Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday July 6 2012
Even in the barren summer months, football is never far away. That is, if you`re willing to look for it and visit strange new territories to seek it out. With the soda light of the European Championships providing a nice sideline, we`re now well into pre season and the friendlies are coming. Borehamwood, Stevenage, Chesham United all on consecutive weekends. But how to bridge the agonising 9 days before the Markus Lieber Cup at Southampton`s St. Mary`s? Thankfully, the WSL continues through the summer.
Arsenal Ladies have faced their Chelsea counterparts four times in the last 10 weeks. This was to be the final meeting between the two for this season. A fortnight ago, Arsenal had Birmingham sitting just two points behind them. The Gunners then vanquished them 4-2 at Borehamwood to open up a five point gap. This weekend past, nearest challengers Lincoln City and Birmingham City both lost, leaving Arsenal the chance to extend their lead at the top of the WSL to 8 points as the league hibernates for the Olympics.
Unsurprisingly, Staines Town`s modern Wheatsheaf Park ground represents untouched territory for me. So myself, Sweden and Terry decided to go along. A simple 40 minute commute from London Waterloo, Staines is a pleasant, if slightly faceless, suburb just outside the city. Our walk in the late afternoon sunshine from Staines station to the ground revealed no pubs, no restaurants, barely any shops. Just rows and rows of middle class, terraced housing. So in order to quench our pre match first, we had to blag our way into the ultra modern bar and restaurant that is attached to the ground, along with complimentary sports centre. The car park was a see of Audi tt`s and Mercedes.
With a few minutes until kickoff, we took a casual stroll to the turnstile to reveal a pleasant non league ground with a new, all seater stand elevated at a nice level above the pitch; leaving excellent views. We sat near the front of this tiered stand, suspended at around twenty feet above pitch level which gave us an excellent panorama of the leafy suburban houses that penned the stadium in. The moaniest man in the universe was behind us again and was in such good form ("KICK IT"", "NOOOOOOOO! WHY ARE YOU PASSING BACKWARDS FOR?!") that a Chelsea fan walked over to him at half time and, politely, asked him to hold his noise down.
Laura Harvey left Ellen White and Kelly Smith on the bench in case an attacking emergency was needed. Danielle Carter is away with the England U-19 side; Jayne Ludlow and Niamh Fahey are still struggling with injuries. Arsenal started with Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little rotating the striker role either side of Yankey and Gemma Davison. Arsenal started the game strongly and positively, taking the lead inside ten minutes. Rachel Yankey pinged a cross field ball from the left to Gemma Davison on the right. She nudged the ball past Sophie Ingle, whose pace visibly panicked the Chelsea left back and she bundled Davison over in the area.
Kim Little sent Quantrill the wrong way with the resulting spot kick. But Chelsea responded almost immediately with a sucker punch. Dani Buet`s inswinging corner foxed Emma Byrne, with Kate Longhurst standing in front of her. The ball flew straight into Byrne`s far corner. Arsenal responded with a flurry of attacks. Nobbs` through ball seemed to have put Chapman through on goal, but Quantrill was out smartly to bloc from close range. Jenny Beattie went close when Yankey`s free kick was flicked on by Steph Houghton, but Beattie could only help the ball over the bar. Yankey stung Quantrill`s palms from range. But Chelsea really ought to have taken the lead when Susi`s through ball sliced Flaherty and Grant open, leaving Longhurst through on goal, but her weak finish was impeded by Byrne, who was then up smartly to stop the ball squirming over the line.
Arsenal`s conviction left them for the final third of the first half and Chelsea capitalised on their collective slumber. Flaherty`s clumsy challenge on Danielle Susi yielded a penalty award and Dani Buet made no mistake, smashing her effort into the top corner. Harvey had plenty of work to do at half time. The stadium PA blasted Journey`s "Don`t Stop Believing" from its speakers during the interval. It was an apt sentiment. The Gunners pinned Chelsea back from the off, but lacked cutting edge. Jenny Beattie`s volley rattled the bar from Little`s corner, but it was clear the Gunners needed a spark upfront. Kelly Smith came on for Steph Houghton, whose last act was to head Bonner`s effort off the line from a Buet corner. The Ladies have looked very vulnerable from setpieces this season.
Smith`s introduction gave Arsenal a focal point, but the game should have been put beyond their reach on 65 minutes. Sophie Perry`s effort from the edge of the area took a big ricochet off of Flaherty and fell perfectly for Longhurst from all of 8 yards, but she turned her effort onto the post. It was profligacy she would soon rue. On 72 minutes, the enormity of the miss would be made plain. Smith had looked off the pace and was being knocked off the ball easily, even though her runs were good. She`s 34 and recovering from a hefty ankle injury in fairness. But the class remains unsullied. Alex Scott floated a hopeful cross into the area. It found Smith with her back to goal. Smith saw Quantrill move off her line from the corner of her eye and duly redirected a looping back header over the Chelsea keeper and into the net. Yankey was quick to wrestle the ball from the net.
Arsenal had the momentum and Smith would make it profitable. Yankey raced down the left wing and put a low cross in to Smith around 15 yards from goal. Smith collected with her back to goal, but swivelled past Bonner and despatched a low left foot shot into the bottom corner. Two waves of Smith`s limbs and the game had been turned on its head. Chelsea were deflated and Arsenal were on a high. Jordan Nobbs played an inch perfect through pass to Kim Little, which cut brutally through Chelsea`s defence. Little gleefully danced round Quantrill and sealed a second consecutive 4-2 win. Laura Harvey`s side are eight points clear going into the Olympic break. Their next game is at Everton on August 19th. They once again find themselves hot favourites to retain their WSL title, though they still have to travel to Everton, Birmingham and Doncaster Belles. LD.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Friday July 6 2012
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