Lancing 14 (Bashir-Eviston 4, Cobb 2, Tibbs 2, Longhurst 2, Watson, Webley, Pierce, OG) Predators 0
When the bulk of last year’s Hangleton Rangers under-18 side helped manager Jason Downer create Lancing FC’s first ladies’ team they must have been anticipating a tougher challenge in their first foray into women’s football than they encountered on their way to becoming runners-up in last season’s girls’ league.
Their first two weekends as an adult team hasn’t quite worked out that way.
After racking up 17 goals in last week’s opening game against Worthing Town, they rattled in another 14 today against the nine players of Predators to create a goal difference of 30 in a season that is only eight days old.
It was attack v defence for the entire 90 minutes in a fixture only made possible by their visitors’ determination to field a side, even though they knew they were on a hiding to nothing, and who failed to fulfil last week’s fixture with only seven players available.
Ironically, the farce of a match left both managers proud of their charges, but each knows he faces much tougher – though radically different – battles ahead.
Downer was delighted that his squad performed as elegantly as circumstances would allow, playing some delightful football, albeit against a team with no opportunity to do anything other than try to defy the inevitable onslaught.
But he also needs to convince his team of many talents that women’s football isn’t always like this. And they will certainly need a new set of skills – as well as a different mindset – when they encounter some of the stronger sides in the Sussex County Women’s League.
He was rightly concerned that their tempo was not as it will need to be against some of the more athletic sides in the division, although as he pointed out, it’s hard to play at full pelt in such an artificial atmosphere.
And his players – none of whom are over 21 – will need to deal with the physicality of women’s football that their West Sussex opponents – many of whom were themselves barely out of school uniform – were unable to produce in a strength-sapping 90-minute ordeal, with which they dealt uncomplainingly and in the best possible spirit, given the circumstances.
Only time will tell whether Downer’s youngsters are up to the task, but he knows already they possess enough technical ability and footballing know-how to play most sides off the park.
In contrast, Predators’ manager, Charlie Bye, has more prosaic matters to deal with.
Like putting out a team every week.
He told Sent Her Forward: “We only had seven last week (when they were forced to call off their fixture against Hurstpierpoint). And we had eight at training on Tuesday.
“I asked the ladies whether they wanted to play today and they all said yes. It doesn’t matter what the scoreline is. It’s a matter of going out and playing as a team, and I’m really proud of them today.”
But he must know they can’t rely on a core of eight or nine to turn out every week with the same level of commitment and spirit that they showed today. Indeed, for the integrity of the league, all games at this level must surely be 11 v 11, regardless of squad strength.
Bye’s challenge is to find sufficient numbers from his slender squad to do that week after week.
He said: “A lot of the ladies work. Some have got themselves jobs, and some work Sundays.”
He has rebuilt the side after taking over in the summer after the Bognor Regis side finished rock-bottom of a smaller Women’s Division last season – the result of a combination of insufficient quality and – yes – insufficient quantity.
“We’ve got four players who have come up through the ranks. The rest we have signed this season,” he added.
“Today was the first time a lot of the players have played with each other, and I’d like to say how proud of them I am. The girls are quite happy to play [if there are only] eight or nine.
“They love playing football. It would be a shame to not play.”
But he appreciates he needs still more – or at least more of those who have missed the first two Sundays of the season – if they are to survive the season.
Rather than bemoan the lack of opposition, Downer was just delighted Predators managed to put out a team after their no-show last week.
Nothing would have turned Lancing’s big day at their magnificent Culver Road ground into an anti-climax more than its postponement.
Instead, the club did the ladies proud – and the ladies did the club proud.
A crowd that would put some Premier League clubs to shame packed into one side of the ground, which serves as Sussex FA’s headquarters as well as hosting Lancing men’s first and reserves teams and Brighton’s under-21 and women’s sides.
The players were led on to the pitch by children from the youth set-up. The club’s vice-chairman manned the tannoy. The spectators included Lancing men’s manager, Richard Whittington, and club chairman Martin Gander.
There was a friendly welcome from club officials – and even a match programme. Some contrast from the environment most of these girls and young women were playing in just a few months ago.
And the bottom line (and I don’t mean financial, even though there was even one of those today as Lancing took a percentage of food and drink sales, as well as programmes) is that the women and girls are absolutely part of Lancing Football Club.
Gander told Sent Her Forward: “Women’s football is a rising sport and is getting bigger and bigger. The ladies team is Lancing Football Club, not just Lancing Ladies, and that is what we tell them.
“There is no difference at all. Sometimes clubs’ women’s teams can feel like poor relations, yet they are often the ones helping run the football club as well.”
But not at Culver Road. “I think they found it difficult when we were introducing them to their new surroundings and we could see their faces. With a bit of luck, they will attract other players and will move through the leagues.”
If the present side is anything to go by, that should only be a matter of time.
While they were never tested by a Predators side who ventured into the opposition half no more than half a dozen times during the whole match, they did demonstrate their trademark flowing, passing football that served them so well last season, when they were denied the under-18 title in a play-off.
They ooze class all over the field, and while their ability under pressure is yet to be tested, they know where the goal is – even if they did only convert around a third of the chances they created against Predators.
They were ahead within four minutes, through Hannah Bashir-Eviston, who finished with four. They were two up within five when the scorer of the first set up captain Billie-Jo Cobb with a delightful cross which she powered into the net.
Cobb scored her second – and seventh of the season – 11 minutes later courtesy of an assist from Amy Longhurst, who proved the scourge Predators’ full-backs in spells down both flanks during the game.
The goals continued at regular intervals throughout the first half, including, notably, one for centre-back Nicole Webley, who played most of the match in midfield and appeared to be on a one-woman mission to get on the scoresheet.
On the few occasions that defensive play was required, she was like a rock – a demoralising sight for Predators’ outfield players, who never had a sniff of a goal.
More of the time she was illustrating smart close control and powerful running, culminating in a purple patch in the run-up to her injury-time goal, during which she marauded through the centre of Predators’ midfield, provided a brilliant cross that just eluded Bashir-Eviston and rained in several shots of her own.
Her goal, on the stroke of half-time, was a fitting one – a blast from outside the penalty area which rocketed into the net to make it 6-0 – two fewer than at Worthing last week.
If Predators thought there might be any respite in the second half, they were in for a rude awakening.
Bashir-Eviston grabbed her second within seconds of the restart, and her hat-trick eight minutes later.
There were many top-notch goals in Lancing’s 14, but one of the most aesthetically pleasing was their last, five minutes from time, when Bashir-Eviston finished off a superb move involving a perfectly weighted chip from Jodie Mills to Jodie Pallant, whose header into the path of the scorer was sublime.
The only pity for the impartial observer was that Mills’ outstanding contribution from midfield was not capped with a goal, her venomous left-foot drive from 25 yards – with no perceptible back-lift – which missed the post by inches, right at the death, the most notable.
As a contest, it is impossible to assess this game. The imbalance of numbers alone was enough to render the match little more than a training exercise.
But it is clear that Downer has an immensely talented team on his hands who, if they learn to cope with the ugly side of adult football, could go a long way.
He told Sent Her Forward: “We wanted to put a show on with the right football, playing from the back.
“I instructed them at half-time to keep passing better rather than score goal after goal. I don’t think [there’s a danger of complacency] because they know the teams in the league and we fully know that we have tougher games to come.”
Predators’ challenge is to field 11 players every week, but their manager was rightly proud of the effort his nine put in – including a series of fine saves by their goalkeeper, Corinne Doig, which averted a numerical massacre.
Bye said: “We knew we couldn’t win with nine players, so it was just a case of keeping the goals down, which we did when you consider [Lancing] scored 17 last week against 11.”
Most gratifying for the neutral was that his team never gave up and – somehow – played the nightmare occasion with smiles on their faces, earning applause from players and spectators alike at the end.
More worrying, given that two of today’s four fixtures in the Women’s Division were postponed, and given that the under-18 league was scrapped because of insufficient teams, is the immediate future of women’s football in Sussex.
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Nicole Webley (Lancing)
It really could have been any one of half a dozen. Hannah Bashir-Eviston scored four goals and played superbly. Amy Longhurst added countless assists to her own tally of two goals. And Billie-Jo Cobb and Jodie Mills exuded class, as well.
But Webley showed the full gamut of skills required of a footballer, both in defence (of a sort) and attack, as well as capping her performance with a spectacular goal.
Predators’ goalkeeper, Corinne Doig, also made some outstanding saves.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 4/10 Fourteen goals but only four out of 10? A match has to involve two sides, and sadly, Predators’ failure to muster a team denied us that.