Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield 0
Cowfold 5 (V Smallman 10; Jordan 36; Jackson 39, 59, 64)
Stacey Jackson grabbed her fourth hat-trick in seven games this season as Cowfold limbered up for next week’s top-of-the-table encounter with Worthing with a straightforward victory over a game, but limited Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield.
Cowfold barely had to get out of second or third gear to see off a spirited, but severely depleted Haywards Heath side, who have lost most of their promotion-chasing side of the recent past – and some of their younger replacements to university – and, after parting company with their head coach, Mark Currier, have now lost all four South East Counties Division One West games, as well as their FA Cup clash with today’s opponents.
Had it not been for the visitors’ profligacy in front of goal – something manager Steve Weller will hope they have got out of their system before next week’s clash with third-placed Worthing – and some eye-catching saves from goalkeeper Charlie Snow, who endured a roller-coaster of a game, the new league leaders would surely have hit double-figures.
But there’s hardly a goalscoring crisis – leading scorer Jackson, who started the game on the bench, repeated her hat-trick feat against the same opponents in the FA Women’s Cup a few weeks ago, bagging a treble for the second successive Sunday and taking her tally from seven matches to 14.
Weller was also rewarded for giving rare starts to strike pair Lou Creasy and Tor Smallman, the latter opening the scoring – but significantly, not the floodgates – after 10 minutes.
Haywards Heath were always playing catch-up, but it was not until a double blow towards the end of the first half that the game ran away from them, and they deserve credit for fighting to the end and keeping the score respectable.
Indeed, it was the hosts who managed the first shot of the game, Donna Thomas shooting wide from the edge of the area after combining well with the impressive Lauren Amos.
Cowfold responded with a couple of efforts of their own, Emily Hale going close after good work from Smallman down the right.
Both teams were struggling for fluency, but the visitors were beginning to crank up the pressure when they took the lead in the 10th minute through a gift from Haywards Heath ‘keeper Snow, who let a through-ball slip through her fingers, and Smallman was on hand to tap home.
Snow almost immediately made amends, doing well to keep out Emma Derham’s angled effort before Haywards Heath finally got the chance to show their attacking prowess, with Thomas starting and finishing a passing move involving Amos, shooting just wide, but in any case being flagged for offside.
Cowfold were now in the ascendancy, though, with Leigh Jordan running the midfield, and it took another good stop by Snow on 21 minutes to deny Emily Hale, who fired in a decent effort after cutting in from the left.
At the other end, Karen Bridgewater made up ground on Amos to deny her a shooting chance after the striker had been put through by the excellent Andrea Barnard.
Although the visitors were well on top, with Emma Derham delivering a series of dangerous crosses from the right, they did not have it all their own way, and Anna Purnell did well to power away down the Haywards Heath right, only to fade her cross into the side-netting.
And it was Haywards Heath who won the first corner, on 28 minutes, after more excellent work by the lively and skilful Amos.
If the hosts thought they had largely weathered the storm, they were in for a disappointment, though, as on the half-hour, Weller sent on Jackson and Amy Dix for Creasy and Smallman.
Within a minute, Cowfold had won their first corner, and five minutes later they had doubled their lead with a goal that typified the fortunes of the two clubs, at opposite ends of the table.
George Ellis, who had been playing well for Haywards Heath at right-back, went off after being injured, and although referee Stephen Ellis, waved her back on, the defender failed to notice, and Cowfold exploited the gap at the back with a shot on goal that was brilliantly saved by Snow.
But instead of kicking the loose ball out for a corner, a defender tried to hit it upfield, and it struck Jordan on the shin and flew past the blameless ‘keeper.
Three minutes later it was 3-0 as Jackson headed home a corner.
Shell-shocked by the double blow, Haywards Heath refused to buckle, and they almost carved out a scoring opportunity on 40 minutes when Thomas and Amos again combined well, the latter feeding the former, but goalkeeper Bex Smallman was out of her goal quickly to deny Thomas, suffering an injury in the process.
Defender Chloe Ansell was also injured and played no further part in the match.
When play resumed, Purnell’s corner was scrambled clear, and Natalie Ring fired over from 25 yards.
Still the chances came, with both side having opportunities in first-half stoppage time.
Firstly, Snow just managed to reach a dangerous through-ball ahead of Jackson, and then Barnard found Amos with another fine pass, and the striker beat her marker before angling a low shot that Bex Smallman just managed to keep out.
Half-time: Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield 0-3 Cowfold
It was the old Wivi spirit that had kept their new incarnation in the match against a clearly fitter, more able and more confident team, who had strung together five successive wins in league and cup before today.
But it was only after those two quick goals that the visitors could finally enjoy a comfortable lead – and still Haywards Heath came at them.
After Cowfold won an early corner in the second half, which was cleared, the hosts did the same at the other end, which Purnell wasted by finding the side-netting.
Cowfold responded with a flowing move between Jenny Weller, Hale and Jackson, but the in-form striker was again denied by Snow, who did well to get down to her shot.
Haywards Heath responded in kind. Inevitably, it was Thomas and Amos who combined well before the attack broke down.
It was to be the prelude to what proved to be the home side’s best move of the match, 10 minutes after the break.
Amos, who has matured noticeably as a player from previous seasons, made a clever run down the left flank, warding off challenges from her much bigger opponents before cutting inside and angling a precise shot just the wrong side of the far post.
Cowfold’s attacks relied less on individual ability and more on team play, and after winning two corners in a minute, they made it 4-0, courtesy of another mistake by Snow.
Weller collected the ball in midfield and took aim from distance. Snow was unable to hold her shot and Jackson was on hand to tap home her second, with just over half an hour still to play.
Haywards Heath’s luck went from bad to worse five minutes later when defender Lindsey Paige went off with a recurrence of a knee injury, and before the unwell Sarah Smart could replace her, Cowfold struck a fifth.
Again it was goal-poacher extraordinary Jackson who pounced, getting her head to a cross before Snow for that fourth hat-trick of the season.
It had been a difficult afternoon for the Haywards Heath goalkeeper, but once again she demonstrated her talent with an absolutely brilliant save from Jordan, turning the midfielder’s close-range volley on to the bar and behind for a corner.
With the match won and Cowfold preparing for tougher opposition next week, they could have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas, but while their finishing left something to be desired, their football continued to stretch their opponents.
Weller and Jordan, the midfield linchpins, again combined well, releasing Hale, who set up Jackson for another effort, which she struck just wide from 18 yards.
Home attacks were becoming rarer, but on 75 minutes, Heath won another corner, which Purnell again sent straight out of play.
Hale created a chance with a good, penetrating run, only to see her shot on the run fade wide, and then Weller, Jordan and Jackson again combined well before Jordan volleyed straight at Snow.
Still Haywards Heath refused to cave in, and captain Barnard, who was having a stormer in midfield against Cowfold’s classy central pair, won a crunching tackle in the centre before sending Smart away down the right.
Smart somehow reached the pass and sent over a low cross which Smallman intercepted before it reached the oncoming Amos.
It was Cowfold still enjoying the better-quality possession, though, and Hale missed the chance to make it six on 86 minutes when she blasted over with just the goalkeeper to beat.
And moments later the same player again missed the target after another corner fell for her.
As the game entered stoppage time, Heath went close to grabbing a consolation when Amos made another superb run down the left and crossed for Ellis, whose shot was well saved with her feet by Smallman, and Smart was unable to put away the rebound.
There was one last hurrah for the home side as they won a free-kick 25 yards out. But nobody was able to get a touch on Barnard’s superb delivery, and moments later they were put out of their misery by the referee’s final whistle.
When you’re down on your luck, nothing tends to go your way, and that’s exactly what Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield are experiencing at the moment.
Last season was a transitional one after losing key players to rivals and injury. With some of their new talented youngsters off to university, Wivi have again found themselves short on numbers and experience.
The departure of Currier was probably symptomatic of the straits the club find themselves in, and it’s going to be a long season for them – though not without hope: in Barnard, Thomas and Amos they had three of the best players on the field.
Cowfold, though, are everything that Heath are not at the moment – settled, largely injury-free, with strength in depth, as they proved today with an entirely new strike force.
They know they will have tougher games this season – starting next week at Worthing – but they are well equipped for their assault on a second promotion in three seasons.
Sarah Smart (interim manager, Haywards Heath): “We’re still looking for players”
“They stuck at it. I can’t fault any of them today.
“I’ve been through the mill again a bit, and I shouldn’t really have been out there, and what with Mark [Currier] going, as well… it’s been a difficult time.
“I’m not 100% sure what happened [with Currier leaving]. I think it was a mutual decision, and as it stands, it’s back on my shoulders… which wasn’t really what I was foreseeing for this season. I was hoping I could be one of the relaxed ones.
“But no. We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again.
“Hattie (Betts) played her first game today. She only trained for the first time on Wednesday and she’s come straight in and played 90 minutes, bless her.
“There is a big drive for the club here on Saturday, and they’ve invited us along as a recruitment thing, as well, so we’ll see if that brings anything. We’re still looking for players.
“[One player] had family commitments, and we’ve lost the uni players now, and obviously, I would have been playing, had I been fit. It’s pretty standard with us at the minute.”
Steve Weller (Cowfold): “We could have had 20”
“Our fitness told. We could have had 20, but we created the chances. I’m quite pleased with that – and our bench players had a run-out today.
“If you’re going to be a good side and win things you’ve got to be prepared to play teams like this and teams that play [good] football. We’ll have the ultimate contrast next week [against Worthing].
“We’ve beaten them once; we’ll beat them again. We’ve got to go in with that attitude. They’ve always been a bit of a nemesis for us, but if we’re going to win the league, we’ve got to beat them.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Leigh Jordan (Cowfold)
In Weller and Jordan, Cowfold have a dominant central-midfield pairing who, can survive with the best, let alone the league’s strugglers.
Jordan was composed on the ball, passed well and was a constant threat to the Haywards Heath goal, even if the one she scored was a little fortunate.
Weller, as always, hardly put a foot wrong at the heart of the Cowfold midfield, and Emma Derham and Emily Hale proved excellent outlets down the flanks.
Tor Smallman gave the home defence a hard time before the irresistible Stacey Jackson finished them off.
But Cowfold didn’t have it all their own way. Haywards Heath’s young captain, Andrea Barnard, was a revelation in that tough midfield, showing immense skill and composure – and a pretty hefty tackle.
Further forward, Donna Thomas and Lauren Amos were a massive plus for Wivi. The pair formed an excellent understanding, passing their way around a more than decent Cowfold defence and giving the new league leaders plenty to think about.
Goalkeeper Charlie Snow might not expect a mention in this particular section, having been at least partly responsible for two of Cowfold’s goals. But she was also responsible for stopping at least another three – her save from Jordan’s volley was among the best I’ve seen.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 It was pretty straightforward fare for Cowfold, but Haywards Heath made a game of it.