FA Women’s Premier League: Crystal Palace 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
The first team hosted a battling Queens Park Rangers side on Sunday at the Eagles’ temporary home of Croydon Arena.
A fixture clash at Bromley meant that the Ladies hosted the West Londoners a stones throw away from Selhurst Park, in the FA Women’s Premier League.
Palace had played QPR in the first outing of the season and despite the lion’s share of possession, only managed to come away with a hard fought 1-0 win. Ahead of the game on Sunday, Palace manager Dean Davenport commented;
‘Despite their position in the League, we know QPR will be tough to break down. There are no easy games in this division and they are a well organised team, designed to avoid conceding. Our mentality will need to be right and patience may be the key.’
Looking at the Palace squad, Davenport added;
‘We are really pleased to see Freya Holdaway back in contention and our other longer term injuries, Nicha Dyett, Leanne Bell and Leesa Haydock all edging ever closer. With a rather fractured fixture programme at the moment, it will be nice to get another game under our belt and some miles on the clock.’
From kick off, Palace looked to exert pressure on a Rangers system that was geared towards defending in numbers and hitting the occasional counter-attack. However, it was Palace who went closest in the opening ten minutes with the influential Ciara Sherwood clipping the outside of the post, followed by Gemma Bryan with a shot that flashed wide.
It was defender Rosie Paye who went close next, with a header from one of the many Palace corners throughout the match.
On fifteen minutes, it was Alma Donohoe that went close following a corner, bringing the first of a fine array of saves from the Rangers goalkeeper Jo Ayre.
The visitors continued to look for opportunities on the break and at times, tested the pace of the Palace back line, although were unable to find the quality needed to affect the scoreline.
The half progressed maintaining a similar pattern. Palace pressure, plenty of corners but denied by some heroic defending in the QPR box. Perhaps the best evidence of this was in the 34th minute when Bryan again broke free, rounded the keeper and was thwarted by a last ditched tackle as she set herself to fire home.
The half was seen out with more corners, half chances and resolute defending. Whilst Palace may have felt that they could have gone into the break with a goal or two, it would have been harsh on Rangers who showed that they are a well gelled and drilled squad.
Urged on during the interval by Davenport to continue the pressure and seek that illusive touch of quality in and around the goal, the Eagles returned to the game readied and determined. Frustratingly for them, however, so did QPR. A whole host of Palace players looked to find ‘that moment’ with Sarah Jones clipping the top of the net from the edge of the box in the 57th minute.
Minutes later, it seemed that the defining moment had come when Palace were awarded a penalty for a foul on Bryan in the box. Roschelle Shakes took the responsibility and stepped up. To the despair of all, the penalty, whilst hit hard enough, cleared the bar.
In fairness to the hosts, they did not settle for the fact that some would see it as ‘just not their day’ and they persevered. They almost certainly surpassing any previous record for corners won by them in any one game, yet still they were unable to break through. Bryan appeared to be getting closer, as QPR legs tired but was constantly left frustrated by an excellent goalkeeping performance.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the game came in the 78th minute when QPR suffered a critical loss. Through on goal, with the keeper to beat, both Bryan and Ayre ended up in the same place at the same time, at full speed. Ayre who had gone to ground bravely at the edge of her box, was caught by the trailing foot of Bryan as she looked to clear the sprawling keeper.
The result was a significant looking shoulder injury to Ayre who was clearly unable to take any further part in the game. A real disappointment after such an outstanding performance. Without a regular reserve keeper, Rangers had to use an outfield substitute between the sticks for the rest of the game. Palace clearly sought to exploit this opportunity with a range of crosses and shots, designed to test.
With an extended period of injury time looming, Palace finally broke the deadlock. In the 90th minute, following a curling free kick into the box, Shakes headed on and Bryan slipped in between the defenders and the keeper to slot home.
The relief was clear for all to see and long overdue. Despite a late, all or nothing rally by the visitors, The Eagles held on for the three points, with Rangers earning huge respect for their efforts in a tough encounter.
Speaking after the game, Davenport commented:
‘Firstly, we all hope that Jo is okay. I think she has gone to hospital for a check up and we wish her well. She was a big part of the strong defensive display that QPR put on today. From our point of view, we could have made this result a lot easier, but were made to fight for it. We were denied space and were regularly frustrated in our efforts. We spoke to the girls at half time and reminded them to stay focussed and wait for their chance. When the penalty came and went, they could have folded, but to their credit, they stayed on track and dug out a winner.”
Davenport went on to add:
‘We know, sometimes to our cost, that any game in this league can be decided by very fine margins. Today, due to their diligence, the girls were rewarded and we have really earned the three points.”
Looking ahead, Davenport is clearly keen to carry forward some momentum;
‘It is frustrating at this time, because we seem to keep having long gaps between games. At present, we do not have a fixture before our trip to C&K Basildon in two weeks time. It would be nice to be able to keep the momentum going week to week, but that is the nature of the game sometimes but something that I am sure our players can deal with.’
Palace Ladies would very much like to wish player of the match, Jo Ayre, all the best and a speedy return to action.