Crawley Wasps 6 (Rabson 4, 14, 18; Callaghan 45+2; Cole 61; Davies 71)
Parkwood Rangers 1 (Whiteman 89)
Abandoned after 90 minutes
Newly promoted Parkwood were made to feel the heat as Crawley Wasps gave them an inkling of the task ahead of them in the next tier of regional football at a baking Oakwood.
The Bexley side were made to toil in the sun as Wasps slipped straight into their passing game, roaring into a 3-0 lead within 20 minutes – Faye Rabson with a quickfire hat-trick – and were four up by half-time before the visitors finally found their feet and made a fist of it in the second half.
But their difficult afternoon was marred still further when striker Charlie Myhill was taken ill minutes before the scheduled end, forcing the premature abandonment of the contest.
For Wasps it was an ideal opportunity to build on last week’s hard-fought win over another promoted team, AFC Phoenix, in their mission to achieve the promotion to the Premier League that they narrowly failed to last season.
They were fitter and faster, and pressed and stretched their below-strength opponents, ending the match as a serious contest by half-time.
Yet by the end they knew they had been in a battle against a side that never gave up and in fact appeared to step up their game in the second period.
The sides are destined to fight different battles this season – Wasps at the sharp end of the promotion contest; Parkwood for the mid-table finish that would satisfy manager Harvey Goodhew and provide a solid base from which to push on.
But they will have to learn to start games at this level with a bit more urgency.
They had barely put two passes together when Crawley first threatened, on three minutes, full-back Hannah Duncan given far too much time to measure her cross from the right, which found Toni Smith, but the striker was unable to direct her header on target.
A minute later and Wasps were ahead. Lauren Callaghan played a clever ball into the path of Rabson, who powered clear of her marker with a burst of pace before finishing neatly off the far post.
Crawley were good value for their early lead and could have doubled it two minutes later when it took an excellent last-ditch tackle by Victoria de Waal to halt Suzanne Davies after a brilliant run into the area.
Parkwood were given no time on the ball, forcing their defenders to deliver long balls more in hope than expectation.
But as they began to settle, little chinks of light began to emerge in their play, with Kimberley Green leading by example from the back. She was at the heart of most of the visitors’ bright spots and on 11 minutes was heavily involved in their clever passing manoeuvre that turned defence into attack.
They also began to get their defensive act together, Skye McNally covering brilliantly to deny the ever-threatening Rabson a run down the left.
But Rabson was not to be denied for long.
With less than a quarter of an hour gone, Callaghan sent over a top-quality cross from the left wing, which Davies met just beyond the far post. Although she could not control the ball, it fell for Rabson, who hooked the ball expertly past goalkeeper Kelly Amer for her – and Crawley’s – second.
Parkwood had their first effort on goal moments later, Jamie-Lee Dixon-Hawkey firing in a snapshot from 25 yards which goalkeeper Frankie Gibbs parried and then picked up.
Inevitably, the action returned to the visitors’ penalty area, and the enterprising Davies found captain Naomi Cole on the edge of the box. But her fierce first-time effort drew a spectacular one-handed save from Amer, diving to her left, who kept the ball out with a strong arm and then tidied up the loose ends before the ball could spin back past her.
It was a superb stop, but it merely delayed the inevitable. On 18 minutes Parkwood were again caught out by a through-ball, which Rabson latched on to in a flash, rounding Amer and finishing expertly to make it 3-0.
Goodhew sent on Jade Whiteman, who was recovering from injury, and she had an immediate impact, using her strength to hold up play and bring team-mates into the game from her position at the apex of the midfield quartet.
The match was far from a spectacle, though, with challenges ranging from the niggly to the robust causing frequent breaks in play, and players wilting in the heat. One such incident required a stoppage of several minutes while the ailing McNally received treatment.
Parkwood mustered another shot on 26 minutes when the lively Whiteman robbed a defender and set up Myhill, whose fierce first-time shot was comfortably held by Gibbs in the Crawley goal.
Then, after Callaghan had picked up a needless yellow card for dissent after a disputed offside decision, Whiteman got in on the shooting act herself, just missing the far post with her effort.
Wasps countered immediately, after Parkwood again ceded possession far too easily, and in a virtual repeat of their second goal, Callaghan scampered down the left and delivered a high cross, which eluded Rabson and Smith. But this time there was no Davies at the far post to maintain possession.
For all their dominance, Crawley did not win their first corner until the 32nd minute, and Cole’s poor kick was easily cleared.
As the game became tetchier, Parkwood frustrated by their inability to keep possession and forced to chase in the punishing heat, Whiteman joined Callaghan in the referee’s notebook after pushing the player she had just fouled.
The free-kick caused momentary panic in the visitors’ defence before the impressive Green cleared at the third time of asking.
Parkwood fashioned another opportunity on 35 minutes when Lauren Drewett stormed out of defence with the ball and sent Whiteman through on goal. But the substitute screwed her shot wide and Wasps were reprieved.
After another Cole corner was comfortably cleared, there was another stop in play as Holly Walker received treatment following an aerial collision with Amer.
As half-time approached, Wasps went in search of a fourth goal. But Green denied Rabson and then Cole’s shot was charged down.
Almost immediately, Cole again threatened, breaking through the porous Parkwood defence and slotting a measured shot just beyond the far post.
As the game entered stoppage time, Duncan again intercepted a pass deep in Parkwood territory and stormed forward before teeing up Smith, who lost her footing – and with it, the chance.
A minute into time added on, with Parkwood three goals behind, they pieced together their best move of the match.
Wonderful interplay between Myhill, Rachel Mugami, Whiteman, Chelsey Mayhew, Myhill again and Corrie Goodhew ended with Green firing in a dangerous cross.
But Wasps cleared and mounted a counter-attack. As they broke in numbers, the impressive Smith played a clever reverse pass into the path of Callaghan, who rounded one defender, only to lose control of the ball on the edge of the six-yard box.
But the loose ball ran kindly for her and she managed to get a toe to it and force it over the line to make it 4-0.
Wasps won another corner, but the kick was brilliantly held under pressure by Amer.
And with four minutes of injury time played, Parkwood underlined the growing spirit in the camp with another effort on goal.
Mugami found Whiteman, who did well to get in a cross. Once again it was met first time by the dangerous Myhill, but once again it was straight at Gibbs, who saved comfortably to preserve Wasps’ four-goal lead.
Half-time: Crawley Wasps 4-0 Parkwood Rangers
The first half had been an object lesson for the Kent side, who had been forced to toil in uncomfortably hot conditions, with almost every defensive error punished by a bright Crawley Wasps, who, one sensed, are yet to hit top gear.
The visitors had been forced into hurried clearances and stretched by Wasps’ largely accurate passing. But with Whiteman making a big difference following her introduction after less than 20 minutes, there was plenty to provide the visitors with optimism for the challenges ahead of them.
Wasps made a host of changes at half-time, with Jade Elphick, Danielle Boyd, Jenny Drury and Nicholle Smith all joining the fray as manager Paul Walker took the opportunity to give some of his first-choice players a welcome rest.
Parkwood started the half in determined fashion, clearly not prepared to shut up shop and worry about keeping the score down.
Within three minutes of the restart they had gone close again as a cross from the right very nearly reached Mugami, but the alert Gibbs, who had had little to do in the first half, got to the ball first.
Seconds later Wasps struck the woodwork. Boyd cleverly made progress down the right and as Amer came out to meet her, she pulled the ball back into the path of Cole, whose first-time effort thundered off the bar and back into the goalkeeper’s hands.
A rejuvenated Parkwood continued to take the game to Crawley, and Myhill did brilliantly to shake off a couple of challenges as she broke from midfield. But again the opportunity petered out.
Boyd had looked bright since her half-time introduction and she showed a sublime piece of skill to bring down Gibbs’ high kick upfield with the most delicate of touches.
With an hour gone, Wasps missed another chance to extend their lead when Nicholle Smith was put through but screwed her shot wide.
Moments later, it was Amer’s turn to rescue Parkwood again when she somehow saved at the feet of Rabson as she chased a fourth goal after a brilliant turn had bought her space to run at the keeper.
But the fifth goal was not far away.
Sixty seconds, in fact.
Cole, who was a constant attacking threat from midfield, was once again in the right place, 20 yards from goal, and had the luxury of time to steady herself before sending a fine low shot beyond Amer’s despairing dive for a well-deserved goal.
Still Parkwood refused to give up, and the impressive Whiteman played a wonderful ball into the six-yard box towards Goodhew, but Cole popped up at the other end to clear the danger.
The visitors’ second-half showing was a vast improvement on their opening 25 minutes, and they won their first corner on 68 minutes. Adina-Leigh Collins’ initial kick was headed clear but only as far as Whiteman, who volleyed wide.
For all their improvement, Parkwood were increasingly vulnerable to Crawley’s rapid counter-attacks, and they grabbed their sixth goal on 71 minutes.
Cole, inevitably, played another superb long through-ball from the right for Davies to run on to. The tireless midfielder, who had an outstanding game, reached it ahead of Amer, rounded her and slotted home from an angle.
Unsurprisingly, after having covered every blade of grass in the searing heat and watching Wasps pile up the goals despite an improved performance by the visitors, things were getting a bit tetchy, and the combative Whiteman threw herself into an aerial challenge with Walker, catching the defender on the hip and forcing a late Wasps reshuffle as the defender limped off.
Twelve minutes from the scheduled end, Crawley gave reserve goalkeeper Megan Hannah a chance between the posts, and moments later she had to pull off an impressive diving save to deny Myhill from a free-kick, 20 yards out.
On 80 minutes Wasps, who had hit the woodwork and been denied by several fine saves from Amer, enjoyed a slice of good fortune when Drewett’s long-range effort from the left-hand touchline clearly crossed the line before Nicholle Smith hooked it out, but the referee’s assistant did not signal for a goal and Crawley rode their luck.
With players wilting in the heat, the game was opening up, and both teams carved out opportunities within seconds of each other.
Jenny Drury found Davies with a neat pass but the midfielder shot wide; then Myhill exploited a gap in the Crawley defence to bear down on goal, only to be denied by a superbly timed tackle by Callaghan, now playing a deeper, wing-back role.
In the 88th minute Wasps struck the bar again. Ariana Fleischman and Davies combined well before the former unleashed a venomous 25-yard drive that Amer appeared to tip on to the crossbar.
And within a minute Parkwood had a shock consolation goal when Whiteman tried her luck from more than 30 yards, lofting a shot over the stranded Hannah.
Moments later, Myhill was taken ill, prompting the referee to abandon the game with just added-on time to be played, as two Wasps players with medical experience tended to the player until an ambulance arrived.
This contest between the experienced Wasps and league newcomers Parkwood told us more about which end of the table the teams are likely to figure in than their respective merits.
Despite the visitors’ belated rally and undiminished effort right up to the final whistle, this was a comfortable victory for a side expected to contest the title once again, and who have reinforced their ranks to try to ensure they do not miss out for a second successive season.
Parkwood need to adjust to the different demands of the highest women’s league outside the Premier League set-up – and then find their level within it.
A big defeat to Crawley Wasps will tell them little about their ability to survive, although their opening-day victory over Fulham FC Foundation might give them more of a clue.
They need not be disappointed with the outcome with a slightly depleted team after enduring a shaky first 20 minutes in which the game was put beyond them, and their willingness not to shut up shop at half-time and to fight right to the end will stand them in good stead against lesser sides.
Wasps, too, will be unsure where this performance leaves them in the battle for promotion. But two wins from two games against promoted sides will ensure they have a solid foundation from which to find out.
Paul Walker (Crawley Wasps): “We learnt something about our players”
“All credit to [Parkwood]. They worked very hard in the second half to try and make a little bit of a game of it. They kept going.
“I thought in the first half we were very impressive. We talked about playing a very high press and doing that in numbers, but also conserving energy, and we did that really well. We won the ball high up and then the objective is to keep the ball and make use of it – and we did, and deservedly took the lead.
“I think they were perhaps a little bit surprised at the lack of time that we gave them in the early part of the game.
“This is where our strength-and-conditioning sessions that we are doing at the fantastic facility up at Cottesmore [Hotel, Golf and Country Club] are starting to pay dividends.
“We are seven weeks in, now. We can start to see some of the differences. We’ve now got a second strength-and-conditioning coach on board, so we can do personal sessions, as well.
“We’ve got a very big squad this year, and a very strong squad. We were 4-0 up at half-time and it was the ideal opportunity to make substantial changes. We also went to three at the back to try to put a bit more offensive pressure on.
“To some degree it takes time to settle that down. We moved to the new system, with the three and a holding player, so we weren’t quite as fluid in the second half, but credit to Parkwood that they did make a game of it [in the] second half.
“But we didn’t keep the ball well enough in the second half [and] perhaps dropped our level a little bit. But we also made a series of changes to try and give everybody some game time, even young Megan Hannah (the goalkeeper).
“She did well when she came on, but unfortunately, when you get a freak lob like that there is no way you are going to stop it.
“We learnt some stuff about our players. I think the fitness levels of one or two players still need to be ratcheted up. The composure on the ball of one or two players still needs to go up a notch or two.
“That’s always important for managers, even if you’re not learning a lot from the competitive element of the game. It’s about learning about your own players and their ability to execute the plans that you ask them to do.”
Harvey Goodhew (Parkwood Rangers): “We lost 10 players – it’s been hard work”
“Our concern is for Charlie. The result goes out the window. But it was a good test. [Crawley] were by far the better team, [but] we gave them a bit of a game in the second half, so I’m pleased with that. And we didn’t give up.
“We never give up, so we just carried on going until the end.
“We had about 60% [of first-choice players]. It will take a couple of months to get everyone fit and understand what they’ve got to do.
“We’ve got a lot of new players in. They’ve come to the club playing in one position and they may have to adapt to playing in another position. Again, that takes time.
“We lost 10 players [over the summer] for one reason or another. So we’ve had to regroup. It’s been hard work, but hopefully, the hard work will show after Christmas.
“In the first season [in a new division] you always look at mid-table [as a target].”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Naomi Cole (Crawley Wasps, 7/10)
In truth, this was a fine team performance, with good contributions from a number of players. Faye Rabson (7) frightened Parkwood with her pace and effectively killed off the game in the first 20 minutes. She was superbly supported by Toni Smith (7), whose performance, stretching the Parkwood defence and creating space for her team-mates, probably deserved a goal.
But Cole controlled much of the game from central midfield and was a genuine goal threat. If it had not been for Kelly Amer and the woodwork, she, like Rabson, could have had a hat-trick.
Suzanne Davies (7) was also outstanding, with clever skill and perceptive passing helping to undo that back four time and again. Danielle Boyd (7) was impressive when she came on and brought an incisive new attacking dimension to Crawley’s play, while Hannah Duncan (7) had a stormer of a game, particularly in advanced positions, where her crosses – like those of Lauren Callaghan (6) on the other wing – were dangerous.
Parkwood barely got going until the introduction – probably earlier than their manager would have liked – of Jade Whiteman (7), who was recovering from illness and injury. She brought verve and dynamism to her side’s play and offered an outlet for her besieged defence.
Kelly Amer (7) once again showed what a superb goalkeeper she is, making several vital saves, even though she was beaten six times – mostly after being let down by her defence. Kim Green (7) was the pick of the back line, while Rachel Mugami (6) and particularly the ever-willing runner Charlie Myhill (7) carried most of Parkwood’s attacking threat. Sent Her Forward wishes her well.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 Some impressive football, despite the heat, but too many free-kicks spoilt the flow of the game.