Burgess Hill Town 2 (Nash 26; Pollendine 45+2)
Oakwood 3 (Page 12, 38, 87)
The teenagers of Oakwood sent a loud and clear message to women’s football in the South East with a hard-fought Sussex FA Trophy victory over an experienced Burgess Hill Town side that suggests they might become a force in the county.
Already romping through their debut season in adult football, leading the Sussex County League by six points, without dropping a point or conceding a goal, they proved more than a match for a side who, only a few months ago, were playing in the South East Counties Premier Division.
Top scorer Jade Page was Oakwood’s hat-trick hero, but her strike partner, Emma Green, could have had a hat-trick of her own as the former Crawley Town Girls stepped up the pressure after giving as good as they got in a bright, if frantic, first half.
Page’s late winner stunned Burgess Hill, who are now getting used to life in the league’s Division One West, and was deserved on the balance of Oakwood’s second-half performance.
But for a team said by their manager to be short on confidence, there were plenty of positive pointers that Hill are more than capable of bouncing back after a couple of difficult seasons.
They started the brighter of the two on an excellent Leylands Park pitch, despite the torrential rainfall since it was used by the men’s team yesterday, but without seriously threatening Danni Cutler in the Oakwood goal.
The visitors succeeded in keeping possession better, but they struggled to break past Burgess Hill’s compact defence, which was superbly marshalled by Shannon McFadden and Mica Saunders.
Yet they were undone in the 12th minute by a route-one goal that started from Cutler’s long kick downfield. Green headed the ball on to Page, who slotted past goalkeeper Meg Hannah.
Burgess Hill attempted to hit back instantly, with the pacy Jess Saunders down the left, but her cross faded away into the side-netting.
When Oakwood countered, McFadden and Danni Bishop combined to cut out the danger before the ball reached Chloe Chesworth.
Both sides were growing into the game, but were cancelling each other out, with the defences largely on top.
And on 25 minutes, McFadden brilliantly blocked Green’s effort after the striker had combined well with Chesworth.
Yet a minute later the hosts were level, courtesy of a brilliant goal. Shannon Bowles played a wonderful first-time pass into the path of Hayley Nash, who did not even need to break stride as she volleyed the ball from the edge of the area into the top corner.
Oakwood’s youngsters responded well, and Chesworth almost played in Green, but again McFadden was across to cut out the danger.
In an almost identical move, Oakwood captain Sarah Killick-Bird brilliantly denied Lottie Pollendine after she had latched on to a through-ball from McFadden.
With both sides making liberal use of rolling substitutions, the game lost a bit of cohesion, but out of the blue the visitors went back in front on 38 minutes with a gift of a goal.
Hannah had plenty of time to clear a back-pass, but dwelt far too long and was robbed by the persistent Page, who tapped home her – and Oakwood’s – second.
The tie was still in the balance, though, and again, Burgess Hill hit back. Pollendine, who was causing the Oakwood defence some discomfort, took advantage of a mistake at the back, but not for the first time, Killick-Bird was across in a flash to clear.
On the stroke of half-time Oakwood had the chance to extend their lead, but Green failed to make a good connection with Chesworth’s perceptive cross, and then at the other end, Pollendine again raced clear, but Jordan Evans somehow managed to keep up with her and conceded a corner.
It was from the flag-kick, two minutes into stoppage time, that Burgess Hill grabbed their second equaliser. Cutler did well to push away the cross, but Pollendine volleyed the ball straight back past her.
Half-time: Burgess Hill Town 2-2 Oakwood
The home side began the second half as they had the first, winning a corner almost immediately. Again the delivery was good, but again Killick-Bird came to the rescue, heading clear.
But it was Oakwood who were beginning to settle, and they won a string of free-kicks in dangerous areas.
From the first, in the 50th minute, 25 yards out, Chloe Higham shot just over the bar.
Four minutes later, the same player pumped a dangerous ball from a similar distance into the box, but Alice Horton poked the ball wide.
For all Oakwood’s pressure, Burgess Hill looked threatening on the break, with pace down both flanks and Pollendine constantly pressurising Oakwood’s commendably composed centre-backs.
And they had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping the tie level when on 57 minutes Abi Cooper’s rasping shot was brilliantly turned around the post by Cutler at full stretch.
The keeper also saved well from an angled effort before it was Hannah’s turn to shine at the other end, keeping out an effort from Chesworth after excellent work from Amber Whenham, who was beginning to cause Burgess Hill trouble down their left flank.
As well as Whenham, Oakwood reintroduced Green to the proceedings, where she resumed her dangerous partnership with Page.
And it was Green who was involved in a top-class flowing move, exchanging successive one-twos with Chesworth before it petered out.
Again the pair combined well, Chesworth perceptively pulling her low cross back for the on-rushing Page, whose shot from the edge of the box flew narrowly wide.
Then Green landed a cross on the roof of the net and followed it up with a trademark left-foot drive that flew just over.
As the game moved into the final 15 minutes, Burgess Hill managed to halt the siege and mount an attack of their own, but Cutler was out quickly to thwart McFadden, who had moved forward in search of a winner.
It almost came at the other end on 80 minutes, though, when Green again struck a sweet drive inches past the base of the far post.
Yet Burgess Hill were not finished. In the 83rd minute, Jess Saunders, a constant threat with her pace, pulled clear down the right, but her low cross across the face of the goal was deflected behind, having eluded two on-coming strikers.
Oakwood’s second-half pressure finally told when Page raced clear, only to be foiled by an excellent save by Hannah, but the in-form striker reacted the fastest to hit home the winner for her hat-trick – and her 17th goal of the season.
The goal seemed to embolden the visitors still further, and they forced two quick corners and a free-kick, none of which led to anything, before Burgess Hill mounted what was to prove their final attack, the commanding Penny Gittins putting Jess Saunders through, only for Killick-Bird to do what she had done all match and defuse the danger.
As the match entered stoppage time, it was Oakwood who continued to bombard the Burgess Hill goal. Page found the side-netting and then Green hit another shot just wide before the youngsters just up from the county league celebrated a famous victory over their vastly more experienced opponents.
This compelling Sussex Challenge Trophy tie showed how far Oakwood have come in their three or four months’ existence. They faced a strong, experienced and talented Burgess Hill, who are not only a division above them but boast plenty of players who have more than held their own at an even higher level.
But Oakwood were never overawed and coped with their hosts’ physical test as well as they did the footballing one to book their place in the second round and extend their winning run to six games.
Burgess Hill may have felt down after losing to lower-league opponents, but they look like a team who are putting behind them the dark days of relegation in preparation for an assault on the promotion spots and a place back where they believe they belong.
On this showing, despite the result, they are ready to make that challenge.
Mark Bishop (Burgess Hill Town): “Confidence has taken a bit of a beating”
“It was a really good cup tie. We just made two silly mistakes for the goals in the first half. Meg is a good keeper. She’s probably one of the best shot-stoppers around. But she had two or three chances to put her foot through the ball and clear.
“But she learned from it. She was in tears. It didn’t affect her [in the] second half. She realised she’s got to step up.
“In the first half we were rushing, making silly mistakes, trying to play things too quickly instead of getting the ball on the floor and playing some nice football, which we can do at times.
“And in the second half… we haven’t got that threat in front of goal. We miss (the injured) Keeley [Wheatley].
“Oakwood have been winning that Sussex league quite easily, so I thought in the second half they would be changing positions and giving everyone a run-out, so I was quite surprised that they lasted 90 minutes.
“Our plan was to keep it quite tight [in the] first half and then in the second half, really push on and hopefully, our stamina would get the better. But it didn’t work that way. And we didn’t test their keeper enough. We didn’t create enough chances.
“After last season, confidence has taken a bit of a beating, so it’s trying to get them to be confident with the ball at their feet, not just kick it all the time, try to play to feet, pass and move.
“But Oakwood made it hard for us. They’re a good young team. But this season was all about rebuilding. Fourth would be great for us, and then hopefully, the following season push on.”
Trevor Warren (Oakwood): “We made the most of their mistakes”
“We haven’t had to stretch ourselves too much in the league, but last week we played Pagham, who kicked us about a bit, so it was quite a good game to have before this. It prepared us a bit better from a physical perspective.
“It was good to see them play the football and get stuck in. The trouble is our girls are quite sensitive, so sometimes you have to be a bit careful about how we get them up for that challenge. But we definitely got a tune out of them today.
“We made the most of their mistakes. It was a bit unfortunate for their keeper for our second goal, but you’ve got to be there… and Jade [Page] has made a bit of a habit of getting herself in that position, and that is why she’s just scored her 17th goal of the season.
“[Page and Emma Green] blend well, but sometimes you need a bit of fire. They hate coming off, so sometimes I do it just to put a bit of fire in their bellies. And putting them back together again at the end of the game was important.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Sarah Killick-Bird (Oakwood)
There were two absolutely outstanding centre-backs on the field today. One, Shannon McFadden, the Burgess Hill captain, found herself unluckily on the losing side. The other, who also captains by example, was the more successful.
Killick-Brown is composed on the ball, tenacious in the tackle, good in the air and covers the ground like a greyhound. She was a principal reason why Burgess Hill’s dangerous attack misfired slightly – and judging by her performance, it’s no surprise Oakwood have yet to concede a goal in the league this season.
McFadden was a revelation in the centre of defence, somehow getting her body in the way of every shot, tackling like a tigress and setting her own team on their way again. On another day, she would have walked away with my award.
Mica Saunders, at left-back, also had a storming game, standing up well to the onslaught of fresh-legged youngsters and playing some terrific balls up the line.
Burgess Hill goalscorers Hayley Nash and Lottie Pollendine also posed Oakwood plenty of problems, while Penny Gittins, as always, was a collosus in midfield, orchestrating every attack and breaking up opposition ones.
Jess Saunders and Shannon Bowles, on the flanks, also merit mentions.
Jade Page took the plaudits with three well-taken goals, but she would be the first to acknowledge the key roles played by the more experienced Emma Green alongside her and another teenager, Chloe Chesworth, down the left side. The latter pair seemed to have almost a telepathic understanding of each other’s games.
Amber Whenham was a threat when she came on, while Danni Cutler deserves praise for that spectacular save alone, without which there could have been a very different result.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 A decent, all-action cup tie with plenty of quality football on display.