Larkhall Athletic Women Match Report

9th September 2019

Larkhall 1

Larkhall: Harrington 67′
Cheltenham: Hitchcox 62′

A controversial red card, followed by an unbelievably gutsy 10-woman performance saw Cheltenham Town Ladies extend their unbeaten run, but were forced to settle for a point on the short journey down to Bath.

The game saw both sides attack from the off, with Larkhall exploiting their left wing, with Cheltenham exploiting the running of Abby Bevan but to no avail.
Cheltenham managed to win an early corner from the work of Sally Butterfield on the right, but weren’t able to capitalise.
Larkhall cleared their lines and looked to counter attack with a well weighted pass.

With the Larkhall striker in with a sniff at goal, Alyta Norman rushed out to shut down the options and received a ball in the face for her trouble. With appeals for handball aplenty, the referee took his time to talk to Norman before deciding a red card for handball was the best course of action.

Midfielder, Charlotte Criddle, (pictured) stepped up between the sticks for Cheltenham but Larkhall slithered their free-kick wide.
At the other end, Annie Martin went on a chase from a huge Criddle goalkick and after weaving her way between the two centre-halves, was unable to get a firm enough contact on the shot. The goalkeeper gratefully collecting the runaway ball.

Minutes later Martin would have another go but again wouldn’t be able to find the finish.
Larkhall turned up the pressure, with the visitors down a player, and started to fashion chances around the box.
Two attempts in quick succession came from outside the box with Criddle equal to both, neither shot overly challenging.

Both sides looked to play long searching passes as both teams turned up the heat in order to find a goal; Cheltenham needing to make their moves count with a player down, Larkhall feeling the pressure to score against a team of just 10, especially with a midfielder in goal.

The home side exploited a gap between Dolloway and Butler, but the onrushing Sarah King had tracked the runner and was on hand to remove the danger. A work rate replicated by the rest of the team for the remaining 70 minutes.

Criddle finished the first half on a high note, collecting two Larkhall attacks in quick succession before Butterfield could force a corner at the other end.
Larkhall were able to scramble away and secure themselves a free-kick on the left. The ball into the box was nodded away by the Cheltenham defence, with Larkhall scooping the crumbs only to fire over the bar.

The hosts would have one final gamble with a good sweeping move but the shot from distance wasn’t troubling Criddle.

Half Time: Larkhall Athletic Women 0-0 CTLFC

Cheltenham restarted the game and Sarah King started how Cheltenham intended to finish the game, crossing for Sally Butterfield in the danger zone. Unfortunately for the Robins, the cross was just too high, but was a sign of intent from the whistle.

Larkhall were able to clear at the far post and cause Cheltenham problems. Their attack fizzled out a little as Cheltenham then looked to return to the system of playing from the back. They were their own worst enemy however as a few passes missed their mark in the heat. Luckily, centre-half Mai Butler was on hand to remove any chance for Larkhall, exploiting a deflection off the home side’s striker for a Cheltenham throw.

An early substitution for Cheltenham saw Ella Hitchcox come into the game with young winger Sarah King head to the bench. Hitchcox pace would become a thorn in the side of the home defence, as they played a high line, providing plenty of space for her to run into.

Minutes later Cheltenham were forced into another change, with Holly Fenton appearing off the bench with Annie Martin coming off.
In the immediate aftermath, Larkhall would go on to win a free-kick, which was headed clear by Bevan.
The follow-up shot through a crowd of bodies could have threatened Criddle, the deflections took the pace off the shot allowing the midfielder to claim it comfortably.

Cheltenham started twisting the screw with Lauren Ellis, Holly Fenton and Ella Hitchcox becoming a real handful down the left.
With a couple of throw-ins from Ellis gradually working the visitors up the left wing, a good ball forward for Ella Hitchcox saw the striker turn her marker and chase the flighted ball, providing a fantastic left-footed finish to silence the Larkhall supporters.

Cheltenham made their final substitution early, with Alice Kempski replacing Sally Butterfield.
Minutes later, the home side equalised. A well worked move from the right saw a looping shot from the edge of the box that nestle neatly in the net at the far post. A good finish for an arguably deserved equaliser due to their pressure.

The Robins had another chance to retake the lead almost immediately, through Hitchcox again. Despite appeals for an offside Hitchcox had acres of space to work in, lifting it over the rushing goalkeeper, but the finish was curling away from goal and the game remained 1-1.

The game evolved into a high tempo direct passing clash, with both teams desperate to find that final goal. Both sides would go on to create chances, unable to find the match-winning finish.
The home team squandered a chance to take the lead after a threatening ball into the box saw Criddle come to claim and not get there. Luckily for those in red and white, she did enough to put the home side off as the ball evaded everyone for a goalkick.

In a break away from a long Criddle kick out, Hitchcox found herself once again dancing through the defence. A number of mistimed tackles handed the visitors an opportunity, with Fenton stepping up to take the free-kick.
The kick didn’t make it past the wall but Cheltenham kept the pressure on through Ellis on the left.

A foul on Fensome allowed Ellis to clip a ball into the box, which was played well into a dangerous area. The clearing header handing Cheltenham a corner at the very end of the match. The corner was lashed clear as Larkhall looked to counter with three or four players staying forward. The hosts were penalised for handball, and Cheltenham got one more bite at it.

The hosts would be the ones with the final roll of the dice, securing a corner of their own in the dying seconds. A tempting ball to the back post was missed by everyone, with Dolloway charging down the follow-up shot.

The visitors were able to clip the ball forward for Fenton before the referee brought the game to a close, ending a real frantic battle. Probably one the fans would have happily watched an extra 90 minutes of!

Cheltenham: A. Nomran (Red card 8), S. Hallsworth, C. Dolloway (c), M. Butler, L. Ellis, A. Bevan, C. Criddle, L. Fensome, S. King (Hitchcox 50) S. Butterfield (Kempski 65), A. Martin (Fenton 55). Subs unused: B. Wilkins, A. Leask.


Post-game, manager Alex Cheal was delighted with the work rate of the team after playing 85 minutes with 10 players, but was quick to remain realistic about the upcoming challenges against the two Southampton teams:

“A really good showing today, the players have really had to dig in for most of the game today after a, dare I say, a poor refereeing decision could have cost us today, so we were with our backs to the wall for most of today in a situation we’ve never been in before. But to be fair, Crids [Charlotte Criddle] went in goal and was fantastic, didn’t have too much to do and then at 1-0 we switch off and they score a deserved equaliser. Even though we had chances at the end to win it, but didn’t, it shows where we are as a team in terms of fitness levels and character, that they can go from that situation and still be in control of things. Disappointed now to get the win but this is a point gained ultimately.

“Three games away from home, this one, then the two Southamptons coming up back to back [15th and 22nd], you just have to take it as it comes and play what we have in front of us. We’re still up there, we’re still competing, so we have to take it as we find it. And if we can take points on the road then you’ve done everything right, and we’ll focus on the next one and if we can get points there then that’ll move us onto the next one.
Every team is going to lose at some point this season, and I imagine it’ll happen more than once given how well the other teams are doing in this league. So while we are up against some big teams, we’re still there and deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as them.

“We filmed the game today so we’ll be checking the footage to appeal the red card. As long as the footage is clear and obvious we’ll appeal.
Unfortunately, the referee’s reacted to an appeal from one of their players, and to be fair he’s done the same for us in the second half with a few calls, so it’s happened, it’s done and dusted, we aim to appeal it, but now we have to draw a line under this and keep focused on next week.

“Honest, I don’t know if Pan [Bec Panniers] will be fit enough to return. We don’t know just yet where she is in terms of her recovery. That said, we will have another goalkeeper training with us next week and that player comes in with a lot of experience.
Norm [Alyta Norman] has stood in and done a great job over the last three games and she’s been put in a situation, but ultimately she’s our goalkeeping coach, so we need somebody in to compete with Pan for the place.

[In terms of further rotation] “We feel like we have a squad that offers different things for different fixtures and scenarios. So that’s where we use that rotation a little bit more, where we’ve been able to in the week. We’ve picked up 7 points in a week using the majority of the squad available, so going into the Southampton Women’s game we have an 11 in mind, so it’s just about them training on Tuesday and Thursday and we go into that game and see where it takes us. We have a game plan, we’ve done our homework, and we can only go and judge it from there.

“The title isn’t won or lost after the first time of playing them, it’s done over the course of the season. These two sides are bringing in good players who are dropping down, so we’ll see how it goes, but it’s not just the two Southampton’s, there’s Exeter and Buckland, Larkhall will put pressure on, the league has got very very competitive.”

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