Sent Her Forward focus on another league campaign that went right to the wire
Worthing Minors finally clinched the title they had been threatening to win all season – but not without a scare.
Andy Burling’s team, who won their first 13 games of the season in the South East Counties Division One West, needed just a draw from Sunday’s match at relegation-threatened Bexhill United Reserves – and that’s all they got, meaning they pipped Seahaven Harriers to the championship only on goal difference.
It was far from Minors’ best performance of the season as they stuttered to a 1-1 draw in a match featuring several controversial decisions – a result that also ensured their opponents’ survival.
But the point was enough to take them back above Seahaven – who had moved top for the first time last week when Worthing were not in action – by virtue of a goal difference of seven.
The closeness of the final margin was tough on Seahaven, who have also had an outstanding campaign, having finished runners-up last season, too.
Their 46 points were nine more than they earned in reaching the same position last season, and their 75 league goals were the joint-second-highest in the division, behind Worthing’s 83.
More frustrating still was that they were deprived of the chance to make up that seven-goal deficit when their final opponents of the season, Adur Athletic, defaulted, ensuring Seahaven of the three points but meaning their goal difference was untouched.
And while seven goals was a lot to make up in a single game against one of the decision’s mid-table teams, the club would not have considered it impossible, given that they had beaten Bexhill 8-0 the previous week and had amassed scores of 9-2, 8-2, 8-0 and 7-0 (twice) during the season.
They had also beaten Adur 5-0 in the away fixture.
But nothing should detract from Minors’ achievement. Rarely at full strength, and with limited resources, Burling’s side reeled off victory after victory – including a 6-1 success against Dorking with only eight players.
They hammered Wivelsfield Green 13-0 in only the third week of the season – a season high for the division, equalled, ironically, by Wivi last month.
They hit 10 against Burgess Hill Town 2nds and twice won 7-2 away from home.
In Danni Lane, they had the division’s second-top scorer, but they also had the second-best defensive record.
They lost key defender Millie Crowhurst plus Maddie Emmerton in the New Year to travelling and playmaker Jade Widdows to college in the United States, and were without their experienced defender Steph Carter for a chunk of the season run-in.
They were also deprived of several others through serious injuries.
But probably their biggest problem was in goal, where a player crisis led to Burling’s wife, Sarah making her football debut at the age of 46 between the posts.
She ended up playing in nine games and was voted opposition player of the match on one occasion.
That they never conceded more than two in a game until February, when they had an off-day against an exuberant Abbey Rangers, is testament not only to the outstanding defence in front of her but her own valiant efforts on behalf of the club she loves.
In front of her, her daughter, Katie, made light of the risks of being regarded a beneficiary of nepotism, performing impressively and developing into a top-class footballer at this level.
On other occasions when an established goalkeeper was not available, outfield players went in goal – notably Becky Beale, whose footballing talents meant she was often required further up the field.
Burling is rightly proud of his side’s achievements, having finished third – two points behind Seahaven – last season.
On that occasion, neither side applied for promotion.
This time, both have, although both Burling and Seahaven’s Andy Ring have expressed to me their reservations about committing to a higher level unless they can be confident of recruiting more players, with university and work commitments bound to have an impact on their current squads.
Burling told Sent Her Forward: “I think it’s a bad decision, but the girls want to go for promotion, so 100%, we’re going to go ahead.
“There are only so many players in the pool out there that we can pick from, and I’m losing another four or five players from a squad that we’ve struggled with all season.”
He said Carter, his influential captain, and 33-goal Lane, who was voted players’ player of the season at the weekend, had played at a higher level before. “Danni wants to play at the highest level possible,” he said. “But we can’t go to higher-level games with only eight, like we did this season against Dorking.”
His daughter, Katie, who enjoyed an outstanding season, said the secret of the team’s success was their togetherness. “We’re not just a team but a family, who actually have best friends on the team and who socialise,” she said. “We’ve also had good support from team members who have been injured.
“Chloe and Emily Johnson have been out with knee injuries. Emily only played one game but she has supported us all the way through.”
Sunday was also a day of celebration for Bexhill, whose second string had looked certainties for relegation.
But a combination of a battling performance against the champions-elect and a points deduction for Burgess Hill Town’s reserves preserved the East Sussex side’s place in Division One West by the skin of their teeth.
Jen Atkins‘ second-half strike earned Bexhill the point that lifted them above Burgess Hill 2nds into eighth place, after Hannah Lane had given the visitors the lead before half-time.
Burlng said: “If Bexhill had fielded that team all season, they wouldn’t have been in the relegation battle that they were. They were fantastic. We were quite lucky to have hung on for a draw.”
But he said he was delighted and proud of his team’s efforts all season – even if Seahaven’s late surge did make it too close for comfort.
“I haven’t got any fingernails left,” he said. “We had such a brilliant lead. Maybe there was a psychological effect, too, when Seahaven went top. We had been top all season and possibly started to think we could be invincible.
“It gives you a hell of a lot of confidence when you are top, but when you’re not, you start thinking you’re not as good as you think you are.”
Burgess Hill, who were docked two points by the SECWFL, leaving them behind Bexhill on goal difference, were not the only team to pay a disciplinary price: Milford & Witley were also deducted two, which cost them one place, and bottom club Dorking, whose only win of the season came last month, had three points taken away, meaning they finished a season of struggle – during which they received compliments for their approach to the game – on minus-one point.
South East Counties League secretary Greg Petts told Sent Her Forward: “All points deductions this year have been for unfulfilled fixtures.”
Newcomers to the division Adur Athletic and Worthing Town should both be satisfied with respectable mid-table finishes, despite also suffering from player shortages, while Abbey Rangers, the third team promoted to the league, had a superb season, becoming the only side to beat both the top two on their way to finishing third – and a possible second successive promotion.
Wivelsfield Green, the side who became the early-season whipping girls for Seahaven and Minors, recovered superbly to finish fourth, winning 10 of their last 14 games and scoring the joint-second-most goals in the division.
|1||Worthing Minors (C)||18||15||1||2||83||17||46|
|7||Milford & Witley||18||6||3||9||29||38||19*|
|8||Bexhill United Reserves||18||3||3||12||14||56||12|
|9||Burgess Hill Town 2nds (R)||18||4||2||12||22||72||12*|
* Points deducted