Lancing (Cobb, Watson, Thaxter) 3-1 Lewes (French)
Lancing moved to the brink of the Sussex county league title in their first season with a hard-fought victory over Lewes in another fine advert for women’s football in the county.
Needing effectively four points from their final three fixtures, courtesy of a far superior goal difference to every other team in the division, Lancing came from behind to collect three of them after a bright start by Lewes’s young guns.
In doing so, they preserved their perfect home record – seven wins in their seven fixtures at their magnificent Culver Road home – and set up a title decider against Rottingdean Village next month.
The Brighton side are the only team who can now catch Lancing – and they would have to win both their remaining fixtures and hope their rivals come unstuck in their final match at Jarvis Brook to overhaul them.
Lancing manager Jason Downer is confident the title is theirs for the taking and backs his players to perform under pressure to pick up the necessary point.
He told Sent Her Forward: “We’ve had three tough games in a row – Crawley, Rottingdean and then Lewes – so it’s been nice because we’ve had a lot of weeks without playing football… I think they’ve finally got match-fit and better from playing better teams.
“And hopefully, that’s what we’ll do next year if we go up.”
Rottingdean’s manager, Russell Brooks, and some of his players were at Culver Road to watch their title rivals, although they are hardly strangers, having met in the League Cup last Sunday.
And in all honesty, he probably won’t have learned anything new as Lancing began a little slowly before getting into their stride and performing impressively in all areas of the field.
Their defence was given a tough time, initially by Ellie French and the superb Chloe Evans, and later by Evans and Charlotte Russell.
But marshalled by the composed Nicole Webley, the back line grew into the game, and by the second half, the tiring Evans and her various strike partners were struggling for quality time on the ball.
In front of the defence, Lancing’s midfield always possessed an attacking threat, through the lively Chelsea Watson and left-winger Kayleigh Thaxter, whose personal duel with Lewes’s own number 11, Ellie Bonwick, was one of the fascinating highlights of the night.
And farther forward, they possessed the pace and power of Billie-Jo Cobb and Hannah Bashir-Eviston, who never let Lewes’s defence settle.
The East Sussex side possessed plenty of talent themselves, though, playing their full part in another entertaining spectacle between two fine young sides who surely still have their best years before them.
Goalkeeper Katie Burr pulled off some fine saves that kept the score down as Lancing adopted a shoot-on-sight policy.
Each of Lewes’s defenders made crucial tackles or interceptions to deny Lancing’s marauding attackers even more opportunities – Shannon Perrin, in particular, standing out.
Bonwick was outstanding on the left of Lewes’s midfield, while ahead of them, Evans in particular performed with a maturity beyond her years.
It was the home side who made the first positive moves, winning a corner in the second minute that caused a moment of panic in the Lewes defence before the ball was cleared for a throw-in.
However, Jessica Mead’s arrow-like delivery from the left touchline was every bit as lethal as a corner kick, although the visitors again managed to hack it clear.
Lewes gave notice of their own attacking capabilities on six minutes when Evans dispossessed Florence Pollock and played in her fellow striker French, but she overran the ball.
A minute later, Evans and Bonwick carved out another opportunity, the striker starting the move with a header to Bonwick before collecting the midfielder’s return. But she screwed her shot disappointingly wide.
French threatened again when she latched on to a long clearance, but Mead was quickly across to cut out her cross, intended for Evans.
While Lewes were enjoying the better of the early skirmishes, both sides were looking dangerous up front.
Mead, Cobb and Bashir-Eviston combined well to earn Lancing another corner, with 13 minutes gone, and then Watson tried a first-time shot from 20 yards that flew well over.
The game was throwing up some interesting individual battles. The lively Evans was causing Webley some problems but met her match in Mead, whose pace enabled her to keep up with the striker, even if her clearances were letting her down.
One such instance led to Lewes’s goal in the 17th minute. The left-back did brilliantly to thwart Evans as she bore down on goal, but as she struggled to bring the ball under control, Evans dispossessed her and fed French, who finished comfortably.
Lancing responded immediately, Thaxter breaking free down the left, but Perrin denied her with an excellent tackle.
In the 24th minute, Lewes fashioned another scoring chance after Amy Perkins’ 20-yard free-kick was blocked, giving the visitors their first corner.
Perkins’ perfect delivery caused havoc: stand-in goalkeeper Jodie Mills flapped at the cross, and the ball fell to Megan Gates, whose shot was blocked for another corner as Lewes continued to enjoy the better possession.
But as the game progressed into its second quarter, the home side began to find their feet, and a succession of hopeful snapshots were the cue for a change in the complexion of the game.
Bashir-Eviston shot well wide from the edge of the Lewes box; then Sophie Tibbs sent a precise lob towards Cobb, but Beth Jago cut out the danger with a perceptive intervention.
Then Watson shot wide from distance before, in the 27th minute, Lancing carved out their best chance so far.
Pollock, receiving a pass from the wing, allowed the ball to roll across her before turning and firing towards goal. But Burr was equal to her effort, saving well, low down.
Lancing didn’t have to wait long for the equaliser. With half an hour gone, Webley, who after a sticky start, was beginning to blossom, did brilliantly to turn defence into attack and found Watson, who played a superb pass into the path of Cobb, who lobbed Burr expertly to make it 1-1.
Both sides continued to pose a threat, with the Evans-Webley contest now being matched by one between Thaxter and Bonwick on the Lancing left.
Perkins had to be alert to thwart Bashir-Eviston after she was set up by Thaxter.
But in the 40th minute Lancing took the lead through Watson, who collected a throw from Mead and sent another lob over Burr.
There was just time for one more chance for either side before half-time.
Thaxter shot wide from 10 yards, and then Perrin sent a superb long ball through to French, who capitalised on a mistake between two defenders to create a scoring chance, but the pair got back in time, and the striker was injured in the ensuing scramble.
Half-time: Lancing 2-1 Lewes
French did not emerge for the start of the second half – a crucial blow for Lewes, who were going to need some attacking inspiration to claw their way back into the game.
Charlotte Russell replaced her, joining Evans up front, while in another tactical switch, Amy Perkins moved from the back into midfield.
The visitors began brightly as they pursued an equaliser, and strung together one of their best attacking moves just after the resumption.
Gates found Russell with a superb ball from midfield and the substitute turned smartly and fired in a fierce shot which Mills did well to punch away for a corner.
But back came Lancing, with Webley sending another wonderful clearance beyond the Lewes back line for Bashir-Eviston to chase. But Jago did brilliantly to match her opponent stride for stride to deny the hosts another goalscoring opportunity.
However, they didn’t have to wait long. On 52 minutes Cobb chased a long punt towards the Lewes goal and collided with Burr as the goalkeeper came out to try to clear. The ball ran loose to Thaxter, who finished from close range.
It was to prove the killer blow.
Sophie Tibbs tried an opportunist effort from 40 yards after Burr’s goal-kick came straight to her, but succeeded only in returning the ball to the keeper.
Lewes’s chances were becoming few and far between, but on the hour a free-kick 25 yards out presented them with a rare chance. Perkins’ delivery was again superb, finding Evans’ head, but the diminutive striker could not direct her effort on target.
Evans was again involved in a passage of play that pretty much summed up the respective contributions of the striker and her magnificent marker.
Webley somehow managed to halt both Evans and Russell as they bore down on goal, and carried the ball calmly out of defence.
But, as is her wont, she was a little too calm and delayed the pass, allowing the tigerish Evans to chase back and rob her.
As the match moved into its final quarter, Lancing were looking comfortable with their lead. They continued to head forwards, but with no need to take risks, while at the back, Webley, Mead and Holly Marsh were looking solid – although Evans never let them ease up for a second.
A succession of substitutions disrupted the flow of what had been an entertaining contest, but if Lancing felt they could relax, the introduction of Emily Guthrie for Nadine Martin was to suggest otherwise.
Guthrie, another livewire, became Evans’ third strike partner of the night, Russell moving back into midfield.
But while Guthrie might have given Lancing more to think about in defence, they remained a threat going forward, and another Webley long pass, intended for Cobb, was cut out by the alert Burr just in time.
With just 15 minutes left the home side could have moved out of sight, as Cobb again outpaced the Lewes defence, cut inside and unleashed a fierce low shot. But Burr once again saved her team, diverting the effort away with an outstretched foot.
A minute later it was Watson’s turn to be denied by Burr, shooting directly at the goalkeeper after yet more brilliant work by Webley.
Perkins offered an isolated response for Lewes, taking advantage of some slack defensive work to get in a shot from the edge of the penalty area. Her effort was going wide, but Mills made sure.
Perkins’ corner again found Evans’s head, but again she was unable to get it on target from a difficult angle.
Still the rolling substitutions came as Downer took every opportunity to break up play as Lancing saw out their victory.
And still came the shots as they demonstrated they were not content to sit back on their lead.
Webley again marauded through the Lewes midfield, finding Cobb, who shot wide.
The match ended with Lewes earning successive corners as they stood toe to toe with the potential champions-elect. But Lancing not only absorbed everything the teenagers could throw at them; they hurled it back – with interest.
Once again, two of the best footballing sides in the Sussex County Women and Girls Football League put on an entertaining show, full of great technical ability, pleasing passing movements and plenty of commitment.
Both sides were playing youth football last season, and last night was an illustration of just how far they have come.
Lancing, which is essentially last year’s Hangleton Rangers under-18 side, have matured into a team of all talents, with power and pace to match their technical precision.
Lewes, an age group behind, are catching up fast and have made great strides since winning the Under-16 Division last season.
Their manager, Martin Perkins, told Sent Her Forward he was proud of their rapid progress – and derived encouragement from the fact that they felt so down after failing to get anything from their encounter with the leaders.
“There are some very unhappy faces in [the changing room]. They’re very dejected,” he said, referring to individual errors that cost them dearly. “But I’ve said to them, you know that. Focus on the things you did well, and do more of it.”
He added: “I’ve got a genuine under-17 team (in terms of qualifying age)… They’ve progressed massively. They’re not worried about playing anybody now.
“When I heard that the Under-18 League (in which Lewes originally planned to compete) wasn’t happening and we were playing in the adult league, I thought anything but bottom place would have done. I’m really proud of them.”
Perkins said: “It would have been nice to get a draw, but [Lancing] were probably the better team overall. They took their chances and we didn’t. But we did create quite a few chances. I thought we played some excellent football, and I think we forced them to up their game, as well.”
Downer, too, paid tribute to his team’s young opponents. “Both sides actually tried to play football the right way,” he said. “The last couple of games, we’ve been kicking it up in the air a bit too much for my liking, so it was nice to come and play…
“We knew Lewes played like that anyway, so it was good to see a good game of football. And the win’s even better.”
He felt Lewes’s creditable extra-time victory over Crawley Wasps in the League Cup last Sunday indirectly contributed to Lancing’s own quality performance. Downer revealed: “In a way that kept us on our toes. They started the game well and got the goal to go 1-0 up, but I always felt that we had it in us.
“I think we looked sharp.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Nicole Webley (Lancing)
The centre-back-cum-midfielder never seems to have a bad game and has been an integral part of her side’s success this season, providing the rock on which so many opposition attacks founder and setting up counter-moves, with her calm air of authority.
However, last night she was up against one of the finest young footballers I have seen in the county. Chloe Evans, just 17, not only has pace and a strength that belies her slight form, but her tenacity puts even accomplished defenders, like Webley, under pressure.
However, after a tricky opening few minutes, Webley initially matched her and then, as the young striker tired in a fruitless second half, finally got the better of her.
Evans deserves immense credit for her contribution, though. Until her substitution late in the game, she did not stop running. But what impresses me most whenever I see her play is her awareness of others and willingness to bring them into the play with the simple ball – qualities that come with a maturity beyond her tender years.
Alongside Webley, Jess Mead deserves credit. Not only did she have the pace to match Evans, but she possesses her opponent’s instinctive reading of the game, enabling her to slip into the right positions to intercept or block.
Only her distribution lets her down – something that surely will come in time to the youngster. And her powerful throw-ins are a key weapon in Lancing’s left-sided attacks.
Florence Pollock and Sophie Tibbs showed some nice touches in midfield, where Kayleigh Thaxter was outstanding. Chelsea Watson became an increasing attacking threat as Lewes tired, and Hannah Bashir-Eviston did not give Jago and the other Lewes defenders a moment’s peace.
Up front, the poise and touch of Billie-Jo Cobb were a continual threat throughout the game.
Until her injury, Ellie French posed Lancing all sorts of problems, alongside Evans, while the two Ellies – Bonwick and Ramsauer – stood out in midfield.
Charlotte Russell was impressive as an attacking force when she entered the fray, as was Emily Guthrie when she came on, and Shannon Perrin was the pick of a defence in which everyone – not least goalkeeper Katie Burr – did well, bar a couple of lapses in concentration that were punshed.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 8/10 Another fine game played in superb spirit on a decent pitch in front of a big, supportive Wednesday night crowd. The referee barely had a foul to deal with – and was never harangued by two young sides who let their football do their talking.