Adur Athletic 4-3 Rottingdean Village (match abandoned after 86 minutes)
It was to be the Sussex County Women’s League title decider. Instead, an extraordinary match between two local rivals ended in chaos and confusion, with the destiny of the championship now in danger of being decided by a committee.
Adur, who needed just a draw to clinch the trophy, had taken a 4-3 lead in a feisty roller-coaster of a game that featured two sendings-off, three yellow cards and regular lectures at the dug-outs, when Rottingdean’s captain, Kayleigh Norris, suffered a bad injury, just seconds from the end of normal time.
After a delay of more than 20 minutes, waiting for an ambulance crew to arrive and treat the stricken player, referee Paul Preston abandoned the game, ruling that the wait had been too long, leaving both sets of players and officials bemused – and the outcome of the match in the balance.
The Sussex Women & Girls League Committee will now consider Mr Preston’s report and decide whether the score should stand or the match be replayed – a decision which would have massive ramifications.
According to Mr Preston, there were four minutes (including time added on) to be played when the injury – in a seemingly innocuous midfield challenge – occurred.
Rottingdean, who needed a victory to snatch the title from their opponents, were down to nine players – and with no substitute to replace Norris, would have had to continue with just eight.
They were already without several players through unavailability, who might now be able to feature in any replayed game, although their goalkeeper, Chloe Eyre, would be among those who could miss it.
Adur, too, might well have other players unavailable.
Their manager, Kevin James, told Sent Her Forward: “It’s a joke. If the roles had been reversed, I would have said [continue to] play the game. If there is a replay next week, they have had two players sent off. Will they be banned?
“Another four minutes [and] we would probably have got another goal. It is a shame. It totally spoilt the whole day. The trophies were here. Everyone wanted a conclusion today.”
Rottingdean manager Russell Brooks said he would not argue with whatever decision was reached regarding the game, but he said: “I think it will be replayed.”
He thought the second sending-off, of star striker Amy Clark, for foul and abusive language, 10 minutes from time – was harsh.
But he said he was more concerned about his captain, who was taken from the field in an ambulance.
“The main thing is that the girl who was injured gets sorted,” he said.
Adur began strongly, taking an early lead through top scorer Sarah Healy and forcing four corners in the first 12 minutes as their passing and movement constantly troubled Rottingdean’s shaky back line.
Only some impeccably-timed tackles by left-back Sarah McCarthy spared the Brighton side further problems in a torrid opening.
Adur could have been 2-0 up in the 12th minute when Healy hit the bar from a narrow angle and Paris Akehurst hit the rebound over from eight yards out.
Twin strike threats
While the Brighton side were reduced largely to hurried defensive clearances, Sam Morley was trying to carry the fight to the league leaders with several enterprising runs from midfield.
On a rare foray into the Adur half, Clark shot wide from the edge of the area, but it was Adur’s twin strike threats, Healy and Ella Turvill, who were looking the more dangerous.
However, after half an hour, the tide began to turn. Rottingdean forced a couple of corners and a free-kick just outside the area, which struck panic in the Adur defence before they scrambled the ball clear.
Clark and Gemma Stanley were beginning to show some nice touches up front for Rottingdean, but their defence still looked vulnerable, and only another superb intervention by McCarthy denied Healy a run on goal.
But the pressure the visitors were exerting eventually paid dividends, four minutes before the break, when the Adur defence again failed to clear Morley’s superb free-kick and predator Clark was on hand to stab the ball home.
Rottingdean continued to make the early running in the second half, Morley making a superb diagonal run through the Adur defence but running out of steam and finishing with a tired shot.
Jordan Lucas tried a shot from distance for Adur, but it was comfortably held by Eyre.
On 64 minutes Rottingdean took the lead when a ball through the middle caught the defence napping, and Clark again found the net.
Minutes later the double goalscorer was booked for kicking the ball away. Lauren Westwood, of Adur, followed her soon after for something she said.
The match was becoming scrappy, the discipline lax – though the game was never dirty – but Rottingdean were in the ascendancy and on course for the result that would have given them the league title.
Then came probably the biggest turning point in an afternoon full of them.
Kerry Short was penalised for her part in an aerial challenge after 71 minutes, and was shown a red card by Mr Preston, who later said the sending-off was for violent conduct.
Rottingdean sacrificed a striker, switching Clark, briefly, to defence. But they almost extended their lead when Morley somehow battled her way through down the left wing and cut inside. But with no-one in support, she poked a shot just wide of the post.
Within a minute Adur made their superior numbers count, Hannah Lane producing a fine, calm finish out of keeping with what was going on around her after being sent through.
Clark went back up front as the 10 players of Rottingdean pressed for the winner they needed. But after Adur’s Ella Turvill became the third name in the referee’s book, Clark saw red as frustration at another spurned chance got the better of her.
It looked like a harsh decision, but it left Rottingdean still in need of another goal – and with only nine players to achieve it.
Once again, Adur took immediate advantage of the extra personnel, Healy tapping in for her second after a quick-fire breakaway to put the leaders 3-2 ahead.
Adur laid siege to the Rottingdean goal, raining in shots, but Morley and Sian Crewe showed admirable composure and endeavour as they attempted to salvage something for the visitors.
And incredibly, with just four minutes to go, they were level again. Morley produced another barnstorming run through the heart of the defence and sent over a superb cross from the right, which Crewe, standing between two defenders, headed past Sarah Dyke in the Adur goal.
The goal might have given Rottingdean hope, but Adur effectively killed off the game with a fourth goal in the final minute of normal time.
Norris suffered her sickening injury in a midfield collision, but with no foul committed, Adur broke away and Lucas played a superb ball behind the central defenders, which Healy clipped emphatically over the keeper for her hat-trick.
But with Norris’s injury leading to the abandonment of the game, the predatory striker will have to wait to learn whether her third hat-trick of the season will count.
Referee Preston explained to Sent Her Forward why, after the 20-minute wait for Norris to receive medical attention, he had abandoned the game.
He said: “The delay has been too long. The injury is serious enough that the minds (of the players) are not focused on the game.”
He added: “There is not a hard and fast rule. All factors are taken into account – how long the ambulance takes, the player is in a poor state, [the other players] are not warmed up.”
Mr Preston, who is also an official of the SCWG League, said the league’s committee would now decide whether to uphold the 4-3 scoreline or order a replay.
“The clubs will be informed of the majority decision. Then five days’ notice will be given. If there is a replay, it will either be next Sunday or May 18.”
Both managers felt the game had been played in the right spirit, despite the number of red and yellow cards.
Brooks said: “I thought it was two good teams playing a good game of football. They all shook hands afterwards. It was effectively a cup final.”
He added: “I thought we played really well. If we had put the ball away, it would have been us arguing that we wanted to play on.
“The first red card definitely changed the game. I thought it was more clumsy than violent. And I thought the second red was harsh.”
Kevin James felt some of his players might have been over-awed by the occasion but was confident they would still clinch the league, whether by committee or in a replay.
“We’ve got a lot of young players, and I think the occasion got to some of the players. After the sending-off, we have got to exploit the chance we have got.
“We didn’t play as well as we can today. We can play a lot better.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Sam Morley (Rottingdean Village)
Adur’s front pair of Sarah Healy and Ella Turvill caused Rottingdean no end of problems, with Jordan Lucas prompting from midfield. Sarah McCarthy was outstanding at the back for Rottingdean, and Sian Crewe’s skill and composure nearly earned her side a lifeline.
But Morley played an increasingly influential role as the game wore on, particularly when her side were struggling at the beginning, and her run and cross for Rottingdean’s late equaliser when they were down to nine players, exemplified her almost super-human efforts.