Palace Ladies kicked off in the new season at the top of the FA pyramid in fine form as they extended last season’s unbeaten form into the new campaign.
The Eagles, who have been handed just about the most difficult set of fixtures possible in their first six games, played host to Coventry United Ladies at Bromley on Sunday in what was always known to be a tough test.
The visitors arrived looking to add on to their fifth position finish to last season and were very quickly made aware that while Palace may be new to the league, they were there on merit and were not there to make up the numbers.
The game began in front of a vocal and expectant crowd at Hayes Lane, with Palace playing proudly in their new 2016-17 official Utilita Energy sponsored kits.
From the word go, Palace dominated Coventry and for a blistering first twenty minutes had almost total control. Far from looking nervous, The Eagles looked every part the top tier team, playing a high press, high intensity game creating a number of clear cut chances that ultimately saw Gemma Bryan continue where she left off last season, with a quality finish after good work from Roschelle Shakes.
Initially rocked by the Palace pressure, Coventry regained their composure as the half progressed and slowly wrestled back some control. This saw good use of the pace down the wings and a few close calls for the South Londoners.
One such period of play saw the visitors equalise through Samantha Smith who headed home from close range. Palace did well to control the game to the interval where a well earned re-group was taken.
The second half saw Palace return to the high tempo, and again take the match to Coventry. This pressure was momentarily thrown into doubt when Palace goalkeeper Chanell Yardley was adjudged to have brought down a Coventry player when clearing a ball from the edge of the area. Any injustice felt by Yardley was dealt with as she dived to her right to make a fine save and keep the score level.
Palace were not affected by the incident and turned the screw, again resulting in Bryan stamping her authority on the game. This time, racing clear to latch onto a long ball, powering the shot beyond the keeper and in off the far post to put Palace back into the lead.
Showing their experience, Coventry went about nullifying the constant waves of Palace attacks and again, forced their way back into the game. During this period, Smith grabbed her second with a well hit, but speculative shot that beat Yardley, to nestle in the top corner.
Over the remaining twenty minutes, both teams had opportunities to grab a winner but none were taken. The final whistle saw a well earned and wholly justifiable point being gained by the newest team in the league.
Talking exclusively to TEB, Palace manager Dean Davenport was very encouraged by what he had seen;
“We are all immensely proud of the performance. The girls did not look out of place and put in a great effort. Whilst we would have taken a point from this fixture before the game, we cannot help but feel we could have sneaked all three based on our efforts. There will be plenty of teams taking note of our result but for us, it is just a case of quietly going about our business and consolidating on this opening day achievement.”
Asked about the first week in the top league, Davenport summarised;
“It has been a hectic week or so. We started with the launch of an incredible new partnership with Utilita Energy who have really understood what Palace Ladies is about. We then had a spate of injuries that saw a number of regulars sidelined for the first game. Then we had the game today which other than a nasty back injury to Megan Goss, was a real plus. I think we can safely say, we are learning fast.”
Today was a proud day for us all at Palace Ladies. We have worked so hard to move our club up through the levels and put it in the place it deserves. To see the players take to the pitch in the fantastic new kits, at a great facility and go toe to toe with an established team in the league, makes all the effort worthwhile. We know that the season will be long and testing, but this was the ideal start and the perfect place to build from.