Crawley Wasps 0 Herne Bay 1 (Farrow)
Herne Bay’s meteoric rise continues. If anyone still doubted the pedigree, the ability and the resilience of a club who have swept so much before them in the two-and-a-bit seasons they’ve existed, today’s result – and performance – will surely have put paid to those lingering question marks.
The South East Counties Premier side played their full part in an entertaining and absorbing FAW Cup tie against a team sitting comfortably in the division above – and came away with a place in the third qualifying round of the women’s FA Cup for the first time in their brief history.
The Kent side were very much up against it for much of the match, but whatever their opponents might feel, this was no smash-and-grab raid.
Missing their two star strikers, Vicky Holness and Harriet Chapman, who have shared 15 goals in Bay’s five consecutive league victories this season, the visitors matched their experienced opponents for much of a pulsating first half and then defended their precious lead with commitment, bravery and no little skill.
They had their share of luck, of course, as Crawley hit the bar twice and the top of the net twice more, but they were thwarted as much by Bay’s committed defending and the superb goalkeeping of Sarah Cooper as any perceived misfortune.
Herne Bay may be a young club, but they’re not a little one. Attracting crowds of 60-plus at the Winch’s Field ground they share with the men’s side, they have strength in depth – as illustrated by the mature performances of stand-in strikers Nicola Harris and Breeze Handley, and by the threat of 16-year-old substitute Emily Brown when she replaced Harris.
They also boasted one of the best players on view in Kate Foster, who shrugged off more than one painful injury on a ground from which she was stretchered off last season to give Crawley’s dominant midfield a game they are not likely to forget.
But it was in defence where Bay really won the contest. For three-quarters of the game, their goal came under siege from a marvellously fluent Wasps side, who seem to have hit form now that they are close to full strength.
But marshalled superbly by Rachel Tracy and Debbie Blackmore, they erected a formidable barrier in a crowded last quarter of the pitch, soaking up the Crawley pressure and defending for their lives.
Superior possession, enterprising football
When Wasps’ intricate passing game got around the fortifications, goalkeeper Cooper was on hand to deny them time after time.
Defeat was tough on Crawley, who deserved more, not only for their superior possession but also their enterprising football, using both flanks to great effect and passing superbly through the middle of the park.
But they did not take the myriad chances that they created. Herne Bay took one of the few they had, and it will be a brave – or foolhardy – side that under-estimates them in the next round.
The pattern of the match was cast in the opening minute when the visitors tore into Crawley, winning an early corner, only for the Wasps to counter at speed, courtesy of Rebecca Carter, Suzy Davies and Lisa Richards, before being thwarted – not for the last time – by a timely Foster tackle.
Both teams looked strong in attack and – more significantly – looked comfortable on the ball in midfield, meaning possession was generally conceded dearly and the ball won by good tackles or interceptions rather than by generous donation.
Wasps carved out an opening on six minutes after good work by Richards and Carter, but Beth Nugent ended the immediate threat with a fine tackle.
From the ensuing corner, Wasps struck the bar for the first time, but the goal remained intact.
A few minutes later, Crawley had a chance from another set-piece, but Natalie Stephenson found goalkeeper Cooper from 30 yards out and the opportunity was wasted.
Almost immediately, Herne Bay won a free-kick in an almost identical position, and from Tracey’s beautifully flighted delivery, Harris unwittingly took the ball away from the on-rushing Carly Farrow and that chance, too, came to nothing.
Herne Bay were enjoying their best spell of a pretty even opening, and in the 14th minute they made the most of Wasps’ failure to clear Catherine Poleykett’s weak goal-kick, Farrow seizing the ball and side-stepping a couple of challenges before coolly slotting past the keeper.
Crawley were shaken, but not panicked, as they continued to play the ball through midfield, with Aston Worsfold coming more and more to the fore, showing great skill and temperament to play her side out of defensive trouble.
Fine play by Kelly Poynton on the right wing was followed by equally impressive football by Beth Kemp on the left flank, finding Toni Smith, who skipped round a challenge and fired in a shot that was deflected on to the Herne Bay net.
The home side looked certain to grab the equaliser their pressure suggested they would earn when the impressive Davies, in a rare bit of space, sent a superb pass through to Rebecca Carter, who was in on goal before being foiled by a terrific tackle by Emma Brown.
Poynton was enjoying a fine spell on the right for Crawley, and she sent over a dangerous cross, which Zoe Martin met first time but directed wide.
Still the hosts created the chances, but still they spurned them, Davies finishing off another fine move that she had started, shooting wide at full stretch from Carter’s lay-off.
Right on half-time, Crawley suffered a blow when the increasingly influential Worsfold suffered a shin injury in a challenge with Tracy, and although she re-emerged for the start of the second half, she was replaced within a minute of the restart by Jade Simmons.
Wasps continued after half-time where they had left off in the first, swarming all over Bay without producing the sting to hurt their opponents.
The visitors, unsurprisingly, were focusing on defending their lead, but still looked dangerous on their sporadic forays into the Crawley half.
However, with a reluctance to receive the ball with their backs to goal, the strikers were giving Crawley’s defenders every opportunity to intercept and pile more pressure on Bay’s back line.
To Crawley’s credit, they didn’t panic and continued to make inroads through neat interplay rather than desperate directness, and it took another crunching tackle to deny Carter after another perceptive pass by Davis.
With nearly an hour gone, the Kent side replaced Harris with Brown, and the teenager immediately gave Wasps’ defence more to think about as she stretched the back four, willingly chasing balls into the channels as well as over the top.
She squandered a chance to extend Bay’s lead, though, when, after being put through by Farrow, she blasted over from distance when she had time to move into Crawley’s penalty area – a feat that was becoming rarer as the game wore on.
It was brief respite for Herne Bay and could have proved costly a minute later when first Smith and then Martin were denied by a double save from Cooper.
Handley was replaced by Ashley Bantages as Herne Bay strengthened their midfield at the expense of their strike force.
Crawley were more dominant than ever, but it served only to prompt Herne Bay to raise their own game at the back, Blackmore defying repeated knocks to keep the marauding Wasps at bay.
With 20 minutes to go, Crawley introduced 17-year-old, Rebekah Dunt, for the impressive Martin, and the traffic remained largely one-way.
Cooper again kept the visitors in front with a superb point-blank save as Carter again bore down on goal.
Wasps struck the bar again before Foster reminded them of the threat at the other end, her angled shot on the turn ending up on top of Poleykett’s goal before Richards’ 30-yard effort at the other end suffered a similar fate.
There was time for another superb last-ditch block by Beth Nugent to smother one last attack. But it was beginning to feel like Wasps could have attacked all night without getting that equaliser.
Both sides deserve great credit for contributing to a fine FAW Cup tie that did not betray the gap of a whole division between them.
Wasps were fluent and impressed with their one-touch football, but Herne Bay proved they are not just flat-track bullies, coping admirably without their two star strikers to deny cup progress to a side who might reasonably have expected to make the next round.
Herne Bay’s manager, Anthony Deer, spoke of his pride that his patched-up side had knocked out the London & South East side.
He told Sent her Forward: “I wouldn’t say it was the best we have played but without Tor (Holness) and Harry (Chapman) it was hard.
“But they showed fight and character. The girls are over the moon. I thought Sarah (Cooper) in goal was outstanding today. She made three crucial saves.
“That is the level we are going to have to play at if we want to progress rather than just turning up and banging in goals (against lesser opposition).”
Paul Harding, the Crawley boss, spoke of his frustration that his side had failed to turn their dominance into goals. “We probably had 75 or 80% of the play, but you see it so often in the cups,” he said.
“If we had got a goal back, we would probably have gone on and won it because they didn’t have anything coming forward.
“But I take my hat off to (Herne Bay). They sat, kept their formation very well. Then they get one break and get one goal.
“We would probably have done the same thing if we had been playing someone like Lewes or Brighton.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Kate Foster (Herne Bay)
What an embarrassment of riches. There were several genuine candidates for the accolade, on both sides. But Foster, who was taken to hospital on her last visit to Three Bridges in the SECW League Cup final, defied yet more pain to put in a magnificent 90 minutes.
One moment she was mopping up alongside her back four; the next she was launching an attack, putting her pace, strength and excellent close control to good effect.
She just shades her goalkeeper, Sarah Cooper, who kept Herne Bay in the cup with some terrific saves. And Emma Brown, Debbie Blackmore, Carly Farrow and Rachel Tracy also deserve praise for their contributions to the club’s famous victory.
Foster’s performance was all the more impressive, given the quality of player she faced in the Crawley midfield. Suzy Davies was outstanding, rarely wasting a pass and at the heart of so much of Wasps’ attacking threat.
Rebecca Carter, Kelly Poynton and Lisa Richards also played major roles in the best performance I’ve seen from the Wasps, while Aston Worsfold‘s injury hindered Crawley’s cutting edge in front of goal.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 8/10 The game was played competitively, with both teams contributing to the spectacle.