lucy Staniforth. Leading the line for the Imps was Precious Hamilton and Jess Clarke. The one thing that struck out was the fact that Lincoln only had four subs compared to Everton's six. Lincoln's bench however was well balanced.

When a side has nothing to play for one of two things can happen. They can either just coast through the game and take it easy or they can just go for it. Thankfully Lincoln did the latter and the way they started the game you would have thought that it was they that had Champions League aspirations.
In the first half Lincoln played some of their best football of the whole campaign so far. Jess Clarke was almost unplayable at times and linked up well with Precious Hamilton, when they are both on form i believe they are one of the best attacking partnerships in the division. Both of them fired in decent efforts but Brown in the Everton goal showed a safe pair of hands to keep them out . The visitors were struggling to string two passes together but when they did get the ball down the Lincoln end they found Stoney and Bradley in top form. Although they had created plenty of chances with some great chances from the likes of Hamilton, Staniforth, and Clarke, the Imps had nothing to show for their effort till the 29th minute
This was one of the strangest goals that i have seen for a while so its pretty hard to describe. Jess Clarke raced down the right and sent in a cross but it was intercepted by an Everton defender under pressure from Remi Allen. Rachel Brown in the Everton goal came out it collect the header but seemed to lose her footing which meant she only got a hand to the ball and it ended up in the back of the net. The Imps may have got lucky with the goal but even the most ardent Everton supporter couldn't deny that Lincoln were well worth their lead.
The Imps didn't have to wait long to get the second and it was well worth the wait, and again Jess Clarke played a key roll in the build up. She latched onto a fine through ball from Stoney, Brown came out well and saved at Jess' feet on the edge of the area and the ball cannoned away to Lucy Stainforth about 35-40 yards out. She then looked up, saw Brown still on the ground, and launched a shot right into the roof of the net and evaded the defender on the line. We have seen some cracking goals at Ashby Avenue this season and this was right up there with the best of them.
This goal did seem to fire Everton up a bit and they did come back a bit at Lincoln, but the Imps defence held firm. Just before the halftime whistle Lincoln could have wrapped up the points when Hamilton led the Everton defence a merry dance but her good work came to nothing.

After playing so well in the first half, it was no surprise that Lincoln didn't make any changes at the break. Everton were forced into a change and it was in goal with Danielle Hill replacing Brown. Brown had been one of the Toffee's better players in the first half so i can only conclude that she had picked up an injury somewhere along the line.
Just after halftime Lincoln had a fantastic chance to put the game to bed. The ball was crossed in, Hill completely missed it, as the ball fell to Megan Harris about 10 yards out with only a defender on the line to beat. However she managed to send the ball just the wrong side of the post. Not one that will make the end of season DVD i feel. Whenever something like this happens you worry if it will come back to bite you on the arse. Thankfully it didn't.
It looked like Everton had been read the riot act at halfitme and they were out a good 5 minutes or so before the Imps. After the early chance for Lincoln the visitors had their best spell of the game and took the game to Lincoln. Jill Scott had, by her very high standards, a quiet game, but she tested Nic Hobbs in the Lincoln goal with a great shot which drew an equally good save from the Lincoln keeper who had had little to do until this point. Everton did get a few decent crosses into the box and tried to build pressure, but the Lincoln defence held firm. The Imps looked to hit Everton on the break using their pace and continued to create and miss good chances.
In the 84th minute Everton were awarded a free kick about 5 yards from the edge of the box.

Keeper in position? Yep.
Wall set up? Sorted.
What could possibly go wrong?
The wall was well set and Nic had the other side of the goal covered. Fara Williams stepped up to take the free kick which took a huge deflection off the wall and left poor Nic in the Imps goal totally wrong footed as the ball nestled in the far corner of the goal; football can be such a cruel game at times. Lincoln have lost quite a few points from winning positions this season and i must admit i did get a feeling of "Here we go again".

Thankfully though Lincoln held off a late surge from Everton and after three added minutes claimed the three points that they deserved to end the home campaign on a high note. They do have one more game still to play (away at Chelsea) which i am going to, and if they win that they can still achieve fourth place in the table. A feat that would match last seasons effort.
Not only was today a success on the pitch, but off the pitch the club held a girls football open day which seemed to be very well attended. A reminder that Lincoln Ladies goes much deeper than the first team, and with a crowd of 291 in attendance the future looks bright for Lincoln and girls football in Lincolnshire.
Just to show how wide across Lincolnshire (and beyond) the LadyImps fan base is spread, i spent the game in the company of  gentleman on the committee of Grimsby Borough and we had a good old chin wag about all things football and very enjoyable it was to. Grimsby Borough is a ground i am yet to visit but i will hopefully be ticking it off very soon. I also know of fans that make a 70 mile round plus trip from Boston every home game to see the girls in action. All of this leaves little doubt in my mind that we have the one of the best and quickest growing fan bases in women's football in the country, and its something we can rightly be proud of.

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