Southdown U-16 13 (McIntyre, Curran 3, Mays 3, Jellett 4 (2 pens), Hannaford, Bates) Royal Tunbridge Wells U-16 0
The last time I saw Southdown, their then under-16s were outplayed and soundly beaten in awful conditions at a soggy, boggy Burgess Hill.
But on my return visit today it was the turn of their next generation of under-16s to turn the tables and take total charge of a game, showing absolute domination – and precious little mercy – initially against 10 opponents, and for most of a calmitious second half, nine.
But whereas their predecessors showed immense spirit in adversity, that commodity was in short supply among today’s battered and bruised victims.
Yet, given the circumstances, was it so surprising? Royal Tunbridge Wells manager Steve Reddin had a bad feeling about the game when the Kent side turned up at Burgess Hill with only 10 players, their first-choice goalkeeper having just switched clubs and their centre-forward also missing.
But today was less about the shortage of personnel than the approach of those who had made the relatively long journey across Sussex to play the unbeaten league leaders.
Reddin told Sent Her Forward: “For our girls, having a game this half-term week, they all turned up sleepy-heads. I could see a noticeable change.
“We’ve never had a result like that, I told them (at half-time) they needed to put more pressure on and be more physical – which they can be, without fouling. But I think they’ve had some late nights.”
Nowhere was the indifference more evident than in goal, where reluctant custodian, Yasmin Soames, having kept her under-siege side in the game with some fine saves, finally gave up.
By the time of the 11th goal – possibly the pick of a very large bunch – she was not even bothering to make a token effort. Southdown’s 13th – a second penalty in eight minutes – was a formality, even though it was expertly placed by the talented Lucy Jellett.
But while the evaporation of the early commitment shown by the depleted visitors might be a cause for regret, it was at least understandable – if not excusable – under leaden skies, on a muddy surface and with a swirling wind making a mockery of both sides’ judgment of long balls (of which there were quite a few).
After making a fine fist of it in the challenging circumstances of the first half, limiting the leaders to just two goals, and having threatened several times themselves – notably through the impressive Alice Carey – Tunbridge Wells barely got out of their own half in the second, as goals rained in at an average rate of one every three-and-a-half minutes.
It would be wrong to blame Soames for the size of the defeat – indeed, had it not been for her strength and agility, Southdown would have reached double figures by the hour mark.
But while some individuals continued playing – albeit rather forlornly – to the end, it’s fair to say Southdown encountered more resistance from the wind than they did their opponents, who at least largely appeared to view their battering with equanimity.
And yet, it had looked so different in those early exchanges.
With Annabelle Reddin, the manager’s daughter, showing good control up front and Carey jolting any casualness out of their opponents with a couple of surging runs that both ended in decent shots that flew narrowly over, the 10 girls of Royal Tunbridge Wells could have been comfortably in front.
It took Southdown, who before today had scored seven goals in each of their opening three wins – including one at today’s opponents – 20 minutes to enjoy a spell of sustained pressure. And it was to prove a very watery watershed in the match.
Ellie MacIntyre, who caused Tunbridge Wells no end of trouble throughout the game, rattled the bar from best part of 30 yards after being given all the time in the world to pick her spot.
Jellett volleyed a cross to the far post over the bar from six yards before getting a second effort on target having run, largely unchallenged, across the edge of the box, only for Soames to make the first of many saves. The same combination were involved seconds later, on 23 minutes, but Jellett’s shot lacked pace and gave the goalkeeper no problems.
Southdown’s midfield was taking a hold on the game, pinning Tunbridge Wells’s nine outfield players farther and farther back, and isolating Reddin up-front.
It was only a matter of time before the hosts went in front. They won their first corner after 28 minutes and their second a few seconds later.
And then, with just over half an hour gone, Southdown finally took the lead.
Faye Hannaford who had initially done a fine job as a no-nonsense left-back before being pushed further forward when substitute Robyn Lacey entered the fray, met another fine Jellett corner but turned it just wide, and barely before the visitors could regroup, the superb MacIntyre had robbed the dozy defence and blasted an unstoppable shot past Soames.
The home side finally had the reward their endeavour had deserved, and with Jellett and Curran causing their opponents all sorts of headaches, Southdown doubled their lead a minute before half-time, Curran volleying home a superb cross from Ella Bates.
Tunbridge Wells had a brief rally just before the whistle, but it was to prove their last of the match as a disastrous second half was about to unfold.
Half-time: Southdown 2 Royal Tunbridge Wells 0
The visitors resumed after the break with only nine players following an injury, and Southdown took full advantage. MacIntyre superbly trapped Soames’ drop-kicked clearance and fed Jellett, who did well to line up a shot which she hit straight at the goalkeeper.
In a brief foray out of their own half, Carey, the shining light in Tunbridge Wells’ day of darkness, dispossessed the dangerous MacIntyre and embarked on a fine run of her own, but lacking support, the break petered out, and Southdown were soon out of sight.
Five minutes after half-time, Jellett became provider, sending over another dangerous corner, which Issy Mays glanced beyond Soames.
Seven minutes later it was four, as Curran got her second. Latching on to a long clearance, she was tackled by Soames outside the area, but the ball fell kindly for the striker, who rolled the ball into the empty net.
By now the visitors had cracked, and the goals followed at frequent intervals.
Jellett finally got on the score sheet with the fifth – a beautiful curling effort with her right foot after cutting back from the left byeline.
It was six with less than an hour played as Hannaford scored an opportunist goal after Soames had cut out a cross but the ball dropped at the midfielder’s feet.
Another two minutes and another goal, as Bates deflected Curran’s shot beyond Soames, who made yet another save a couple of minutes later to keep out MacIntyre’s brilliant effort.
On 64 minutes Mays‘ shot trickled under the despondent keeper for the eighth, and although she made an effort to keep out Jellett‘s precise penalty after Curran had been fouled, that was to be the last semblance of any resistance from her.
Jellett completed a second-half hat-trick to take Southdown into double figures; then Mays sealed her own treble with a skilfully curled angled shot that Soames didn’t even bother to go for.
Curran became Southdown’s third hat-trick girl three minutes from time when she scored the 12th, and Jellett bagged her fourth with her second penalty after the referee somewhat harshly ruled she had been fouled.
None of Tunbridge Wells’ team bothered to question the decision. The game was beyond that by that stage.
But if Steve Reddin’s team take anything from the game – apart from Carey’s notable performance – it could be a lesson in the psychology required to cope with adversity.
It was never going to be easy for Royal Tunbridge Wells, without a point from their opening two fixtures, against the league leaders – who have yet to drop one – and without a full complement of players.
Yet they kept a clean sheet for half an hour and limited goal-happy Southdown to only 2-0 at half-time. But as the rain grew heavier, so did the visitors’ hearts, and by the end it was a procession as the home players queued up to grab their hat-tricks.
Their manager put it down to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, and certainly, some of his players – including a somewhat reluctant goalkeeper – illustrated in that opening half-hour that they can play some decent football themselves.
At 15 and 16, minds can be fragile, and sometimes taking a pounding in such miserable circumstances with a little humour – as the visitors appeared to do – rather than seriously, feels a tempting choice to make.
Such an attitude might not figure in any coaching manual, but if it helps Royal Tunbridge Wells shrug off the excesses of such a heavy beating, it might actually aid their recovery in the long run.
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Ellie MacIntyre (Southdown)
Lucy Jellett had a terrific game, scoring four, creating more and giving the Tunbridge Wells defence a torrid time. But MacIntyre surpassed even that performance with an all-round display of quality close control, incisive and imaginative passing and a decent shot or two.
Jellett’s co-striker, Parris Curran, also looked sharp, while Issy Mays took her goals with aplomb.
Royal Tunbridge Wells’s stand-out performer was Alice Carey, although ironically, even goalkeeper Yasmin Soames performed well in the face of the perpetual tidal wave that swept towards her before finally giving up the ghost.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 There was little football played in the opening exchanges, but once Southdown broke the visitors’ resistance, they put together some aesthetically pleasing – and tactically astute – moves.