Oakwood 3 (1) (Higham 15; Tyler 66, 73)
Mole Valley 6 (1) (Sadler 1; Burns 46, 52, 71; Blunt 47; Zuurmond 90)
Mole Valley made a sensational entrance into adult football with a pulsating 6-3 win at Oakwood on their South East Counties League debut.
Quickfire goals at the start of each half – and three in seven minutes straight after half-time – rocked their only slightly more experienced opponents.
And with several players still to return, the Surrey side look set to be a force to be reckoned with in Division One West this season.
They won a corner with their first attack and scored a goal from that first corner – Molly Sadler exploiting panic in the Oakwood defence to poke home after the first of Ally Greig’s consistently marvellous flag kicks of the afternoon.
And they could have had several more goals in an entertaining first half in which they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and the bulk of the meaningful attacks.
Mole Valley, full of verve, pace and neat touches, had Oakwood back-pedalling for most of the first half, depriving the home side of the space in midfield to bring their attacking players into the game,
Yet somehow Oakwood survived, and during their own purple patch in the half they equalised through Chloe Higham’s sensational angled strike into the roof of the net from 25 yards.
Higham was the one player to ruffle Mole Valley in that first half, and she also had an effort cleared off the line and another land on the roof of the net after a wonder-turn and nutmeg.
But the visitors were the more threatening, and the dangerous Lucy Hearn’s own cross-shot grazed the bar, while Sarah Killick-Bird came to Oakwood’ s rescue several times as Mole Valley’s pacy front-runners breached Oakwood’s static defence time and again.
Oakwood finally won a corner a minute before half-time, and Jade Page’s header thumped against the bar.
If Mole Valley’s start to the first half had been rapid, their restart was turbo-charged.
Imogen Burns exploited another defensive error to put the Surrey side back in front within 10 seconds of the kick-off, and moments later Charli Blunt made it 3-1, firing into the top corner with barely a defender in sight.
It went from bad to worse for shell-shocked Oakwood on 52 minutes when goalkeeper Beckie Kirkham miscontrolled a poor back-pass and Burns pounced to make it 4-1.
The goal finally woke Oakwood from their torpor and they began to play like the Oakwood of old, dominating affairs for the next 20 minutes.
Higham’s brilliant chipped effort from 18 yards struck the outside of the post. Then she tore through the Mole Valley defence, only to shoot over.
Then, after Kirkham had redeemed herself with an excellent save in a one-on-one with Hearn, Oakwood pulled a goal back, Lauren Tyler hammering home fellow substitute Mia Fenton’s excellent cross.
Almost against the run of play, Mole Valley effectively killed off the game when Burns headed home another brilliant corner to make it 5-2 – and secure her own second-half hat-trick.
Almost immediately, Tyler grabbed her second with a superb free-kick from a narrow angle which was so precise it beat Maya Nelson at her near post.
But that was as good as it got for Oakwood, and despite fine saves at both ends from Kirkham and Nelson, it was the visiting teenagers who rounded off the scoring, Ishbel Zuurmond by-passing Killick-Bird and coolly slotting home right on the final whistle.
It was a tremendous start to life among the adults for Mole Valley and their manager, Will Letts.
He told Sent Her Forward: “We were really looking forward to it. The girls played under-18s last year. We knew that the physicality, the mentality would be a step up from what they’re used to, but we’ve also prepared them well over the last two years, so we knew that our technical levels would be sufficient to cope with this level.”
He said Oakwood had more quality than most of the teams his side faced on their way to an agonising runner-up spot in the Surrey County Women and Girls League last season.
But he added: “We know there are certain areas where we can exploit slightly older teams, in terms of our counter-attacking.”
Letts lamented the loss of six players, many through illness, and he revealed that three of the squad would be leaving shortly for university.
But he said: “We’ve got a good squad and they’re young girls – we had three 16-year-olds playing today, and I thought they acquitted themselves brilliantly.”
His opposite number, Andy Parsons, was understandably less ebullient. But he saw signs in his team’s brief rallies in each half to reassure himself that there was not too much to worry about.
He said: “We’ve got a lot of new players in the squad. We’re trying to integrate a lot of new players. We’ve got 25 this year. There were two or three new faces on the bench today.
“It wasn’t our greatest day, but we need to work on our shape, our organisation, and that’s going to come, so I’m not too concerned.
“Obviously, we would have liked to win the game but you can’t fault the effort of the girls today.”
He said the new additions to the defence would need time to adjust, and he lamented: “Two early goals (in each half) doesn’t make for an easy start. But I thought we looked good when we had the ball at our feet and dangerous going forward.
“We need to work on being more defensively sound.”
Parsons started two players – Pam McDonnell and Amy Fazackerley – who had been playing recreational football with the much-admired Crawley Old Girls last season, and he felt both did well.
“You can’t fault their effort. I rotated them a bit today, but it’s fantastic to see them stepping back into it and perhaps bringing their experience and knowledge from their playing days.
“It’s a really positive thing and the girls are enjoying having them with us.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Lily Turner (Mole Valley)
Cool in defence, positive going forward, with some pinpoint passing, and some neat dead-ball deliveries.
But how unlucky were Chloe Higham – outstanding for Oakwood – and Mole Valley hat-trick hero Imogen Burns not to win the award.
Also highly commended are Lucy Hearn, who gave the occasionally impressive Emily Harris a tough time, Ally Greig and Cheyenne Graham for Mole Valley, and Lauren Tyler, who changed the game for a while when she came on, Sarah Killick-Bird, who interspersed uncharacteristic errors with some magnificent recovery tackles, and Pam McDonnell – who showed glimpses of her class in midfield – for Oakwood.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10