Saltdean United 5 (Sands 3, 29, 55, 56, 82)
The early signs suggest the standard in the Sussex County League this season is going to be pretty high.
With almost double the number of sides compared with last year – including some exciting new teams – competition is set to be fierce at the upper end of the Women’s Division.
Worthing United, AFC Varndeanians and Seahaven are among the new names registered with the county FA, and another newly created team, Saltdean United, gave notice that they are likely to be a force to be reckoned with in their latest pre-season game – only their third match as a team.
Saltdean, under the guidance of BHASVIC college manager Joe McTiffen, and with former Lewes Foundation boss Martin Perkins helping out with coaching, have assembled a large squad, comprising largely former and existing BHASVIC students – with some classy experienced heads added to the mix.
They came away from their friendly with South East Counties Premier side Eastbourne – who play two levels above them – with a 5-0 victory.
But while McTiffen and his team would be advised not to get carried away with a result that barely reflected the closeness of the game – particularly in an even first half – there were some ominous signs for the rest of the league… not least in the list of absentees from today’s line-up.
In baking heat at Saltdean’s picturesque ground, the match was played largely in the low gears, with neither side throwing themselves recklessly into tackles – or, in many cases, even chasing hopeless causes.
And while the score could well have been level at half-time – which, because of a mixture of clinical finishing by impressive striker Casey Sands and misfortune in front of goal for their visitors, it was not – their superior fitness – even at this early stage – enabled them to dominate much of the second half and eventually cruise to a victory that looked more emphatic than it actually was.
The visitors – who had to field outfield players in goal – hit the woodwork four times and were also denied by a superb save from Katie Burr.
In contrast, the predatory Sands was given half a dozen, or so, chances and put five of them away.
Such clinical finishing – allied to a willingness to chase wayward passes and an almost telepathic understanding with the equally impressive Emily Hale – suggests the Brighton club will not be short of goals this season.
But they probably will not get away with the less-than-dynamic way in which they sometimes defended, or the casual way in which they surrendered possession of the ball in midfield.
But I repeat: it was only their third game together. And McTiffen is already delighted with their levels of fitness, which – with many of the team members also playing and training in midweek for their college – will only get better.
And they were missing players who would walk into the first XIs of many of their Sussex League rivals.
It’s fair to say that Eastbourne, too, would struggle in their own league if they were to afford as much space to opponents week in, week out.
But it can’t be stressed too strongly how handicapped they were by being deprived of one of Charlotte Long or Leanne Hawkins up front in each half – and of the opportunity for them to play together for any of the match as the pair sacrificed their normal games to cover for the absence of goalkeeper Tiegan Puttick.
Eastbourne could have taken the lead in the first minute, winning an early corner, which Molly Miller cleared, but the ball rebounded off Ella Sutherland and forced Burr into the first of several sharp saves.
Instead, the hosts went in front after just three minutes. After impressive work by Ria Banitas, Hale touched the ball on to Sands, who advanced before driving a shot high into the roof of the net.
Saltdean then won a corner, which flew dangerously across goal with no-one able to get a touch, and then, on seven minutes, Eastbourne’s Ella Newman beat Burr, only to see her effort bounce off the post and across the goal.
Hale tried her luck from 20 yards, but it was comfortably held by Long in the Eastbourne goal.
Then on 10 minutes, the lively Jess King chased a through ball, and with Burr reluctant to come out to her, she tried an angled shot that rolled agonisingly past the far post.
Seven minutes later there was another scare in the Saltdean defence. Burr failed to hold a cross, and in the ensuing scramble, Eastbourne players appealed for hand-ball, but their pleas were ignored, and the goalkeeper retrieved the loose ball.
In the 21st minute it was Saltdean’s turn to threaten again. Long did well to deny Hale, and then Jess Storrie cleared the follow-up off the line.
Three minutes later Eastbourne struck wood for a second time, Sian Gamble’s volleyed lob from distance striking the top of the bar.
But it was Saltdean who extended their lead just before the half-hour, and inevitably, it was Sands who did the damage.
Sarah Smart slotted a marvellous, perceptive pass between two defenders, which the energetic Sands chased and latched on to before slotting a clinical finish beyond Long.
Brilliant diving save
Almost immediately, the visitors hit back. Gamble fed Lottie Pollendine, but Smart got a leg to her goalbound shot, which took the sting off it and allowed Burr a routine collection.
With neither side showing much inclination to keep possession, chances were coming at both ends, and in the 31st minute Sands made an opportunity for herself, but her shot was just wide.
Moments later Eastbourne should have had the goal their attacks deserved when King, who was the pick of the visitors, brilliantly worked her way into the penalty area before unleashing a fierce angled shot that the diving Burr saved brilliantly.
Burr then had a far easier save to make from Newman’s effort after Saltdean’s defence failed to close her down.
King was at the heart of most of what was good about Eastbourne in the first half, and she put Pollendine away down the right with one of the game’s rare, accurate passes. But Banitas was alive to the danger and halted the winger’s progress.
Sands had another opportunity to get her hat-trick on 36 minutes after springing the Eastbourne defence yet again. But from a position similar to that from which she scored her second goal she shot over.
Then Sands turned provider to play Hales through, but she shot straight at Long.
There was a similar finish at the other end when, after Pollendine had robbed Lily Smith, King scuffed her shot and Burr collected.
Although the game suffered from the rustiness of both sides, there were occasional glimpses of cohesion that will encourage both managers ahead of their league campaigns.
And shortly before half-time, Smart and Miller combined impressively in midfield to launch an attack that came to nothing because of an offside flag.
Then King played a superb ball into the path of Pollendine, but that promise, too, fizzled out, and the sides went in at half-time a little bemused at the one-sided scoreline.
Half-time: Saltdean United 2-0 Eastbourne
Eastbourne began the second half as they had the first, winning a corner within the first minute, although this one was down to Burr’s error in failing to deal with a back-pass from Smith.
But, as with their first-half set-pieces, it came to nothing, and it was the home side who almost extended their lead on 51 minutes.
Hale, who was proving a major threat to Eastbourne and a significant ally of Sands, made room for herself in the box and hit a goalbound left-foot shot from the right-hand side of goal, which was brilliantly tipped around the post by Eastbourne’s second-half goalkeeper, Leanne Hawkins.
Saltdean were beginning to build a little pressure, retaining the ball better than in the first half, and using the flanks to better effect.
And they killed off their opponents with a double strike in the space of a minute.
On 55 minutes second-half substitute Freya Bowie played a neat ball to Hale, who again found Sands with another fine pass, and the striker finished with customary aplomb to seal her hat-trick.
Moments later, Hale again fed Sands, who lobbed Hawkins even more impressively to make it 4-0.
Eastbourne may have been beaten, but they weren’t giving up, and in the 59th minute Shantelle Omar produced a piece of magic to send Long away. The striker, freed from the shackles of goalkeeping duties, chased the pass but was foiled by the alert Burr.
Saltdean went so close to a fifth just after the hour when Banitas did well down the left after a superb pass from Hale, but unselfishly laid the ball back rather than shoot from a narrow angle. The ball struck Omar and bounced against her own bar.
Eastbourne were granted some respite from Sands as McTiffen rang the changes, leaving Hale and Ellie French in the advanced roles.
But the pressure on the Eastbourne defence was becoming more sustained, and Saltdean fashioned another chance out of nothing after good work between Miller and Caitlin Garden.
Miller played a superb reverse pass to the right flank, wrong-footing two defenders in the process, and Garden did well to send over a cross, which Miller met on the volley but could not control.
The industrious Hale came even more to the fore during Sands’ brief rest on the bench, and she almost got the goal her performance deserved in the 67th minute when she somehow made space for a shot, but lost her boot as she went to kick the ball – and with it the opportunity.
Eastbourne continued to play with spirit – if not energy – and their luck was summed up as the game entered its final stages when Long ran through some tired challenges but struck the post with her shot, only to hit the same upright with her follow-up.
With eight minutes to go, and Sands restored to the fray, the striker rubbed salt into Eastbourne’s wounds with the easiest goal of the lot.
The visitors’ defence allowed her far too much room and the striker’s shot was far less threatening than some of those Hawkins had saved. But she allowed the ball to slip through her fingers and Sands – and Saltdean – celebrated a fifth goal that their opponents’ contribution to the match really did not deserve.
It’s early days for the very new Saltdean United, but they can take many positives away from their convincing win, which follows a draw with Hassocks, another side from Eastbourne’s division, in midweek.
In Casey Sands, the former Bexhill United striker, they have a prolific goalscorer and clinical finisher. In Emily Hale, they have a player who will surely flourish at county league level, having played on a higher stage with Cowfold.
And in Katie Burr – one of a number of players they have lured away from Lewes – they have a goalkeeper that few in the division will be able to match.
But they still have much to learn, and the likes of Sands, Hale and Sarah Smart will be vital if the classy, but inexperienced, youngsters are to receive the guidance they need to perform consistently in what is bound to be the strongest county league for a few years.
It is hard to assess Eastbourne, who arrived with just 12 players – and no goalkeeper – and were cruelly punished by the clinical Sands.
The performance of Jess King was a major plus for Phil Hawkins’ side, and with Long and his wife, Leanne, restored to their proper roles once the goalkeeping problem is solved, they will surely cause headaches for defences in the South East Counties Premier Division.
Joe McTiffen (Saltdean United): “I don’t want a side that chops and changes every week”
“That was our third [pre-season] game. Two more to go. I think we’ve gone from strength to strength. We started off with Lewes last Sunday. They were a very strong side and we found it difficult.
“Then we drew 2-2 with Hassocks on Wednesday night. I think fitness is a big thing for us. We’re only training once a week, but… you can see the level of fitness the girls are getting, and we’ve really progressed over the last three games.
“I think Eastbourne could have gone in 3-2 up at the break. There was a good save from Katie. I think second half, they got tired. And I said to the girls at half-time we need to move the ball a bit quicker to tire them out.
“I tried to get [wide players] Ria and Caitlin involved a bit more, and when you’ve got Casey up top who will run all day long, with Emily Hale – who I thought was fantastic today – feeding her through, I think that’s what killed the game in the end.
“That was the first time [Hale] has played in that position. She’s always played out wide or centre-midfield, but because Dayna [Kingshott] was missing today I put her at number 10, and I have to say, the partnership worked quite well.
“I don’t want to say [how many goals Sands might score] because I don’t know the level of the league, and there are some good teams in our league. But I know Casey from Sussex [representative football], where I coach her, and she was top goalscorer for Bexhill Ladies last year.
“And I have to say, I’m delighted that she’s here. She’s one of the most committed girls. She comes all the way from Bexhill every time, takes an hour-and-a-half. But I think she’s going to be the star in our side.
“We’re lucky enough to have a squad of 21 players, and I said to the girls that I do need that commitment. I don’t want a side that chops and changes every single week. I think a lot of the girls know that from how I am with BHASVIC, how I am with Sussex.
“I’ve got a couple of uni girls who will go missing in a couple of weeks. But people like Molly (Miller), Rambo (Ellie Ramsauer) and Ria (Banitas) understand that they won’t walk straight back in the side. And I think that’s really good.
“Today we were missing Chloe Evans, Ellie Ramsauer, Emily Towner, Anika Wilson, Alice Chambers and Dayna Kingshott – and there’s probably a couple more which I’ve probably forgotten.
“We’ve got a culture here that is really starting to grow. They’re becoming a real close unit already, four weeks in.”
Phil Hawkins (Eastbourne): “Our attitude was spot-on”
“I’m trying to get them match-sharp, get the fitness up, get as many minutes under the belt. That’s why I packed our pre-season out. We’ve played five so far and we’ve got three more to go before our season starts on September 3. Hopefully, we’ll be all guns blazing by then.
“I’ve got a squad of 21. Wednesday night we had 18 players. Today I managed just about to get 12 players out, but without a goalkeeper. We had to get a couple of [outfield] girls to play in goal today, which didn’t help.
“The scoreline doesn’t bother me. You don’t get anything for winning pre-season games. But I don’t think they were 5-0 better than us. I thought first half we created a lot of chances. We hit the post in the second half.
“What has been pleasing is that the last two games, although we haven’t scored, we’ve created a lot of chances. It’s just putting them away now.
“Despite all the elements being against us, I thought we did keep playing. I thought our attitude was spot-on. Last year we would probably have ended up having a fight on the pitch with each other.
“I’ve wanted to try to change team spirit. You don’t turn up for football and not enjoy it. We win as a team, lose as a team and draw as a team.
“I’m quite a realist. The league is a tough league this year. I’ve got a good team, a good squad, good players. It’s continuing each week and getting the confidence to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re so inconsistent with what we do.
“I’ve got a pretty much good bunch of girls. It’s getting everyone together at once. Last season we beat [champions] Parkwood 2-0 at home. Bexhill we beat at home and stopped them from winning the league. And then the following week we lost against the team that finished bottom of the league and didn’t win a game – except against us.
“I’m hoping we’ll get the goalkeeper in. Trying to find a goalkeeper is tough. It’s work commitments. That could be the key to our season.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Casey Sands (Saltdean United, 9/10)
Sands has played at a much higher level – including a brief spell at Millwall – and it shows. She is dynamic, has good movement and is absolutely clinical in front of goal. Her partnership and understanding with Emily Hale (8) was excellent, and there were also impressive contributions from Ria Banitas (6), Sarah Smart (6) and goalkeeper Katie Burr (7).
Eastbourne’s challenge was carried by Jess King (8), who chased everything and put Saltdean’s back three under serious pressure, also bringing some fine saves from Burr. Jess Storrie (6) and Sian Gamble (6) also made valuable – if inconsistent – contributions as their team came under increasing pressure in the second half.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 A decent – if less than wholehearted – pre-season friendly.