Palace Ladies made a fourteen hour round trip to the West Country on Sunday. Destination, Keynsham Town in The League Cup.
Previous seasons, despite the performances in the league, have seen the Eagles falter in these early season cup competition, something that the side were keen to set right.
After a long journey, the ladies prepared themselves for what was always likely to be a tough test. Whilst playing on an artificial pitch, which is far from rare these days, competitive games always seem to take time to adjust for teams who regularly play their matches on grass.
Following a minute of applause in memory of young footballer Zoe Tynan from Flyde FC, who had died earlier in the week, the game got under way.
Both teams were industrious which at times reduced the final touches of quality needed. Whilst Palace dominated possession, they rarely looked likely to convert this into an early lead. In fact, the hosts went closest themselves on a couple of occasions, foiled by the agile Chanell Yardley in the Palace goal.
Despite the near misses at their own end, Palace continued to work the opposition hard, closing high up the pitch, notably through the hugely industrious Roschelle Shakes. The Palace pressure nearly told on the half hour when Ellie Bailes went close following good work from Gemma Bryan.
As the match moved towards the interval, Palace continued to pressure the hosts and created a timely break through. Unsurprisingly, it was as a result of some more great work by Shakes as Keynsham looked to manage the play in their own half, that saw Bryan chase the loose ball just inside the area. The Palace forward won the race and coolly slipped the ball under the advancing, sprawling goalkeeper. The otherwise disappointing half saw two more incidents, both of which, the game could have done without.
For the second week running it was the turn of an assistant referee to fall to injury.
Following the stoppage and the discovery of a fully qualified female referee in the crowd, the game resumed and was again interrupted. This time by a Palace injury. In an incident that saw Nicha Dyett challenge for a loose ball in the Keynsham box and come off worse with the keeper, the mood of the game was abruptly changed. Dyett, who was in a huge amount of pain was carried off and replaced by Leesa Haydock. Following the extended amount of injury time, the Eagles gratefully headed into the break a goal up.
At the interval, Palace were asked to bring back the quality to the final phases of play, however difficult this was against a dogged and determined home team. On a long, tiring day and ahead of the two toughest challenges of the season, in the league against Tottenham Hotspur and Charlton Athletic over the next ten days, extra time was most certainly not on the wish list.
Despite their best efforts with Fran Ali at the centre of them, Palace were unable to capitalise on periods of better possession, early in the second half and twenty minutes in, the frustration mounted when a penalty was awarded to the hosts following a decision by the referee that the Keynsham forward had been brought down on her route to goal. Despite the best efforts of Yardley to save the penalty that was blasted into the roof of the net, the score line was back level.
The equaliser did rally Palace and saw them begin to exert their dominance as Keynsham began to tire. With the fresh legs of Ellie Stenning and Jade Davenport, on for Pamela McRoberts and Ellie Bailes, Palace had a succession of corners, with the hosts riding their luck with last ditched saves and fortuitous goal line bounces of the ball. However, in the seventy-fifth minute, one of the goal mouth incidents was not fully cleared and Shakes needed no further invitation to prod home from a few yards.
Back into the lead, Palace looked the more likely to score again and with Bryan now playing in a wider role, opportunities were regularly created. However, none were taken and the game ended with a narrow, but deserved win for the Eagles.
Speaking exclusively to TEB after the match, head coach Dean Davenport commented:
“It was a frustrating day today, we were just not able to put our game together. I felt that we could and should have imposed ourselves on things earlier and controlled the game. Credit should go to Keynsham who were well organised and a threat throughout. But, we are in the hat and are pleased with the result. It has been a long day and we are waiting to hear news on Nicha ahead of a big week for us.”
On the forthcoming league fixtures, Davenport added:
“The next two games are a real test for us and will be a good illustration of what the challenges of this new league are really about. Both Spurs and Charlton have invested a lot in their efforts to move up and it will be interesting to see how the new comers can acquit themselves in that kind of company.”
It is terrible sad to report that the big week started in the worst possible way. News came through later in the day confirming the worst fears that Nicha Dyett had suffered a fracture to her tibia and faces a lengthy spell on the side lines.
Everyone at Palace Ladies and TEB wishes Nicha well for a very speedy recovery.
Next up for the Eagles is Tottenham Hotspur at home on Sunday 11th September 2016. Kick off at Bromley is 2pm and then the following Wednesday, Palace host Charlton Athletic in a 7.45pm kick off.