Crawley Wasps 1 (Fine 18)
Leyton Orient 4 (Campbell 2; Trezzi 58; Le Marchand 78, 85)
Crawley Wasps missed a golden opportunity to make up ground on Leyton Orient’s record-breakers after becoming the first team to score against the league leaders in an all-action first half before wilting under a second-half onslaught.
Orient’s star strikers were all on target, with top-scorer Sophie Le Marchand killing Crawley off with two late goals to take her season total to 23 in just 10 matches.
But Chris Brayford’s side never had it all their own way, with Wasps bouncing back from conceding an early goal to deservedly level before injury to their goalscorer, Roseanne Fine, changed the game.
The Londoners’ narrowest league win of the season was enough for them to leap-frog their opponents and return to the top of the London & South East Regional Women’s League, with a perfect seven wins from seven games – and 11 in all competitions.
It was an opportunity wasted for Wasps, who played a full part in an excellent, entertaining first half in which no quarter was given and plenty of skill was on show.
Their second-half struggle, without the magnificent Fine as an outlet, meant a second Orient goal always looked likely, and when it came, it left them chasing the game, with inevitable consequences in the final minutes.
While Brayford felt Orient were well below par in the even first half, he was pleased with their improvement after the break, and even at this early stage of the season, they are looking firm favourites for promotion to the lower echelon of the Premier League.
Coming to Wasps’ new ground at Oakwood FC full of confidence, with 10 straight victories behind them, they hardly needed the second-minute gift that presented them with the lead.
A low corner from the left was missed by everybody at the near post, leaving Jasmine Campbell unmarked in the centre of the goal to tap home and leave Crawley facing an even more daunting challenge.
Yet they rose to it admirably, in a way that perhaps previous Wasps teams would not.
Jade Elphick played a great pass to Nicholle Smith on the right wing, but her neat cross just eluded Fine.
They won the game’s first corner in the seventh minute, but Holly Walker’s header from 12 yards lacked pace and goalkeeper Naomi Ogunde – yet to be beaten this season – collected easily.
When the visitors won their own first corner four minutes later, Wasps goalkeeper Catherine Poleykett had to work a little harder to keep out Francesca Cagetti’s goalbound header, and from the resulting second corner, the same player volleyed right across the goal.
Lydia Cooper finally found Le Marchand in space on the left, but Wasps were alert to the danger and crowded her out.
Crawley responded with a superb one-touch passing move on 13 minutes. Danielle Boyd sent Smith away with a sublime first-time pass, and the winger found Fine, who appeared to be fouled by Vanessa Wilson just outside the box, but the referee waved play on.
Orient nearly rubbed salt into their wounds a couple of minutes later, when Belen Ripoll Douton’s shot was brilliantly blocked by the diving Walker.
Yet within three minutes, Wasps were level – and the goal that finally ended more than 900 minutes of impregnability was worthy of the occasion.
Suzy Davies played a superb ball into the path of Fine, who volleyed superbly on the run over the stranded Ogunde.
It was reward for Wasps’ patience and character, playing themselves back into the match with their passing game after suffering such an early hammer blow.
And they were now looking the marginally better of two very good teams.
On 22 minutes, the ball broke for Fine, but she screwed her shot wide.
Leyton Orient responded, with Campbell sending Hayley Barton away down the right, but Walker, who was having an immaculate game, kept pace and conceded nothing more than a throw-in.
Wasps, too, were enjoying most of their success down the right, with Smith posing Connie Montiel-McCann all sorts of problems.
The game was developing into a very good contest, with Smith and Fine proving a handful for Orient’s defence – for whom Cagetti and Wilson stood out – and Ripoll Douton and Campbell giving Wasps’ own back line a big test, with Walker and her central-defensive partner, Kelly Barton, performing equally outstandingly.
Gemma Villette, who was playing on the right of Crawley’s defence, had to be alert to foil another flowing Orient move involving Le Marchand and Ripoll Douton.
Then Ogunde did well to take a looping, spinning ball after more excellent work down the right by Smith.
Le Marchand was beginning to threaten down the Orient left, and just after the half-hour mark, she managed to get away from two challenges before sending over a low cross that was cleared with barely a team-mate in sight.
On 33 minutes it was Cooper’s turn to beat two players in midfield before finding Ellie Davies, who was beginning to have a lot of influence in a congested midfield. She in turn fed Hayley Barton, whose fierce shot was brilliantly pushed away by Poleykett.
The keeper was called into action again on 39 minutes, but after being found by Davies, Le Marchand hit her shot straight at her.
As the half entered injury time, Davies again sent Smith away with another astute ball, but the alert Montiel-McCann prevented the winger delivering a cross.
Another superb tackle by the full-back denied Danielle Boyd a shot on goal, and as Wasps finished the half on a high, they wasted a free-kick three minutes into stoppage time, Boyd hitting it straight at the keeper.
Half-time: Crawley Wasps 1-1 Leyton Orient
It had been an excellent first half – a terrific advert for this level of regional football – with Wasps showing that despite Orient’s brilliant start to the season, they were not unbeatable.
However, all that was to change during the half-time break, as Fine, who had caused the visitors so many problems, failed to return for the second half after aggravating a knee injury sustained last week.
Shinih Tuazon, a less physical presence up front, took her place.
Yet Wasps began the second half by making light of their loss, moving from left-back to the right wing, deep inside Orient territory, in nine first-time passes.
But their forays into enemy territory were becoming less frequent without the opportunity to use Fine as an outlet.
Orient turned up the pressure and began asking all sorts of questions of Wasps’ hitherto sound defence.
And that defence had a big let-off on 50 minutes when a clever ball over the top put Le Marchand through. Poleykett raced out of her area and handled it as Orient’s top scorer attempted to hit the ball beyond her.
Referee Mark Edwards awarded a free-kick but showed the goalkeeper only a yellow card, and the hosts’ reprieve was complete when the kick was blasted well over.
Another Orient corner was again met by the head of Cagetti, and Poleykett did well to keep it out.
Two more corners followed in quick succession as Orient looked to turn the screw. The first was headed clear, but the second fell to Cooper, whose shot found Le Marchand unmarked, eight yards out. But her shot on the turn missed the target for another big let-off for Crawley.
Under mounting pressure, Crawley’s defence responded admirably. Another superb Kelly Barton tackle quickly turned into attack as she looked to release Smith, but Orient had players to spare and the glimpse of daylight was quickly snuffed out.
A weak goal-kick on 58 minutes was seized upon by Orient’s hungry strikers, and it took another brilliantly timed intervention from Walker to deny the Londoners another opportunity.
But from the ensuing corner, the visitors finally regained the lead – and effectively killed off their valiant opponents.
Hayley Barton’s superb flag-kick was met by the head of substitute Egle Trezzi, and Poleykett was unable to keep out her effort.
Crawley, with Fine out of the picture and Smith – their other attacking threat – often marked by two players, were struggling to secure quality possession in their opponents’ half. But on the hour, they produced a rare shot, which Boyd hit well wide from best part of 30 yards.
Orient were stretching Wasps, and on 63 minutes, Cooper, in acres of space, crossed to Le Marchand, who laid the ball back for Ellie Davies, who failed to find the target from 18 yards.
In the 69th minute, Wasps manager Paul Walker sent on defender Hannah Duncan for Rebekah Dunt, who had seen little of the ball in her attacking role on the left side of midfield.
Duncan replaced Villette at right-back, and the tall defender was sent up front to work alongside the isolated Tuazon.
Wasps were beginning to commit more numbers forward, and it very nearly paid off on 75 minutes in what proved to be a turning point in the contest.
Villette found Boyd, who fed Smith. The winger tricked her way inside and unleashed a powerful angled shot, which Ogunde saved impressively.
With Wasps stretched and tiring after enduring incessant second-half pressure, it was no surprise when Orient killed them off with a third goal just three minutes later.
Le Marchand outpaced Duncan down the left wing and finished with the confidence of a player who already had more than 20 goals to her name this season.
Orient continued to pile on the pressure, winning successive corners within seconds on 80 minutes.
Wasps, to their credit, were still trying to pass their way out of trouble, but they found only culs-de-sac. Le Marchand again miskicked in front of goal, but she grabbed her second five minutes from time in rather fortunate fashion.
A cross from the right fell to Campbell, who had only the goalkeeper to beat. The striker was brilliantly thwarted by another superb Walker tackle, but it bounced out only as far as Le Marchand, who cleverly lifted it over Poleykett for Orient’s fourth.
Walker, who had more than a season out with a serious leg injury, was injured in her valiant, but vain attempt to deny Orient, and was carried from the field, adding to Wasps’ woes.
Villette moved back to right-back and Duncan took Walker’s place in the centre of the defence, as Wasps sought damage limitation.
Finally, five minutes into injury time, Wasps won their first corner of the second half. It led to a brief scramble before the full-time whistle signalled Orient’s seventh victory in seven league outings and a major blow to Crawley’s own promotion ambitions.
The top two met for the first time this season, with just one defeat between them in 14 games. And for a long while, it looked like it could be Orient who would suffer the second.
Wasps matched them for most of the first half, becoming the first side to score against them. But the injury to Fine effectively cost them the chance to become the first team to actually beat them – or even take a point.
Crawley have come on impressively over the past 12 months, and have a first XI that could, on their day, beat anyone in their league.
However, Orient are riding the crest of a wave, with a largely settled side and growing in confidence with every victory. Once they sensed a weak link in Crawley’s armour following Fine’s injury, they went for the jugular and were good value for what proved to be their narrowest league victory of the season.
Paul Walker (Crawley Wasps): “It’s moments like that in games that define them”
“I consider it an opportunity lost in a number of respects – one in terms of not being able to have our full and strongest squad out in what was going to be such an important game today (new recruits, striker Holly Turbill – two goals in three games – was unavailable and midfielder Ariana Flieschman injured, while winger Lauren Callaghan was also not fit).
“We had a good side out today but we didn’t have the full squad.
“And secondly, we unfortunately lost Roseanne Fine at half-time, and she really is a super player, an absolute handful. The goal that she scored was probably a three-quarter chance, and she took it beautifully.
“It was an extremely even first half, and we said at half-time, the game is there to be won, but whoever scores the next goal, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the opposition.
“And unfortunately, with losing [Fine], the first 10 minutes of that second half, we didn’t keep the ball well, at all. So the ball kept coming back on our back four, and you just felt that unless we got a grip of the ball, started to compose [ourselves] and pass it well, we were going to concede, and unfortunately, we conceded the second, which was a bit of a hammer blow.
” I feel that 4-1 is harsh justice for the game. I think Orient, on their second-half performance, deserved the victory – we perhaps didn’t quite have enough – but I don’t think, also, we helped ourselves, giving away a sloppy goal within two minutes, which is infuriating.
“If I look at the same fixture last season, we wouldn’t have got back into the game in the way that we did. But at 2-1, we had a fantastic chance with Nicholle… one on one with the keeper… great drive, great save. At 2-2 it could have been a different story, and it’s moments like that in games that at times define them.”
Chris Brayford (Leyton Orient): “I don’t think they hurt us all that much”
“I thought in the first half we were poor, and in the second half we were much better. In the first half the decision making was disappointing. For most of it, [Crawley] had just one player up front, so you have the extra player at the back.
“We come up against teams that do that all the time, and we’re usually good at shifting the ball to where the space is, but today we didn’t do that at all, and it was a bit disappointing.
“They’re a good team, but I did think second half, we were a lot better. We tweaked it a little bit… to try to change the way we played and be on the front foot. The wingers pushed a little bit higher to try to push them back.
“They’re a good team, but I didn’t feel they played great. The striker’s goal was fantastic, a great strike. So good on her. But I didn’t think we played that well first half, but I don’t think they hurt us all that much.
“We started pre-season a bit earlier and worked hard [on fitness]. We’ve got a fantastic bunch of players and they work hard. They’re really committed to winning that division – and a bit of that is getting the fitness.
“You could see from all their faces they were gutted [to concede their first goal of the season]. But [Crawley] deserved it. We didn’t defend very well in the first half, and she got space and she finished it beautifully.
“I’m glad the first goal we conceded was a good one like that rather than one where it cannons off about six and then trickles off someone’s back.
“As a team, we’ve worked hard to keep teams out. There’s a lot of emphasis on moving off the ball. As a team, the strikers work hard and the midfielders work hard, defending from the front.
“In the WPL the players are quicker and stronger, and you’ve got to work hard, so there’s still more we can do.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Roseanne Fine (Crawley Wasps)
Unusual to choose a player who featured in only half the match, but significantly, in my view, her second-half absence put her first-half contribution into even sharper context. She was the difference between Wasps getting a draw, or possibly even a win, and their ultimate defeat.
Her movement was excellent, her control first class. She was up against some of the top defenders in the league, but she didn’t give them a minute’s peace, capping a brilliant 45 minutes with a classy, historic goal. Her absence after half-time meant Orient were spared their earlier ordeal, and crucially, Wasps were denied an outlet that had proved so fruitful in the first half.
Out of those who lasted the entire game (well, nearly), it’s hard to look beyond the performance of Holly Walker, who oozed class in defence, timing her tackles and interceptions to perfection, delivering quality passes out of defence and winning more than her share of headers. She earned particular praise from Orient boss Brayford.
Her central-defensive partner, Kelly Barton, was equally impressive for much the same reasons, while Nicholle Smith was again magnificent down the right flank until Orient took heed of the devastation she was causing by paying her more attention.
Gemma Villette and, in parts, Suzy Davies and Danielle Boyd also impressed in a fine first half for Wasps.
It was also in defence that Leyton Orient had most of their standout players. Francesca Cagetti was magnificent at both ends of the pitch, while Vanessa Wilson also enjoyed a fine 90 minutes, largely nullifying the threat of Rebekah Dunt.
Jasmine Campbell worked hard in an isolated role up front in the first half, while strike partner Belen Rippoll Douton shone, initially in a rather more withdrawn role before moving closer to her team-mate in the second half.
Midfielders Hayley Barton, Ellie Davies and Lydia Cooper also enjoyed impressive games, particularly as Orient dominated after the break.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 A magnificent first half between two classy sides, but a little one-sided after the interval.