Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Birmingham Ladies 1-1 Lincoln Ladies

The maths (or math if you are American) going into this game for Lincoln Ladies was very simple. A draw or a victory would see Lincoln make the semi finals of the Conentinal Cup. If Lincoln bettered Arsenal's result against already eliminated Bristol then Lincoln could win the group. From a Birmingham point of view they really needed to win today to advance. They could do it with a draw, but that would only be good enough if Bristol beat Arsenal at Borehamwood (unlikely in my view)

 As we saw on our last visit down to these parts, Stratford-upon-Avon looked like a decent little place to spend an hour, so the bus left an hour earlier than our first jaunt so that we could have a look round (or in my case checkout the local hostelry scene) Its a nice treat going to places like this, as all too often on my football travels at various levels of the game i tend to end up at less than scenic  locations (sh*tips in layman's terms). For every Chester, York, or Statford-upon-Avon i visit, there are plenty of Hydes, Rotherhams, Frickleys, and Southends to be explored.
Thankfully we didn't have to walk far from where the bus dropped us off to the nearest pub, which was a quaint little place called the Pen and Parchment that had a cracking beer garden and which was just perfect to spend an hour drinking. If we didn't have a football game to go to i could quite happily spend several more hours outside here. For the first time this season it actually felt like a summer day. 

The two sides have already locked horns at Straford this season and fought out a 1-1 draw. A repeat of that result and performance today would do just nicely from an Imps point of view. So far its been a tough season for Birmingham City ladies. Their defence of the FA cup ended in spectacular style at the quarter final stage with a 6-0 drubbing by Arsenal. In the league they have collected three points from their three games to date with all three matches being draws. So if you an optimist you can point to the claim that they are still unbeaten in the league this season or if you a pessimist (which in my experience is about 85% of all football fans) then you can make a big thing of the fact that they are yet to win a league game this season. They have two wins this season however; they have recorded a 2-0 win over league leaders Bristol in the Continental Cup, and beat Cardiff City away 3-1 in the FA Cup.

The clubshop
On my last blog i did about the league game here, i bemoaned the fact that there didn't seem to be a bar. However i have since been told that one does indeed exist. So with that in mind it would be damn rude not to check it out wouldn't it? I managed to find it, tucked away in the corner of the ground. My efforts in hunting it down were rewarded with a rum and coke and a chat with a couple of fantastic Lincoln Ladies fans. The bar itself is on the small side but it does the job and has Sky TV, so its by no means a lost cause.
With kick off approaching it was time to drag my arse out of the bar and part with my £6 and watch Lincoln hopefully claim a semi final spot.
 Birmingham got us underway and promptly just booted it straight out of play to pen Lincoln back in their own half. Knowing that Birmingham had to win this game they started at a quick tempo and forced Karen into an early save which she tipped round the post for a corner which they wasted. However they didn't have to wait long before they took the lead. Just three minutes into the game Rachel Williams latched onto Jo Potter's great through ball; breaching Lincoln's offside trap and produced a cool low finish that gave Bardsley no chance at all. Now its never great to lose a goal after three minutes but as an optimist i look at the fact that it gives us 87 minutes (plus added time) to find a goal ourselves.

The goal didn't rock Lincoln and they did start to settle down and get themselves back into the game, backed by their very vocal travelling supporters. Lincoln were getting plenty of joy down the flanks with Roberts and Clarke but the final ball wasn't quite there. Birmingham themselves weren't creating too many chances with their only real goal threats being from set pieces. Blues and England midfielder Rachel Unitt went down when unchallenged and forced the homeside into a change. As this caused a break in play i thought it the perfect time to grab a bite to eat so i took a stroll round to the snap hut. The bad news was that they had run out of chips but had sent somebody to go and fetch some more.

 As life is all about adapting to different challenges placed in front of you, at short notice i ordered a double cheeseburger instead of the standard cheeseburger and chips. It was quite filling and i struggled to finish it. I am not sure whether there is a link between the burgers and this local company that has an advertising board at the ground. If there is then its a fantastic bit if thinking by the club's commercial department.

Anyway back to the game. On 37 minutes Lincoln were back on level terms. Remi Allen surged into the box and was brought down by Blues player Hannah George (who was on for Unitt) The referee who had "an indifferent game" pointed straight to the spot. Remi is one of the most solid penalty takers i have seen in football and had a 100% record from the spot last season. This time however Blues Keeper Mary Earps got a hand to it and parried it out. Thankfully for Lincoln however Carla Cantrell was the first to react and slammed in the rebound. Birmimhgam raised a head of steam following this and forced a smart save from Bardsley and a couple of corners before the ref blew for halftime.

Quick sketch of the goal.

As it stood at halftime Lincoln were not only going through to the semi finals but were also on course to win the group as Arsenal were losing 1-2 at home to Bristol.

Just after halftime it looked like Lincoln should have had a second penalty when Carla Cantrell appeared to be fouled in the area but the ref waved away the protests from Lincoln players and fans. I had a pretty decent view of it as we were stood at the end that Lincoln were attacking and it looked like a decent shout to me. Shortly after Lincoln themselves had some reshuffling to do, when skipper Casey Stoney left the field with what looked like an upper leg injury to be replaced by Bonnie Horwood.

 Birmingham were really trying to force the game but Lincoln, as they had done on Wednesday night, held firm. Emily Roberts did brilliantly to clear a blues chance off the line, but that was as close as the hosts got to getting a winner. As Birmingham pushed up it left Lincoln with plenty of space and opportunities to counter, and Precious Hamilton really came into the game and provided a valuable outlet for Lincoln to counter with.

About midway through the second half we had one of the most amusing moments of the season so far. Lincoln sent a long ball over the top and although it was beyond Emily Roberts, it did find its way to Blues defender Emily Westwood, given that Roberts was bearing down on her she had to hit it first time but however she managed to shank it out off the pitch to give Lincoln a cheap corner. This happened right in front of the main group of Lincoln fans and so drew a huge cheer and a few honks for good measure. As you can imagine Westwood wasn't too amused by this response and gave us the kind of death stare that a man normally receives from his wife/girlfriend/partner when he tells them that he is only poping out for "A couple of pints" and returns 7 hours later at 2.00am, barely able to speak more than two sentences, 60 quid worse off, and with kebab sauce all down his shirt.
Lincoln however didn't take advantage of this gift of a corner as it sailed straight out of play. Oh well easy come, easy go as they say. In defence of Emily Westwood she has represented England at all levels so i think this sort of blooper must be a rarity. I have certainly shanked  plenty of clearances like this in my time so I feel her pain.

As the game wore on it became more of a case of attack versus defence, but in keeping with much of the season Lincoln didn't allow Birmingham many clear sights on goal and their work rate was second to none. Karen was called into action in the dying moments however but she pulled off a fantastic diving catch to keep the scores level. Finally after four long minutes of added on time the ref blew; Lincoln had booked their place in the semi final and had knocked out the side that had beaten them in the semi final last season.

Elsewhere in the Continental Cup Arsenal staged a second half fight back to beat Bristol 4-2 and win group A; forcing Lincoln into second place. Over in Group B Liverpool slammed in 4 without reply to beat Chelsea away and win the group. Everton take the runners up spot in the group after a 3-1 win at Doncaster Saturday night. This leaves us with the following semi final line up.

Arsenal v Everton
Liverpool v Lincoln

After the game it was great to see the players come over as the players and fans applauded each other. Following this we headed over to the bar for an hour before we set off home. The players came in and were happy to mingle with both sets of fans. This kind of stuff is great to see but i must admit i was a little star struck by the whole thing. Strange thing is when i am professionally covering games i feel totally different in press conferences, interviews etc. Very strange.

On the way home i was reflecting on the cup run so far, and i think that getting out of our group this time was a far bigger achievement than last year when we won all three games including that win over Arsenal. Unlike last season we had two away games out of three, with the only home game being against Arsenal who are the FAWSL champions and always give you a hard game and we gained a point from that. Then we had a trip to the current FAWSL league leaders and FA Cup finalists Bristol, where we recorded a great 1-0 win. Last up this away game with Birminhgam, who knew they had to win, and as such we kind of knew we would be under pressure for long periods in the game. To get 5 points from these three games is in my view quite impressive.
And so Liverpool await us away in the semi final stage. They have started the season well but we have nothing to fear. The semi finals arent played till after the midseason break so a lot can change in that time. As of the time of writing, we dont have a date for the game yet but whenever it is played however, we will be ready and waiting and all set to go.
 Just to finish; a bit of fun. I had such a huge response to my last fun question on the blog that i just had to do another one (Nic Hobbs was last week's answer folks). This week we have a caption competition. The prize again is a signed picture and a drink (soft or otherwise) at the next away game. Answers either here or on twitter @ferretimp.
Have fun and here's your picture.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Two homes games, one week, one goal, one point.

Two home games in a week, one point collected and a struggle for goals. Its certainly been a tough week for the Lady Imps but fear not, all is not lost. Firstly sorry for not getting this blog up straight away after the Everton game. I have been busy recently but from now on normal service will be resumed. I have rolled the last two home matches into one article so hopefully your enjoyment of them hasn't been ruined.

Lincoln Ladies 0-2 Everton.

On paper this game was a battle between two sides that had made slow starts to the league. Everton didn't have a point on the board after playing just the one game while Lincoln were doing slightly better with one point collected from 2 league matches. Both sides however came into the game on the back on good wins in the Continental Cup; Everton with a great 2-1 home win over Chelsea, while Lincoln had ground out a good 0-1 away win at Bristol.
My main concern going into the game was that this was Lincoln's third game in a week. It is well documented that we have one of the smallest squads in the WSL, so three matches was going to be a real test. When I received the team sheet in the bar before the game it made for interesting reading. The most disappointing thing in my mind was the continued absence of Hayley Bowden who had a great game against Arsenal. The reason given by the club for her absence was that she was ill. Lets hope she gets better soon because we really need her back. The other big change was Carla Cantrell was dropped to the bench. Carla has put in a hell of a lot of work this season on the pitch and has really led the line well up top. I don't know if she had a knock or if she was just exhausted but I did know that we were going to miss her as she really has been one of the unsung heroes this season in my eyes.
click to enlarge teamsheet

Everton looked to be a full strength and had a full compliment of subs to call upon. One of them was called into action before the game even kicked off. England number 2 keeper Rachel Brown-Finnis had suffered a late knock and was replaced by Lizzy Durack in between the sticks. I didn't see what Brown-Finnis did as I was interviewing a pint of lager in the bar, but lets hope it isn't too serious. Two other names really stood out in my view on the Everton team sheet; Jill Scott (who is my second favourite non Lincoln player in the FAWSL, first person to tweet me my favourite player wins a programme signed by myself and a cup of tea at the next away game!) and never has a bad game, and striker Toni Duggen; who is one of the in-form strikers in England right now and had hit 5 goals in 5 games.

Once the game started the first thing that struck me was the amount of space Everton were giving Lincoln and they showed no real urgency to close Lincoln down. Precious was given the task of leading the line and both she and Lincoln started the game well and put the Toffees on the back foot early on. Durack in goal did look a little nervous and was very shaky early in the game as she made a mess of a couple of crosses. And then as football so often does, Lincoln had a real kick in the teeth. A long ball over the top was played over for their striker to chase, Sophie Bradley's back header didn't quite have the distance on it and it led to Bardsley have to race off her line. Her clearance only fell to Brooke Chaplen who proceeded to lob the Lincoln keeper to give the Blues the lead. So from creating nothing all game, Everton had the lead. The goal didn't rock Lincoln who really pushed until the break.

The second half felt very flat. Lincoln never really reached the levels they did in the first half. Everton added a second but thankfully i had left by then to get the last train home. Anyway on to the next game

Lincoln Ladies 1-1 Arsenal Ladies

Despite what the programme says, we were playing Arsenal!!

Next up for Lincoln was another date with Arsenal which was to be screened live on ESPN. This was Lincoln's third home league game of the season, so lets just take a quick recap as to where we are. Before the match Lincoln had failed to take a point at home, and even more worrying had failed to score a goal in the previous league games losing to Liverpool 0-1 and to Everton 0-2. The only point on the board was gained in a gutsy 1-1 draw away at Birmingham. Given our home league results i felt it was vital that we gained something from this fixture against Arsenal. With the WSL being more of a sprint that a marathon it was important Lincoln didn't start to get cut adrift at the wrong end of the table.
However Arsenal have also had a shaky last few weeks. Due to their Champions League campaign they have games in hand on all the other sides and have only played one league match; that being a 0-4 home defeat to Liverpool last Tuesday night. That result really did raise a few eyebrows as it was their first in the league since 2011. Following on from that they defeated Birmingham 2-1 at the weekend in the Continental Cup after going 1-0 behind just after half time. After speaking to several people in the know who see quite a bit of Arsenal, the general  feeling is that they have never really recovered from their first leg home defeat by Wolfsburgh in the Champions League. However even though they may be going through (by their standards) a difficult patch they are still jam packed with quality players and in this humble scribes view, still very much the team to beat. They have also made the FA Cup final, reached the semi finals of the Champions League, and are well placed to make the semi finals of the Continental Cup, so it's hardly a club in crisis.

Tonight was also my other half's 30th birthday so what better way to treat her than to take her to the game? Throw in a couple of drinks, fish cake and chips, and you have the perfect night out I would say. And I am sure all the ladies reading this will agree with that and be asking their husbands/boyfriends/partners to do the same for them. The bar has been set guys!
Speaking of bars it was great to chill out and relax in the club bar before the match. It was also quite strange watching the ESPN build up to the game and watching the players warm up from the warmth of the bar.

Click to enlarge teamsheet
 I was lucky enough to be handed a teamsheet and the big news for us was that Precious Hamilton was out with an injury but on the plus side Carla Cantrell was back to lead the line. The Hayley Bowden riddle was also solved when manager Rick Passmoor revealed in his programme notes that she has left us due to the fact her husband, who is a New Zealand international rugby union player, has been transferred to another club. This is a real shame as Hayley was a class act against Arsenal in the Continental Cup a few weeks ago. Bloody rugby eh?

As this game was on the TV a fans zone activity area had been set up outside the ground with loads of stuff for youngsters to have a go at, so this added to the crowd and it was great to have some more vocal support. After Doncaster, Arsenal bring the second largest amount of fans to Lincoln so it all added to the atmosphere. At the back of the stand watching the game was Arsenal legend Kelly Smith and she was joined by Rachel Yankee who despite being named on the bench viewed the whole game from the stand.

If Arsenal do have problems then it hardly showed as they were straight into their rhythm stroking the ball around wonderfully. However just as the last time the sides met, Lincoln kept their shape quite well. Kim Little won the PFA women's player of the year recently, and it was her who had the first real shot that went just past the far post. Arsenal looked the more likely to score and had a couple of half chances, as well as a half hearted penalty appeal turned down when Nobbs took a tumble in the box, but the ref waved away the protest. The pattern of the first half was mainly Arsenal moving the ball around and looking for the opening but Lincoln shutting them down when they got about 30 yards from the Lincoln goal. Arsenal did have a great chance half way through the half when Kim Little broke clear and tried to go round Karen in the Lincoln goal, but she made a fantastic low save when she came out and saved at her feet. Lincoln didn't create much in the first half with Jess Clarke having the Imps' best chance.
Half time signalled a retreat to the bar for a brisk pint and to give my lungs a rest from horn duties. Chelsea were on Europa League final duties and the game was on the TV. Whatever happened to the UEFA cup? For me it will always be the UEFA Cup.

The second half was a much more open affair. With Arsenal really upping their game and putting Lincoln under serious pressure. As much is often made of Arsenal's footballing ability that their physical presence often goes unnoticed. They are big and imposing and are very good from set pieces. The gunners forced a string of corners as the half went on, but thankfully Lincoln stood strong with a combination of organisation and Karen Bardsley imposing herself in goal. On 60 minutes Arsenal's Gilly Flaherty almost scored the goal of the season when she collected the ball just outside their own penalty box and then proceeded to run the length of the pitch before unleashing a shot that Bardsley parried over the bar. Not a bad effort for a centre half to be fair. Chances were really starting to flow for the visitors but thankfully the centre back pairing of Bradley and Stoney were really on their A game tonight, with Karen behind them playing out of her skin. As the game petered out it looked like Arsenal may just run out of steam and then on 89 minutes Lincoln took the lead.
A cross field ball found winger Emily Roberts in space and she calmly rounded Emma Byrne to score her first senior goal for Lincoln. It was a great goal and it was fantastic to see it come from one of our home grown players.
However Lincoln's joy was short lived as Arsenal Skipper Steph Houghton blasted in a fantastic equaliser from 30 yards out straight into the top corner. When she first hit it I thought it was going wide but it dipped right into the top corner.

After the two late goals there was even more late drama. With seconds left, Arsenal broke out in numbers and it looked dangerous for Lincoln. The move was finished however when Casey Stoney stopped the attacking Arsenal player dead in her tracks. This led to a booking but it did allow Lincoln to get back and defend the set piece. One or two of the Arsenal players in my view really went over the top with their protest. Casey received a yellow which, as there were covering defenders, was the correct decision. Things things like happen in football. Yes if you are on the receiving end its not great but that's football as they say. Obviously we can never know but if say Alex Scott was in the same position and Jess Clarke was breaking free in the last few minutes of a game I am willing to bet a kit-kat and a can of doctor pepper that she would produce a similar kind of challenge.

It always feels like a kick in teeth when you concede a late goal but you can't do anything about goals of the quality that Houghton produced. I still see this as a point gained not two lost. Once again Lincoln's back line were quality and stood up well to Arsenal's movement and physical presence. 

Some great "Tweets" from some great people

Something a little different to finish on. At the end of the game i saw a chap selling what looked like Arsenal fanzines. Now although i attend about 75-90 games a season (i don't write about them all on here) I can't remember the last time i saw any on sale at games. Back in my youth i use to love buying and reading fanzines from various clubs, and they were more often that not a far better read than the programme. Somewhere in the loft i still have them; The Oatcake from Stoke, Follow Follow from Rangers, Talking Bull from Hereford, I could go on, oh and of course plenty of issues of our own Deranged Ferret. When the Internet came along message boards largely killed off fanzines in the lower leagues, and they are now pretty much only found at the big clubs with teams of writers who can produce an issue for every home game.
 Fanzines and their style of writing have been a huge influence on my writing style with this blog, and i like to think that in a small way i am keeping the fanzine spirit alive with my style on these blogs. I can do serious match reports and round ups. Check out for that ;-) but i feel that with the event of twitter and real time reports, the old school fanzine style of writing is set for a comeback as people rediscover this writing style.
I am kicking myself for not getting the Arsenal one last night so if anybody knows who it was that was selling them please get in touch so i can buy one. Either comment here or tweet me at @Ferretimp. Long live Fanzines.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

A mixed week for Lincoln Ladies

Bristol Academy 2-0 Lincoln Ladies 

FA cup semi finals don't come around very often, and when they do you have to try and enjoy them. Although the fans had some tough news a couple of days before the game and the result didn't go our way, the support they gave the side was first class from start to finish, and if you look at the day overall i think most of the travelling support enjoyed it.

It was an early start for us as we huddled outside the Birchwood social club all set for the 8.30 am departure time. Even though i was quite disciplined and didn't go out the previous night (yes you did read that correctly i DIDN'T go out) i was still knackered. Today's match had quite rightly got the interest level up and we had booked a 28 seater for the trip. It was pretty much full which showed that the news received on the Friday hadn't put the fans off.
The Great Britain

Bristol had switched this game away from their normal home venue on the edge of the city to Ashton Gate home of rock bottom championship side Bristol City. I have visited their arch rivals Bristol Rovers' ground on a number of occasions over the years but this was my first visit to the red half of the city. Ashton Gate is in the heart of the City so we managed to get a look at the city as we passed through. I have had been out in the centre of Bristol once before way back in 1998 on a Taekwondo competition weekend, but i can honestly say that i cant remember anything about the place. On our trip through it seemed a very varied place. We passed the iconic steam ship the Great Britain, a rather large aquarium, and a large poster advertising a Lady boys of Bangkok show.  Other highlights included a few tramps who were looking worse for wear and a run down bar called "Bar excellence"  that looked anything but.

Like all inner city grounds Ashton Gate seems to appear out of nowhere as you approach it. As we had arrived mob handed on the coach, we were directed round to the far end of the ground which, given the width of some of the gateways, presented quite a challenge to the coach driver. Bristol had really pulled out the stops and we were positively welcomed as we got off the coach and we were told we could go and have a few drinks in the excutive bar before the match. As you can imagine i didn't really need asking twice and after purchasing the programme (which was a joint issue that covered both semi finals) I almost sprinted up the steps to the bar.

I always like seeing this side of football grounds because i am normally in the stands or the press area, so this is a side to clubs that i rarely see. The bar was very smart and you could tell you were at a Championship standard ground. The beer wasn't too expensive either with two pints coming in at the £7.20 mark. By the time we arrived in the bar we had an hour till kick off so it was plenty of time to wolf down three pints. The TV screens were showing the "Dead man walking" Derby between Reading and QPR. Thankfully there were plenty of great people in the bar to chat to without having to watch the dross on the TV screen. We were joined by the charming young ladies who run the Girls on the Ball website who informed me the day before that their pet rabbit Scotty had thoroughly enjoyed my interview on the BBC Lincolnshire sports show on the Friday evening. For me this is great news as although people from all walks of life read my drivel writing, i have yet to break into the lucrative rabbit market. Hopeful now more Rabbits will read and listen to me. As a way of thanks i presented Sophie and Rachel with a carrot for my new furry fan and i hear that he enjoyed it.
Thanks to Girls on the ball for the pic :-)

As enjoyable as the bar was, we had a football game to watch. So about 10 minutes before kick off we all piled out and into the stadium. I must say that i really like this ground. It's got a real old school feel to it. All four of the stands are different and with it being all red it gives it a quite imposing feel. I imagine that when its full it can be quite an intimidating place for away teams to come and play.

 No matter how fancy new grounds are, like those in Stoke, Reading, and Coventry, being built on the edge of town they will never have the charm or atmosphere as places like Ashton Gate, (or Carrow Road, or The City Ground etc). I am not normally bothered about revisiting grounds that are quite a distance from me (unless a team i support are playing) But i would certainly  like to do a Bristol City game at some point in the future. I imagine a Bristol derby at Ashton Gate is a pretty special event. Anyway enough cooing over the ground lets get onto the game.

Lincoln had a few selection problems for this game with both Hayley Bowden and Amy Turner; who had a very good game at Birmingham, being cup tied. Thankfully though Sophie Bradley had recovered from her injury to retake her place at the heart of the Lincoln defence.
And she had plenty of work to do. Bristol have had no problem finding the back of the net this season. They have recruited very well over the summer and have brought in players off real quality. There was a decent amount of noise from both sets of fans, and it looked like we were all set for a cracking cup semi final.

As you would expect that game was very tight, with much of the play being bogged down in the midfield. As the game went on though, Bristol saw more and more of the ball and it soon turned into a game of attack versus defence. Bristol's Spanish pair of Del Rio and Pablo Sanchon showed great movement, and although this did cause Lincoln some problems Karen Bardsley in the Imps goal didn't have too many shots to save. There wasn't really a huge amount of action to describe, but sadly one of the Bristol players Ann-Marie Heatherson was stretchered off with what looked a bad injury following a challenge in the box. Bristol did have a flurry of attacks just before halftime, but thankfully the whistle for halftime came just at the right moment for Lincoln. Not only was it a relief on the pitch but i was thankful of the break as my bladder was starting to feel the strain of the pre game refreshments.

In the second half i am afraid Bristol stepped it up. They took the lead they deserved on 59 minutes when Pablo Sanchon ran 40 yards with the ball before firing home. From an attacking point of view it was a great goal, but Lincoln will be dissapointed with the distance she was able to carry the ball. Lincoln did try to get back into the game but were still struggling to create clear chances. Jess Clarke did try to get something going but it was one of those days where the whole performance felt a little flat. Bristol put the game to bed in the 80th minute through Del Rio. I can't give you a description of the goal because i was again emptying my bladder. All i know was it was 2-0 and Lincoln were out of the cup.

After the final whistle Bristol celebrated their victory with the Lincoln players looking a little shell shocked. As they came over to us after their warm up and after the home side had left the field, you could tell how gutted they were with a couple of them close to tears; football can be a cruel game at times. This was knock out football at its cruelest. After the game we all headed up to the bar for a hour before our bus left at 5. It was great to have a couple of drinks with friends after the match and catch some of the Arsenal v Manchester United match. As the Lincoln players filtered in you could tell by the looks on their faces just how disappointed  they were, if we had won i would have been tempted to try and do a quick interview with one of them for the blog about the game, but today didn't really feel like the time for that. As we left to board our bus back, Karen Bardsley shook all our hands and thanked us for our support which was a nice touch. Onwards and upwards.

Lincoln Ladies 1-1 Arsenal Ladies

Quite often both in sport and in life its not the failures or mistakes you make, its how you bounce back from them that really counts. Lincoln knew that they would have to improve on their showing against Bristol at the weekend, and i am very pleased to say that they did. When you play against Arsenal you know that you can't afford to play below your best otherwise they will give you a good kicking. They are quality right the way through the team and have the strongest squad in the league by far. The fact that they can leave Rachel Yankee out of the squad and leave her in the stands in her tracksuit, tells you all you need to know about their team.

Lincoln rang the changes for this match both in personnel and formation. In front of Karen in goal we lined up with Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley in the centre, with Martha Harris and Amy Turner as the full backs. This allowed us to push Sophie Walton into midfield along side Remi Allen. with Precious and Jess out wide. Carla Cantrell was the lone target girl with Hayley Bowden playing in the hole just behind her when Lincoln had the ball, but dropped back into midfield when Arsenal had the ball; so it was a mixture of 4-4-1-1 and 4-5-1. Whatever you want to call it it worked a treat.
 Arsenal did see much more of the ball as you would expect in the early stages, but Lincoln kept their shape well and didn't get dragged out of position. Arsenal were getting more efforts in on goal but Karen's positioning was spot on. Then on 23 minutes Lincoln put the cat amongst the pigeons but taking the lead in fine style.
Martha picked off a rare Arsenal misplaced pass and skipped past an Arsenal defender before crossing into the box. The ball totally caught out Gilly Flaherty, as Jess Clarke picked it up and calmly struck the ball through Emma Byrne's  legs to give Lincoln the lead. It was the third goal of the season for Jess and all three have now come in different competitions. (there's a good stat for you!)
My sketch of Jess Clarke's first half goal.

Arsenal stepped it up a bit but Lincoln held out till halftime. At halftime i ventured down to the bar and it was nice to meet a few people and put more names to faces.
I had to leave 15 minutes before the end of the game as i had to grab the last train home but from what i saw i would say that Lincoln played better than they did in the first half. This new formation really seemed to suit them, and i was very impressed with Hayley Bowden who looked much more settled than she has in her other games for the club. The other stand out player for me was Bardsley; who had more work to do in this game than all season long. I can't describe the Arsenal goal as it went in after i left the ground but i am not too disheartened with a draw against Arsenal. This is the first time that Arsenal have failed to win a domestic match and a point here means that a win and a draw from the two away group games should be enough to see us through to the semi finals. Its certainly all to play for.