After weeks of frustration and lack of matches due to the poor weather conditions, the Palace Ladies returned to action in the cup to take on West Ham United Ladies who play in the division above. Chairman Richard Spokes had a chat exclusively to TEB after the match.
Following two frustrating postponements, the Eagles were finally able to host the Hammers in a game that always looked like being a tight affair, despite Palace being in a lower division.
Palace dominated possession for large periods but the result was decided by mistakes made and opportunities taken. The hosts, who have not played competitively for the past six weeks, made a bright enough start and looked to move the ball quickly and into wide areas. West Ham took a little longer to settle and it was during this period that the lively Gemma Bryan was able to out pace the visiting full back and drive into the area. At the point of pulling the trigger, Bryan was floored by a tackle from the covering defender and Palace were justly awarded a penalty. Freya Holdaway stepped up with a little under quarter of an hour gone to despatch the penalty and give the Eagles the lift they needed.
However, the remainder of the second half saw the visitors re-group and slowly start to test Palace, pressing high and reducing the time on the ball for defenders and midfield alike. The gamble paid off and saw West Ham capitalise on a Palace mistake and grab an equaliser just ahead of the half hour.
The West Ham goal seemed to rock the Eagles for the remainder of the first half and the team looked nervous in possession at times. The East Londoners clearly saw an opportunity, and whilst leaving them exposed to pacey Palace breaks, continued their high pressing and robbed Palace of the ball as they broke from defence just before the break. The quick turnover of possession resulted in a simple pass to the on-rushing centre forward who finished well. Despite a late claim for a penalty for another foul on Bryan, Palace were unable to respond before half time.
Palace manager Dean Davenport was strong and direct with his observations at half time making it clear that the Palace Ladies were a match for the opposition and that if they had played as they had in the league so far this season, they could be leading their counterparts.
The team, clearly invigorated by the half time talk, set about the second half in determined and business-like fashion. Palace were now the high pressers and West Ham were restricted to the occasional counter-attack. Palace worked the wings and central areas well but were regularly thwarted by some last ditched defending, goal line clearances and the occasional lack of clinical finishing.
Corner after corner, free kick after free kick and run after run went unrewarded with Leesa Haydock and Roschelle Shakes notable in their efforts. Sadly for the young Eagles, it was a day where it was not meant to be and West Ham clung onto the lead and took the victory. The scenes summed up what the FA Cup is really about – passion, determination, moments of high quality and high drama in front of a crowd who lived through every high and low of the game.
This was not only a terrific example of life in the prestigious FA Cup, but equally, a great advert for the excitement and spectacle that women’s football is providing as it rightly takes its place in the public eye and on the sporting stage.
Speaking after the game, Palace manager Dean Davenport was naturally disappointed but realistic about the game and the few months ahead:
“As a team that has reached the fourth round for the last two years, we really do value the FA Cup and always look to put our best efforts in. I felt that we were not fully on it in the first half and after a bight start and gave West Ham a little too much respect, allowing them to dictate the flow of the game. We were frustratingly lacking in areas that are recognised as our forte during that first half.”
Asked about the half time team talk, Dean added:
“We were all open and honest and everyone left the dressing room knowing what was needed. To the girls credit they stepped up and we totally dominant in the second half. This was really pleasing and a sign that we can cope with teams at the next level. The only frustration for us all is what could have been, if we had been playing as we know we can, throughout the first half.”
“Credit to West Ham who came to do a job and took advantage of our moments of indecision. We wish them well for the next round, but we now move on to a County Cup game next week and our very important efforts to retain top spot in the league and go for our promotion.”
As Dean eluded to, the Palace Ladies are back in action at Bromley next Sunday in the Surrey FA County Cup against Abbey Rangers. Kick off is at 1pm with gates opening from 12pm. Entry is £3 for adults and under 16s go free. All spectators are welcome.