Kent Women’s Cup final: Gillingham 5-3 London Corinthians
Gillingham, the biggest women’s club in Kent, won the county cup – as has become their custom – for a record fourth time in a row. But their victory over gallant London Corinthians in last night’s final at Maidstone United heralds the start of a new era rather than an extension of the old.
The Gillingham side that retained the trophy last night contained only three players who had featured in last year’s “hat-trick” triumph, over Charlton Athletic Reserves.
In fact, Brighton’s side that won the Sussex Cup a fortnight ago contained far more of the Gillingham cup winners of 2014, most having followed their successful manager, James Marrs, to Brighton.
The team that beat Corinthians last night was very much the new Gillingham – and very much the team that new manager, Simon Ratcliffe, and his coaches have moulded.
It’s been a difficult season for the Premier League side, forced to rebuild around the few who stayed with Centre of Excellence players and last-minute signings from around the county.
And they still face a fight to preserve their Premier League status, just 12 months after losing out on the title on the final day of the season.
So last night’s victory – the first trophy of the post-Marrs era – will have meant a lot to Ratcliffe, his backroom team and every one of those Gillingham players who either stayed behind to tough it out when the going really did get tough, or took the step up to the big time at the start of this season.
Like everything the Gills seem to do these days, they didn’t make it easy for themselves. Or rather, their game opponents made it extremely difficult for them, racing into a 2-0 lead against the run of play in the first 25 minutes and then, after Gillingham had finally moved ahead, hauling them back level.
Last night was as much a test of their character as their footballing skills.
Determination and grit
Ashlee Hincks, named player of the match after her two goals, and Lauren Williams, the captain, admitted they owed everybody something after their disappointing start, in which Emily Hart and Katherine Long took advantage of the Gills’ failure to clear free-kicks to put Corinthians on their way to what could have been a sensational victory.
Hincks told the club’s website: “We let ourselves down in the first half. In the second, we came out with a bit of determination and grit and made sure we won the right to win the game.”
Williams added: “We made some mistakes which led to us being two goals down, and you can’t do that in a cup final and then not react.”
That their opponents, from the London & South East Regional Women’s League, two tiers below the Gills, were able to build a lead – albeit against the run of play – was thanks in no small part to their goalkeeper, Harvey, who denied Hincks and Tune in the opening 20 minutes, during which Sophie Brown also hit the bar.
But within 10 minutes of Corinthians’ second goal, the Gills were level, courtesy of Hincks‘ cool finish and Tune‘s header.
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Gillingham completed their comeback just after half-time when Harvey knocked Lauren Phillips’ corner into her own net.
But if Ratcliffe’s players thought that was it, they were in for a rude awakening.
Within five minutes, Hart had her second and the scores were level once more.
But Gillingham stepped up a gear, and further goals from Louise Lorton and Hincks eased the Gills to what Ratcliffe believed was ultimately a reasonably comfortable win.
Kent Women’s Cup
|Played in Gillingham’s 2014 and 2015 wins||Played in Gillingham’s 2014 win and Brighton’s 2015 Sussex Cup win|
|Charlotte Long||Faye Baker|
|Lauren Phillips||Jay Blackie|
|Emma Tune||Danielle Carlton|
It was Gillingham’s sixth Kent Women’s Cup triumph, taking them second only to Charlton Athletic, who have won it eight times.
And their four successive cup-final victories are a record for the competition, now in its 22nd season.
Ratcliffe will hope this latest one can be the springboard to success in their final four league games of the season as they bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Corinthians, whose league programme has been disrupted in part by their cup exploits, also need wins in their attempt to break into the league that Gillingham are trying to avoid.
They currently lie sixth in the 12-team London and South East league, but can theoretically take the title – and potential promotion to the FAW Premier League Division One South East – if they win most – if not all – of their remaining eight fixtures.
Compiled with the help of Kent FA, Kent FA’s match report by John Seager, Gillingham Ladies FC and FA Full-Time – plus a lot of personal research!