Despite defeat the future is bright for Angels Ladies
Hillians show why they are one step higher
Never mind the result, an impressive attendance of 135 embraced the occasion and doubtless went home satisfied with their evening’s entertainment as Tonbridge Angels Ladies produced a spirited performance against their visitors, Burgess Hill Town, who play their football at a step higher and have won a League Cup this season.
Our Ladies have enjoyed a good first season, finishing fourth in the SECWFL Kent Division One and earned a tie against Tottenham Hotspur, a result of which we will gloss over!
A little nervousness of the occasion, perhaps a little rustiness from a month without a game, led to a opening half in which Burgess Hill took the game to their hosts leaving the Angels defending deeply and relying on Tracy Edwards in goal making several good saves.
Neither side were used to playing on a pitch as large as Longmead, which is around a third bigger than their normal home at Tonbridge Farm. In fact, even the Burgess Hill contingent were mentioning that their team was struggling to adapt to the vastness of space.
Burgess Hill created two chances in the opening five minutes, a shot and a header that Edwards was the equal of before Tonbridge had their first opportunity but leading goalscorer Abigail Skilton was unable to get the ball out from under her feet to get away a meaningful shot.
Burgess Hill continued to press, but Edwards continued to keep them at bay with a series of saves.
A superb through ball from skipper Bethany Kemp sent Rebecca Janes clear but the visiting goalkeeper saved at her feet.
Eventually, after 26 minutes, the Hillians pressure finally bore fruit as a poor clearance from Edwards fell at the feet of the Burgess Hill number 11 who did very well to lob the ball back into the unguarded goal from around 20 yards on an angle from the right hand side.
Unfortunately, the Tonbridge goalkeeper suffered an asthma attack soon after the goal was scored and needed to be replaced for the rest of the first half by Jodie Coombes, who has never played between the sticks before.
The game was played with rotating substitutions and Burgess Hill used this to regularly change their players and, after 32 minutes one of the subs was sent clear to bury a shot into the bottom corner for double their advantage.
Within two minutes, Tonbridge were back in the game when Megan Akehurst rounded the goalkeeper to finish into an empty net to delight the majority of the watching support.
The game half ended with a scoreline that reflected the visitors overall dominance but not the Angels’ effort when Burgess Hill scored twice in the space of two minutes right at the end of the 45 minutes. The Burgess Hill number 21 benefited from a fumble by the rookie goalkeeper and their number 2 was also sent through to finish well giving them a half-time score of 4-1.
In keeping with the spirited nature of the game, Edwards recovered sufficiently to retake her position as custodian of the Tonbridge goal for the second half.
The early period might have seen the game completely out of sight of the Angels as Burgess Hill had a period in which they produced some very good football. They hit the bar and in one attack cut the Tonbridge defence apart with a slick interchange of passes. But, to their credit, the girls hang on and just past the hour reduced the deficit when they were awarded a penalty after Lauryn Underhill was brought down. In a competitive fixture the Burgess Hill girl would have seen a red card but the referee acted charitably and failed to show her a card of any colour.
Beth Kemp fired in the spot kick and, albeit briefly, hopes were harboured of a comeback but, after 68 minutes, a shot from the left found the bottom corner to register the Sussex side’s fifth goal.
For an hour, Tonbridge’s Courtney Smith had produced the eye-catching performance in the blue shirt but the introduction of 16-year-old Maisie Gibb, who has only been training with the club a month, lit up the evening with her direct, very quick approach taking on defenders with an assured confidence linking well with Janes to threaten the Hillians goal on a couple of occasions. If this fixture is replayed in a year’s time it is going to be fascinating to see the progression of young Maise under the tutelage of Dan Couldridge and Rob Mardell.
As said at the beginning, never mind the result, on the night the Angels Ladies have done their town, their club and, most importantly, themselves proud and, hopefully, some of the attendance will consider returning for their League fixtures next season.
Report by Wink Tomkinson