Palace Ladies Secure The Title In Style
Crystal Palace Ladies emphatically took the FA Women’s Premier League (Division 1) title with three games to spare on Sunday in a memorable trip to play second placed MK Dons at Newport Pagnell FC writes chairman Richard Spokes.
The Eagles made the trip needing four points from four games, based on title rivals Gillingham winning all their remaining games.
Ahead of the match a positive Dean Davenport, spoke of his team’s frame of mind;
‘The girls are totally focused and trying not to get caught up in all the talk about what could be. We have treated the preparation for this game like all the others this season. Look at the opposition with respect and look to use our abilities and experience to play our way and manage the game accordingly.’
With the game preceding the Surrey FA Cup Final taking place on Thursday, was there a cautious eye on what was to come?
‘Absolutely not. We like to treat all matches with equal commitment and respect. Today is a crucial match in a long season, so right here, right now, this is the most important game of the season.’
The manager’s strength of commitment was equally matched throughout a simply stunning first half of football from the South Londoners who, faced with an entire team, almost constantly stationed behind the ball carved open the hosts with precision and prowess.
On the front foot from the word go, Palace probed and tested the Don’s defence, creating a number of early opportunities. It was in the fifteenth minute that the ball was worked out wide to Leanne Bell, who created an opportunity to cross and fired in a low ball across the six yard box. With the danger of approaching Palace forwards, the defender Leanna Doyle attempted to get anything on the cross, only to see it ricochet into her own net.
The hosts looked to respond, most notably from set pieces, but it was Palace who went closest to a second, on the twenty-third minute, following a blistering run from the half way line, down the left flank by Gemma Bryan. Using her pace, tenacity and awareness, Bryan beat all-comers, but only found the side netting when she seemed a certainty to score.
Palace’s dominance paid dividends in the twenty-seventh minute when a simply stunning team move, through and across the pitch resulted in an inch-perfect cross being dispatched through a Bryan header. This was a goal of utmost quality at a crucial time, in a critical match. The Eagles were now flying, with the Dons in some disarray.
The visitors sought to exert their authority through the industrious Abi Igbavboa, who drove from left to right across the edge of the box and fired just over the bar.
A third Palace goal came in the thirty-fifth minute when Bryan found space on the edge of the box, received a perfect through ball, controlled it and coolly slipped it beneath the advancing goalkeeper.
The remainder of the half passed without major incident and Palace were now only forty-five minutes from a huge step towards the title.
If this was to be a straight forward task, nobody told MK Dons, who came out with a far higher level of intensity and more adventurous game plan. This gained an immediate reward when on forty-eight minutes, a defensive mix up between Freya Holdaway and goalkeeper Chanell Yardley allowed Don’s forward, Heather McDonnell to steal in and score.
The game now increased in pace, passion and volatility, with both teams committing to a full-blooded approach to the task in hand. The tackles came thick and fast in a terrific final half an hour, with Palace midfielder Fran Ali involved in much of the action.
As the half progressed, Palace looked to exploit the higher MK Dons line, on the counter-attack, with chances for Nicha Dyett, Gemma Bryan and Abi Igbavboa.
With the game passing the ninety minute mark, it was looking like a case of seeing things out for the Eagles. However, the never-say-die attitude that has seen them through the season was apparent once again as Palace rounded off the match with a fine strike from Rochelle Shakes that, despite the best efforts of the home goalkeeper, flew into the top corner.
The relief was clear for all to see as a huge pile of Palace players appeared in the middle of the pitch, with goal scorer Shakes, somewhere underneath it all. The match still had time to see a final MK Dons attack expertly thwarted by Holdaway to maintain the winning margin at 4-1 to the Eagles.
Palace return to the dressing room was delayed by the news from the touchline that Gillingham were losing to Cambridge with less than ten minutes to go. An impromptu huddle of players, coaches and supporters convened in the centre circle, with breath held for every Twitter update. Then, the news broke. Cambridge had won and Palace’s lead at the top of the table was unassailable.
The scenes from there on will live long in the memory as chorus upon chorus of songs and celebration, on the pitch and in the changing room rang out. In only their second season in the league, the Eagles had been promoted to their highest FAWPL level, with three games to spare.
Speaking after the match, a jubilant Davenport spoke of the performance and achievement;
‘We were absolutely fantastic today. That first half was as good as I have seen in a long time, from any team. The girls hit the ground running and were not in the mood to see their hard work throughout the season go to waste. Their tempo, team play and killer instinct was pure class. In fairness to MK Dons, they came out on a mission in the second half and gave it their all. It was good to see our girls have to deal with another challenge and do what was needed to get over the line. I am so pleased for them. We have a detailed and long term plan for the club and this achievement is a significant part of that. One we are all immensely proud of.’
Also speaking after the match, Sam Saint, in her twenty-first season at the Club, was proud of the achievements,
‘What the girls and club have achieved this season is fantastic. Everyone, across our team has pulled together and gone the extra mile where needed. They have dealt with everything that has come their way and this will stand us all in good stead for the challenges ahead. It is a great feeling and a proud moment for Crystal Palace Ladies Football Club.’
The victorious Eagles continue their season in the Surrey FA Cup Final against AFC Wimbledon at Leatherhead FC on Thursday 21st April. Kick off is at 7.30pm. All support welcome. Palace return to league action on Sunday 24th April when they host Cambridge United at Bromley, kick off is 2pm.
Looking at the forthcoming fixtures, coach Davenport promised;
‘We will be giving the remaining games our all. We are all focused on what is needed and are aware of the support that we are receiving. Without doubt, we will be looking to deliver on all fronts and very much look forward to celebrating the season run-in with Palace Ladies fans, whether it be our long term supporters or those just realising what they have been missing!’
Crystal Palace Ladies Football Club. South London And Proud!