Last Sunday, the First Team of Newbury Ladies FC travelled to the south coast to take on Southampton FC in an end of season friendly fixture. Playing in their change strip of white and black, it was the visitors who kicked off, but possession was soon surrendered and the opening few minutes saw Southampton pumping several long balls into Newbury’s final third. Playing her first ever match in goal for Newbury, Gemma Burnett was naturally a little nervy at the start. It took Southampton just seven minutes before they opened the scoring, when a through ball breached the Newbury back line and the striker’s arched run meant she kept on side, to latch onto the pass and coolly find a placed finish past Burnett.
Although they fell a goal behind early on, Newbury did not crumble and Burnett in particular began to gain in confidence. Soon after she saved well from a Southampton header, after a corner had been conceded. Then in their first attack, Newbury’s Ellie Reed progressed down the right, winning their first corner. But the resultant header from Ayala Truelove went just wide of the Southampton goal. Newbury were playing their way more into the match, with some neat possession, they just needed to be aware of Southampton’s pace on the counter attack.
Picking up possession, Newbury defender, Becky Anderson, played in forward, Amy McNab, who went on a great run that took her past the last defender. From the right of the penalty area, she fired in a low shot that narrowly evaded the far post. A further chance came for Newbury, this time after a superb Leanne Saunders angled pass found McNab in space, but her first touch was slightly heavy and the ball rolled through to the Southampton keeper.
Midway through the half, there was a lengthy stoppage, after Southampton’s forward had charged into the area. Newbury’s keeper had also come off her line and in a fifty/fifty challenge it was the Southampton player who came out worse. She was in some pain and the Southampton staff were concerned that there could be a suspected leg fracture. Removed from the field by a stretcher, play was then allowed to resume after approx. ten minutes. The remainder of the first half was duly played out, but Southampton were unable to add to their tally and so Newbury remained in touch. The half time score-line seeing Southampton still leading one nil.
Despite only having 11 players and no subs to call on, Newbury were buoyed at half time by how well they had coped with the Southampton threats and they were praised for the organisation they had shown. And it was Newbury who came out of the blocks quickest after the start of the second half. Within just two minutes, Newbury had advanced deep into Southampton territory. Whilst the initial ball forward was blocked, there was no distance on the clearance by the Southampton defence and the loose ball was duly picked up by Molly Baker. With one touch to control, she then unleashed a perfectly placed shot from distance into the top right hand corner. The Saints keeper had no chance. It was a sumptuous strike and thoroughly deserving of a goal. It brought Newbury level and evened the scores at one goal apiece.
The contest was now finely poised, with chances for both sides and it was a good spectacle for the 30+ supporters. As the half progressed and Southampton were able to bring on fresh legs, Newbury’s ten outfield players really had to dig in. Tiredness started to play a part in allowing Southampton to become more dominant in attack. But Gemma Burnett was providing a stubborn resistance in the Newbury goal, even with a slightly unorthodox style at times. She made a terrific double save, finally punching clear and then made a further fingertip save, up onto the cross bar shortly after. With just 12 minutes remaining, Newbury’s rear guard action was finally breached, as a Saints substitute raced clear to slot home for 2-1.
That proved to be the decisive winning goal and it gave the home side the victory, but Newbury were not too down-hearted, as they showed plenty of character and team spirit. It had certainly been a very worthwhile exercise for both teams and hugely enjoyable.
Player of the Match for Newbury Ladies FC was the energetic and influential Ellie Reed.