Chairman’s Cup final: Prince of Wales (Rennie 3, Newton, King, Galvin) 6-2 Abbey Rangers (H Johnson, R Johnson)
Prince of Wales have been making a habit of picking up the consolation prizes this season, but there was nothing second-rate about their performance in the Chairman’s Cup final as they swept aside a shell-shocked Abbey Rangers.
Mark Kerr’s team reached the final of the Kent FA Plate last month after an early exit from the County Cup, but were pipped to the trophy.
And after bowing out in the South East Counties League Cup, they went into the Chairman’s Cup – where they again made the final.
In their only previous appearance at this stage of the competition, in 2012, inevitably they lost.
And they even ended up receiving their runners-up medals at the end of today’s match after their second-place league finish was confirmed.
But after a season of being bridesmaids, today was the day that it all clicked for the Canterbury side, and they were rightly crowned Chairman’s Cup winners after an impressive victory over Abbey Rangers.
They may have “won” each half 3-1, but this match was decided in the first 30 minutes, during which Prince of Wales ripped into their opponents, causing panic in their defence and blocking the supply lines to the lethal Rachel Johnson merely by overwhelming them.
They swarmed all over Abbey right from the kick-off, forcing errors and not allowing their opponents time to dwell on the ball.
Yet, they could have been behind within two minutes when, from the Surrey side’s first attack, Johnson burst past three defenders, only to be brought down just outside the area. Stephanie Sale, normally so good from dead-ball kicks, bent her effort over the bar.
But Prince of Wales have their own predator, in 25-goal Caz Rennie, and Abbey ‘keeper Holly Nunn had to be alert to deny her a minute later, diving at her feet after good passing between Danni Ritson and Maria Wharfe.
The Kent side had settled immediately and were passing neatly and crisply, while Abbey were being forced into errors and struggled to piece together consecutive passes.
Ritson, Wharfe and Rennie were proving particular thorns in Abbey’s side, and another fluent move involving the trio plus Justine Newton and Emma Viscount helped them make considerable progress down the right flank.
On seven minutes Ritson again tormented Alice Cherry down the right and sent over a cross, which was only half-cleared. The ball reached Wharfe, whose first shot was blocked, and her follow-up was saved by Nunn.
For all Prince of Wales’s dominance, Abbey had the perfect counter-attacking weapon in Johnson, whose pace and trickery were keeping her opponents’ back line occupied.
The striker won the game’s first corner in the eighth minute, but it wasn’t long before PoW were back on the attack, and only a superb tackle by Clara Walding halted Wharfe’s progress down the right.
Wharfe was temporarily replaced while she left the pitch for minor repairs, and in the minute or so that she was off, the side she captains took the lead.
Ritson, who was proving almost unplayable, was inevitably the architect, running at the defence and feeding Rennie, who calmly stroked home the opener on 13 minutes.
As if that wasn’t bad enough for Abbey, Wharfe immediately re-entered the fray.
For all her pace and skill, Johnson, playing as Abbey’s lone central striker, between two wide players, was too isolated to be a major threat to such a well-drilled defence.
Prince of Wales were much sharper, quicker and stronger all round, and in the 22nd minute they extended their lead, courtesy of more hesitancy in an Abbey defence missing both full-backs.
Newton did well to break free down the right and sent across a low cross, which was again only half-cleared as far as that predator, Rennie, and she had all the time in the world to turn inside the box and send her precise shot beyond Nunn and into the corner for number two.
In the 24th minute Johnson again did well to break into the Prince of Wales half, and it took three players to stop her. But stop her they did, the job completed by midfielder Victoria King, who brilliantly evaded several challenges before getting the ball away.
A minute later Abbey won a rare free-kick inside the PoW half, but Johnson put her effort far too near the goalkeeper, who dropped it but still had time to pick it up before there was any challenge.
In the 27th minute Abbey manager Paul Johnson made the first of a cascade of substitutions, withdrawing his daughter, Hannah, who had been ineffective on the right of her sister, and introducing Lauren Campbell in the same position.
But it was their defence that was having to work hardest, trying to get to grips with the irresistible Ritson. On 29 minutes she again found Rennie, whose left-footed shot was tipped on to the post by Nunn for a corner.
Ritson took the kick and there was Newton to squeeze between two markers to head home the third.
Johnson immediately sent his daughter back on, with full-back Lydia Jones making way.
Hannah Johnson switched to the left side, with Amber Walker moving to left-back.
Still Prince of Wales continued to pound the Abbey goal, Rennie collecting a loose clearance and shooting on the turn just beyond the post.
But Hannah Johnson was beginning to have more of an effect on the left of the front trio, and with 36 minutes gone, it paid dividends.
A rebound broke kindly for her sister, Rachel, who outsprinted a host of opponents before rounding ‘keeper Jade Brooks and rolling the ball towards goal. Hannah Johnson, who had kept up with her sister’s run, made sure with a tap-in to make it 3-1.
It was a crucial response, so close to half-time, and the goal gave Abbey the lift they needed – though not before Wharfe had given them a sharp reminder not to relax, racing straight up the other end from the restart and earning another Prince of Wales corner.
In the 38th minute Rachel Johnson again raced clear, but Brooks was out smartly to smother the ball at the striker’s feet.
The goakeeper again denied the striker a minute later after Hannah Johnson had lobbed a volley towards the Abbey number 12 following good work by Sale.
Two minutes later the roles were reversed as Rachel Johnson played in Hannah, but the outcome was the same as Brooks again saved.
On 44 minutes Viscount, who was impressing in defence and farther forward, chipped a clever free-kick over the Abbey wall to Wharfe, who shot just wide.
Then, in first-half stoppage time, Abbey were awarded a free-kick on the right, but Sale’s cross was headed over by Hannah Johnson, and the last opportunity of the half went begging.
Half-time: Prince of Wales 3-1 Abbey Rangers
The Surrey side suffered a major setback immediately after the restart when Rachel Johnson was injured in a challenge and had to be replaced.
Hannah Johnson moved into the middle and the substitute, Alice Latimer, took her place on the left rather than Walker, who was involved in a tough battle at left-back.
Prince of Wales won three corners in little more than a minute, the third of which, in the 51st minute, was finally headed clear.
But still they came. King showed clever close control to make progress along the byeline before Abbey finally strung a neat passing move together, Walker finding Hannah Johnson, but her pass into the path of Campbell was just too long and the danger was cleared.
Rachel Johnson re-entered the fray on 52 minutes, having spent just five minutes out of the action. By now the Canterbury side had more than just one striker to contend with, and they were penned in their left-hand corner for some considerable time.
But Abbey were vulnerable to the counter-attack, as Rennie proved when she dispossessed Walker, who not for the first time dwelt too long on the ball. However, the pacy winger got back to halt Rennie, who was penalised for a push.
Abbey were keeping Ritson much quieter – in all respects – after the break, but they were struggling to cope with her attack-minded team-mate, Wharfe, who instilled panic in her opponents every time she got anywhere near the ball.
In the 56th minute, she got away down the right and delivered a decent cross for Rennie, sensing a hat-trick. But the striker volleyed wide.
In a pulsating game of fluctuating pressure, Prince of Wales were now penning their opponents into their own left-hand corner, and Isobelle Woods was next to try her luck, sending a half-chance straight at Nunn.
In the 61st minute Wharfe was blocked, but her free-kick was saved by the Abbey goalkeeper.
The next goal looked key, and it came, just a minute later – and went to the Kent side.
Ritson and Wharfe were again instrumental, the former finding the latter with a lob, and the captain’s cross was met, inevitably, by Rennie, who completed a predator’s hat-trick.
Yet almost immediately Abbey reduced the deficit again, with a wonderfully opportunistic effort from Rachel Johnson, who capitalised on hesitancy in defence to lob over Brooks from a narrow angle.
Abbey Rangers were in the ascendancy, and despite Prince of Wales’s two-goal cushion, you sensed that if they were to concede again, the unthinkable might still happen.
And it took a brilliant tackle on the edge of the box by Claire Gilmour to deny Hannah Johnson after she was put through by her sister.
Then Sale’s 30-yard free-kick was just kept out by Brooks, and from the resultant corner Hannah Johnson headed wide.
Despite Abbey’s renewed vigour, the magnificent triumvirate of Ritson, Wharfe and Rennie continued to test their opponents with clever, incisive passing.
From one such move, Wharfe sent a snapshot just wide with Nunn grasping at air.
Walker was again robbed, this time by Vincent, who headed towards the Rangers goal, but Amber Othen got back to cover.
And then, in the 73rd minute, Gilmour again came to the rescue at the other end, producing a brilliant stop to prevent Rachel Johnson making for goal after an excellent through-ball from Sale.
Three minutes later, it was Walding’s turn to be dispossessed, but Rennie’s goalbound effort was stopped with her foot by Nunn.
Back to the other end, and Ritson awoke from her second-half nap to perform a clever drag-back and power a shot just wide.
There was a sense that Prince of Wales were enjoying a renaissance after a period of Abbey dominance, and Woods was suddenly becoming a dangerous figure down the PoW left.
As the game approached the final 10 minutes, Prince of Wales again threatened when a clearance found Rennie in space. But she was again denied a fourth by a brilliant Nunn save.
However, the pressure on the goalkeeper was not over yet. In the 81st minute King intercepted her 40-yard goal-kick and made for goal, beating two players before unleashing an unstoppable effort over Nunn and under the bar for number five.
Rennie had yet another chance for her fourth three minutes later after more good work by Wharfe, but the centre-forward poked her effort just past the post.
Yet another opportunity went begging in the final minute of normal time. Charlotte Scamp headed down a corner, but Rennie again failed to find the target.
A minute later, the same player fired in another effort, which took a deflection for a corner.
Rennie was involved in the sixth – and final – goal two minutes into stoppage time. But it was not to be her fourth goal.
Ritson played another precise ball to the striker, who laid the ball back with perfect weight to substitute Chloe Galvin, who fired into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Prince of Wales could have been out of sight by half-time, such was the ferocity of their initial onslaught against a side more than capable of standing up in the line of fire.
But Hannah Johnson’s goal, during Abbey Rangers’ first period of sustained possession 10 minutes before half-time gave her side hope – and the large crowd a treat.
The second half was an entertaining spectacle, with both sides enjoying periods of pressure, during which they were able to showcase their abilities.
But with the Surrey side, who finished third in Division One West of the South East Counties League, chasing the game, they were always vulnerable to the counter-attack, and in Caz Rennie, Prince of Wales have a striker they can rely on.
As they received the Chairman’s Cup and medals, league secretary Greg Petts revealed that they had also finished runners-up in Division One East after Charlton Athletic Development slipped up.
So their talented battlers went away with two more honours to add to the runners-up medals they received for their efforts in the Kent Plate.
Manager Mark Kerr told Sent Her Forward: “When we play football we can beat anybody. They understand their role, and I can’t fault anyone today.”
Kerr highlighted the confidence that a natural goalscorer gives a team. “We took our chances. Caz Rennie has been fantastic all season. She had a blip in her form, but she’s over that and she totally dominated.”
He was understandably proud of the achivements of a club, who play on a public pitch and rely on the same 13 or 14 players almost every week.
He said: “We changed the tactics at the start of the season to utilise the strength we had in midfield, and they have blended really well. They deserve the credit.”
Kerr was left ruing the “small blip” the team had a few weeks ago, which ultimately cost them the title. But he added: “To finish second is an outstanding achievement. It’s the first time in our history we have reached two cup finals and got second place.”
However, Prince of Wales will not be playing at a higher level next season after deciding not to apply for promotion. “We are a very small club with very small funds,” he explained. “Our commitment is second to none, but we don’t have the resources.”
Kerr’s opposite number will have no hesitation in accepting promotion if his club is offered it. Paul Johnson‘s side must await the verdict of the league’s promotion panel during the close-season before learning if they will go up to the Premier Division following their third-place finish.
The top two, Worthing Minors and Seahaven Harriers, have both applied, although it remains to be seen whether they opt to take promotion. But Abbey’s fate is no longer in their hands.
Johnson felt his team counted the cost of the absence of their two regular full-backs, who were unavailable. “Normally we are a lot stronger,” he told Sent Her Forward.
“We showed them a bit too much respect and space throughout the first half. We tried to get tighter in the second, but at the end of the day, we were behind the eight-ball. We were chasing the game. You might as well [concede] six as three.
“The girls tried hard but got caught on the break.”We had maybe one opportunity after Hannah scored, just before half-time. If we could have gone in 3-2, it might have been different.”
Johnson did not feel his team were overpowered, but he acknowledged that they granted their opponents too much space.
Nevertheless, he was rightly proud of his players’ efforts and achievements in their first season back in the South East Counties League and is confident they can cope with life at the next level if they are awarded promotion.
“Third place and a cup final – you can’t argue with that,” he said. “We have played a couple of Premier Division sides this season and I think we can cope.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Maria Wharfe (Prince of Wales)
The captain was outstanding from first whistle to last, never letting Abbey settle and showing skill, strength and a cool head in the heat of the cup-final battle.
Her performance was just ahead of two other phenomenal efforts – team-mate Danni Ritson was nothing short of brilliant in the first half, despite being ill at the side of the pitch at one stage. She was less prominent in the second half when Amber Walker got much closer to her – and enjoyed the help of some of her team-mates.
And Rachel Johnson did not deserve to be on the losing side. Even during Abbey’s torrid start, she always possessed a threat that ensured Prince of Wales’s defenders were constantly occupied.
Others to impress included Holly Nunn, who was less than happy with her game but made a series of vital saves, undoubtedly preventing Rennie from doubling her tally. And in the face of the onslaught, there were key interventions from Lydia Jones and Clara Walding.
Prince of Wales had winners all over the pitch, including Justine Newton, Victoria King and Emma Viscount. Not forgetting, of course, the contribution of Caz Rennie.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 8/10 It could have been a cricket score by half-time, but Hannah Johnson’s solitary reply before half-time did more than offer Abbey some hope: it proved the springboard for a valiant response from the Surrey side, who played their part in an excellent final deservedly won by their opponents.