Due to an unexpected combination of circumstances Pride Park found themselves without either their regular shot stopper or back up keeper for Sunday’s visit to Borrowash Victoria - the best laid plans and all that!
A lengthening injured list and other unavailable players required a reshuffle and careful husbanding of the available players, with striker/midfielder Steph Eadon - although not ready to return from injury to play outfield - to play in goal, Hannah Kwiatek returning for her first game in 3 months playing in the unfamiliar right back role, Beth Jones and Eliot Sayavong dropping back into defence, and Ella Kew moving to centre midfield. The return of Steph Eadon - albeit in goal - and Bleu Lewis-Wilson for her first game (apart from as a stand-in ‚keeper earlier in the season) since an injury in pre-season gave the squad a much needed boost.
Despite all that, Pride got off to the best possible start when, with barely a minute played, Maja Znamirowska and Tash Allderidge combined to win possession back half-way inside the Vics’ half and Tash fed a ball through for Summer Evans, who took the ball in her stride and slotted the ball past the keeper [0-1].
Pride’s lead was very nearly doubled after 7 minutes; Tash Allderidge’s corner was headed onto the crossbar by Summer Evans and her instinctive shot from the rebound was lifted over the bar.
Vics inevitably responded and came back into the game but they were finding time and space difficult to come by as Pride’s players closed down and harried them, and although there were a few sights of goal, the shots were either off target or comfortably held by stand-in ‘keeper Steph Eadon.
Either side of the 20 minute mark there were two more chances for Pride, as Maja Znamirowska didn’t quite time her run to perfection and was caught marginally offside when through on goal. A minute later Hannah Kwiatek collected a clearance half way inside the Vics’ half, Fran Critichley-Watson made a run wide to take a defender away and open up the space for Hannah to make an incisive pass into Maja Znamirowska who turned and shot, but her effort just cleared the crossbar.
Just after the half hour Pride won a corner on the left, taken by Tash Allderidge. The set-piece was initially cleared but Izzy Wilsoncroft was first to it and returned an excellent pass into the area to find Beth Jones in space in front of goal but she steered her shot just the wrong side of the post with the keeper beaten.
A second goal for Pride wasn’t long in coming, however, and it was a peach. Pride won back possession on the left, Eliot Sayavong played forward to Ella Kew, who broke through a challenge and, looking up, spotted the Vics keeper a little off her line, before launching a howitzer of a shot from 30 yards, which had the goalkeeper back-pedalling and, although she got a hand to it, she couldn’t keep it out [0-2].
Vics had their best chance as the half-time interval approached; a free kick from just inside Pride’s half was played up to the edge of the area, three Pride defenders closed down the player on the ball - leaving a striker alone in the centre 12 yards out, but she was unable to steer her shot on target. Ella kew as injured in the build up to the shot, and came off for the final three of four minutes of time added on in the first half, but was fortunately able to resume in the second half. Half-time [0-2].
Pride will have been expecting to be put under pressure at the start of the second half and within few minutes of the restart, Vics worked the ball across the pitch from left to right, close to the edge of the Pride Park area, but a shot from outside the area was comfortably held by Steph Eadon. However, it was Pride who came closest to scoring again - first after 53 minutes when Tash Allderidge’s through ball to Summer Evans seemed to have beaten the offside trap and she was through on goal, but the offside flag went up - but appeared very much to have been given against Maja Znamirowska who was in an offside position but although not moving towards the ball may have hidden Summer Evans from the linesman’s view.
Another opportunity came after 56 minutes; pressure on a defender by Summer Evans and Eliot Sayavong forced a hurried pass which was pounced on by Tash Allderidge in midfield and her first time half-volleyed pass found Maja Znamirowska inside the area, she turned the defender and her shot on the turn was just close enough to the keeper for the save. Two minutes later, however, Pride did extend their lead - a Tash Allderidge corner on the left eluded everyone in the centre, and was met at the far post with a downward header by Fran Critchley-Watson, [3-0].
Just after the hour, there was a lengthy stoppage for an injury to a Vics defender - it’s wasn’t clear what the injury was but she was unable to continue - and a couple of minutes after play restarted Vics had their best chance of the game so far as their striker eluded three challenges from Pride defenders but Steph Eadon in the Pride goal deflected the shot with her foot, and Sophie Roberts completed the clearance.
With nine minutes of normal time left, Beth Jones headed on a corner in the area which rebounded to her, and her hooked shot was cleared off the line. Not for the first time, Tash Allderidge collected the clearance and played it to Beth Jones who rode two desperate challenges inside the area but her cut back was collected by the keeper.
Apart from a ‘hit and hope’ from distance which didn’t trouble Steph Eadon, Pride did well to restrict Vics’ sights of goals until the closing minutes of the game. With 86 minutes played Vics were awarded a free-kick about 30 yards out on the right which was taken direct - Steph Eadon was in line with the shot all the way, but (as a result of her recent injury) was just unable to get the push off needed to get the height to prevent the ball dropping under the bar [1-3].
The goal gave Vics added impetus in the four minutes of remaining time plus six minutes of time added but although they upped the tempo and tried to create chances, Pride were in no mood to let the result slip now - Vics won a corner that was cleared, and a shot on goal from distance was caught by Steph Eadon - and despite some very challenging circumstances, Pride inflicted Vics’ first defeat of the season.
Pride made rolling substitutions throughout the game to try and extend the playing time of those returning from injury or under the weather, and to try to keep players fresh - and it was pleasing to see Bleu Lewis-Wilson make a timely return from a lengthy lay-off to play half an hour in two spells without difficulty. Steph Eadon merits particular praise for a composed game as a stand in ‘keeper despite not being fully fit following a recent knee injury, but it was an assured, disciplined and intelligent performance by the whole squad of thirteen players - particularly considering the circumstances coming into the game - which lifts the team into second in the league with half of their fixtures now completed.
After the game, Pride’s Assistant Manager Jamie Robinson said “We knew this would be a good test and challenge against a respected Borrowash Victoria team. Coming into the game our focus was on how we wanted to play and the players rose to and embraced the challenge, and they deserve a lot of credit for executing the game plan and adapting to change during the game. The team ethos and the players understanding of the game showed itself physically and mentally in this performance. It was really pleasing to see them taking into a game what we’ve been working on in training and continuing the growth and development of the group. They have now set a standard that we want to maintain and build on for the games to come”.
Pride’s next game is at Mickleover next Sunday 12th March (kick off 1.30pm).