Sunday, 27 August 2017

27/08/17 Review: Stoke City Ladies vs Leicester City Ladies

Stoke City Ladies 1-3 Leicester City Ladies (Women's Premier League Northern Division)
Community Drive

Just over since months after my first visit, this August Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon was put aside in my diary for a return to Community Drive so that I could go along and support the Potters Ladies side once again and get the proper match day experience in Smallthorne, Stoke. My last outing to this ground was for the Staffordshire Ladies Cup Semi-Final encounter between Stoke Ladies and their very own Reserve team and on this occasion the first team were barely tested, running out 6-0 winners on their way to winning the Cup for the ninth time in a row. Today's test in the early stages of the new Women's Premier League season, which is the third tier of women's football, would prove to be a far sterner challenge in the form of Leicester City's side and with the Foxes ladies winning their opener 2-0 versus Bradford City. Stoke on the other hand had lost their first match of the new season last Sunday as a poor 1-4 defeat against Derby County saw them get off to a disappointing start at Community Drive- so baring this in mind, I predicted a 2-2 draw for this one even though I would be cheering on a Potters victory.

Potters vs Foxes, let's do this
As a former resident of the Sneyd Green area of Stoke I was quite familiar with this area of the city and although I never got to see the last tenants, Norton United, play at Community Drive, I was aware of the ground and after my last trip I was keen to get back over to my old stomping ground. I made it across town in just over 10 minutes and had a good 15 to spare before the game, meaning that I could pop in to the bar to grab myself a pre-match pint just in time for the action to commence. After originally walking into a darkened room with the shutters down on the bar, I feared that my afternoon out in the sun would have to be observed without the aid of a tasty beverage- a fate that I shall undoubtedly have to face tomorrow afternoon at Chester vs Macc. After eventually finding myself holding my all too familiar groundhopping buddy, I proceeded to enter the ground itself just past the astro-turf pitch and cricket pitch that are also housed within the sporting facility. Once handing over £2, an absolute bargain for a proper game of competitive football, I took my seat in the lower stand in-front of the hill full of people enjoying the sun with deckchairs and such, and before I knew it the game had started.

Eleventh game of the season, including friendlies
Within the opening three minutes the hosts were up on their feet cheering and this electric start had led to the first goal of the afternoon. A ball was pumped up from the right-hand side of the field and as it headed towards the floor a battle between a Stoke attacker and Leicester centre-back eventually led to the ball bouncing unfortunately off of Holly Morgan and looping over Clarke in the visiting goal for an own goal. Stoke 1-0 Leicester. Leicester still clearly hadn't had chance to loosen up after the ride up the A50 and a defensive error almost let Kate Asher in shortly after the opener, but thankfully Clarke was able to regain composure with a full-stretch diving save to her left. Asher has looked lethal last time I'd seen her, netting two in that game, and this afternoon she looked fierce too, even though she was never really presented a clear-cut opportunity after this early strike. Once Leicester had got through the opening 10 minutes, they started to get into the game more themselves and a couple of shots in quick succession from the engineering midfield almost led to an equaliser, with one well blocked and the other stopped by a defender's face, leading to a corner which was saved by Hall in the Stoke goal. Leicester's main threat was coming from their red-headed winger who was on the left one minute and the right the next- the number 14 was rapid and caused issues for the full-backs all day, causing Hollie Gibson to get a booking in the first-half as she struggled to keep up.

I thought I'd wander over to goal side, as the Foxes were pressing 

Although the actual football was great and the weather was perfect for a match, there was one factor that can be often more inconsistent than the passing or unpredictable than the weather- the refereeing! As well as giving countless unpopular decisions, some of which were good calls and others which were baffling, the man in black somehow managed to give a 25th minute corner from the wrong side! He enforced his clearly wrong decision for the kick to be taken on the right of Leicesters posts, even though both sides, management and the lino seemed to be telling him that he'd gone nuts. With the tension rising, he called a break just before the half-hour mark to allow everybody a minute to grab a drink and cool down. Shortly after this a refreshed Hannah Keryakoplis, scorer of this beauty last week, tried her luck again as she ran inside the Leicester half before pumping a 35-yard strike towards goal. The ball floated towards the Foxes goal before eventually hitting the top of the woodwork and then out for a goal kick- an outstanding effort from the Welsh international.

Sources tell me that these are the remains of goalposts that Keryakoplis has shot at in training!
Stoke Ladies survived a final bit of Leicester pressure and would go into the break leading 1-0, unlike the men's side who had just fallen behind to a Jay Rodriguez at The Hawthorns as I re-entered the bar for a brew. For the first 30 minutes or so of the second-half, the game remained more like a game of chess as the visiting side looked to force their way back into contention. The Ref continued to halt the game and even had to book Emily Owen as she proclaimed "Ref, you're very bad". Time was getting on by this point and Leicester were still fighting to get an equaliser. In the 77th minute, they got it as Rosie Axten poked the ball home amongst half a dozen players inside the area, signalling a huge sigh of relief for the visitors who had put a lot of pressure on the home side. Stoke 1-1 Leicester. I thought that this would set up an interesting and open last 12 minutes and indeed it did- with the ball finding the net again just one minute later. Another set-piece was prodded into the box and it was Axten for the second time who bundled the ball into the net and sent the management team in the Away dugout into hysterics as they turned the match on its head. Stoke 1-2 Leicester. As much as I was supporting Stoke this afternoon, I couldn't help but applaud the Leicester comeback as it was well-deserved- Stoke hadn't registered a decent chance since half-time.

The home support started to shout out support from the top of the hill- G'wan Stoke!
This wake-up call seemed to give the Potters a second-wind as they pushed forward now to look for an equaliser of their own and during this encounter I wouldn't have put anything past either side- it could've ended 2-2 or 1-3! Sadly though for the Potters it would be the latter and a perfectly-timed counter attack from Leicester saw the ball soon find its way to substitute attacker Sophie Domingo. The blue shirted number 2 put her head down and ran towards goal, before applying a solid finish into the net and sealed the three points for the away side in the 89th minute. Stoke 1-3 Leicester. The final whistle blew after a good bit of injury-time in which Stoke looked to get a consolation goal, but this second home defeat left them still searching for a first point of the season and also kept up Leicester's 100% winning streak so far. Both of these sides are in Cup action next Sunday, with Stoke facing a trip to Morecambe and Leicester going to Chorley, but for me I'll be back in action tomorrow with one heck of a double-dose. After going to watch the side I support, Macc Town, away at Chester, I'll be heading across the M56 to Maine Road in search of a much awaited conclusion of their FA Cup Replay Replay against Abbey Hey. Let's see if it's third time lucky, ey?

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