Harvesters stung by The Hornets
By Jamie Fleming
The whistle goes on an overcast Saturday morning. The girls start sluggishly, still waking up. Early passes are soft, tackles unconvincing. The Hornets are clearly up for this fixture. They’re everywhere, winning everything, looking for teammates in space and carving through Harvesters with sharp passes from good angles.
The pressure pays early. Lots of yellow attackers in the box and a low dangerous cross across goal from the left undoes us in the first five minutes, while we’re still heavy-legged. The defenders do the right thing getting feet to the ball early but it’s an unlucky deflection into the back of the net; an own goal that wrong-foots Gwen, who has no chance.
0-1 two minutes in. Suddenly things look ominous.
But credit to the girls, their heads don’t drop. For the next few minutes it’s still one-way traffic but it’s clear Harvesters are starting to wake up, with the odd quick foray into the opposition half. But the Watford back line is organised and calm, seeing off any potential danger clinically.
Gwen rolls out to her defenders from her penalty area, Sophie on the right, Alecia on the left and Issy in the middle. Watford give them time by sitting on the half way line, waiting to pounce on mistakes. Shouts of “absorb, absorb” from the Watford coach hang in the air. Sophie brings the ball as far as she can before hitting magnificently over the top of the midfield, hard and direct, into space for our runners. It’s congested and scrappy but the first sign of weakness from the Watford defence as they try to track back and cover.
The game ebbs and flows, with the Hornets still making dangerous breaks. But over on the far side the Watford right back is caught in possession. Millie hustles and steals the ball to give her clear space to run at goal. Tracked by defenders she makes just enough room to shoot with her right, hard and accurate, hitting the side netting to equalise.
1-1 after 10 minutes. The goal seems to energise Harvesters, who look calmer in midfield, Charlotte controlling the ball beautifully and laying it back to the defenders to create space. Jess is showing real strength, keeping the ball, holding off attackers and passing up the line.
But here come Watford again. Their No.10, tall and strong, makes a direct run through the middle, turning our defence one way then another. There are four Harvesters players on her but she still finds room to shoot, striking the goalpost powerfully, which shudders noisily, with the ball bouncing safely away to everyone’s relief.
It’s a yellow tide, with Watford starting to go up through the gears. The girls suddenly look panicked again, kicking aimlessly and missing passes, while the opposition seem to grow in confidence with every attack. But Harvesters hang on in there. Sai is running hard, tracking back, and leading the counters. Maisie is growing into the game, using her pace to make space for the passes. There is good thinking and ambition from the Harvesters girls but the execution is not as crisp as it has been in previous games.
It’s a nervy last few minutes of the first half, with plenty of Watford ball, but the referee blows the whistle of an action-packed and valiant effort from the home side, with much praise directed at the back three of Sophie, Issy and Alecia who worked extremely hard, and Sai who snubbed out plenty of attacking threats.
We’re off again, but straight from the kick off, Harvesters undercook the ball, allowing the Watford No.22, the scourge of the last local derby, to run and shoot, the ball fizzing dangerously close to the left hand upright. Then its Harvesters’ turn, played well up the wings by Jess and Maisie, and hit for Millie to chase. It’s becoming a real yo-yo of a game, back and forth, strong runs and near misses.
Watford again. Their No.10 waltzes into the penalty area, is pushed wide by Issy and Alecia but still gets a shot away, through legs, which hits the left hand post. Saved by the woodwork again! Gwen is screaming orders and the girls are soaking up the pressure. No.22 runs again, wrong-footing defenders with neat footwork, and shoots perilously close. Another attack hits the goal post. Harvesters living dangerously.
The Hornets’ pressure tells again when our defence, who are high-pressed and being bullied off the ball, try to clear across our own goal. The ball rolls perfectly into the path of the No.10, who gobbles it up, side-footing it cleanly into the empty net.
1-2 10 minutes into the second half. Harvesters are battling. It’s not all one-sided. There’s plenty of runs, and great football, with strong and bustling battles all over the park. But Watford seem crisper and more physical, the ball always at their feet.
We’re playing on the break. Getting it up-field quickly with Sophie, Sai and Jess. Millie is the lone runner, quicker than the opposition, but outnumbered. Jinking past two but smothered by the tall left back.
1-3 20 minutes into the second half. The third goal is soft. A missed clearance bobbles invitingly into the path of the advancing No.22, who smashes it into the top of the net just under the bar. An emphatic finish.
Our defence is immediately under pressure again. The girls are tiring. With no substitutes and a skilful opposition willing to run, it’s exhausting. They come again from the left, a fizzed cross that Gwen can’t hold, dropping into the path of their No.6 for a tap in.
1-4 5 minutes from time.
The game is tiring enough to watch, let alone to play in. All attack and defence, end to end. It’s a relief when the final whistle blows. The girls have done themselves proud, but they were up against an ordered and disciplined team, strong all over the park, and who out-thought them in key areas.
Watford Ladies Hornets are strong, organised and calm under pressure; neat short passes get them out of danger. Using space well on both wings with powerful crosses coming into dangerous areas. There’s no doubting their quality, but the difference today was physicality and discipline – they bullied our girls off the ball and didn’t panic when they were put under pressure.
The margins are increasingly small in this league. If the Watford team hadn’t had their No.10 and No.22 playing, we might have even won. We also scored an own goal and gave another soft goal away. Without those, the balance of power and positivity changes. It’s all about marginal gains.
The girls gave a great account of themselves today. They may be bruised and battle-weary but they were not broken. And that will only make them stronger and hungrier in the next match.
Report written by Jamie Fleming