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.

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