FOOTBALL: West Ham United won the Essex Women’s Cup for the third time in six seasons after defeating Barking 5-1 in the 2014 final at AFC Hornchurch.
“It feels very good,” said Irons Manager Steve Spencer following a breathless conclusion, during which three goals were scored in stoppage time. “Obviously when you win any game it’s good and when it’s a cup final it’s even better. All of the players and all of the backroom guys, from Sam the Physio to the coaches, they all deserve it. They were all very, very good tonight. I’m very happy, for the players more than anything.”
“It’s been a tough season for us and we’ve placed a lot of importance on this final. Thankfully we’ve performed very well on the night,” he added after watching Lily Mellors, Kelley Blanchflower, Sarah McCrea, Emily Masters and Stacey Little score for his team. Barking substitute Liane Prior grabbed a late consolation for her side, who battled stoically to keep West Ham at bay for long periods.
C & K Basildon had displayed what was possible for an Eastern Region Women’s League Premier Division club when they won the competition twelve months ago against Colchester United, but Barking’s task was made much more difficult when the three-time winners conceded the opening goal in just the 2nd minute.
Katie Bottom’s long throw flicked off the head of a defender and bounced kindly for Lily Mellors to half-volley into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. Spencer believed that going in front so early was crucial to his team’s chances: “It was very important. The last thing I said to them before they came out was ‘start fast, score in the first ten minutes and get them on the back foot.’ Thankfully, that’s what they did.”
Lindsey Morgan and Carly Vigours traded long-range attempts at either end, but West Ham slowly assumed a level of control and it required attentive defending from Barking to restrict the number of opportunities for forwards Blanchflower and Mellors. McCrea was also proving to be a tricky opponent, and her cross was flicked onto the roof of the net by Mellors in the 26th minute.
Barking retorted with Vicky Kinsman dragging a Carly Copplestone centre wide of the left-hand upright on the half-hour mark. But the Hammers went closer still when Morgan looped the ball onto the crossbar from McCrea’s short corner, and they duly scored a second in the 32nd minute. Blanchflower, one of five players on show to have appeared for West Ham in the 2012 final, raced onto a through ball and steered a shot past Olubusola Shoneye to double the advantage.
Kinsman almost halved the deficit instantly when she found herself beyond the last defender on the left-hand side and she dinked the ball over goalkeeper Lauren Picton, but Danica Revell scurried back to clear off the line. Instead, West Ham ended the half on the front foot with McCrea’s in-swinging corner thwacking the crossbar and Shoneye tipping over Blanchflower’s follow-up at full stretch.
Patience was imperative to the Hammers’ approach in the second period as Barking continued to work hard and close down their FA Women’s Premier League South opponents. Bottom and Zoe Lipley-Hinton linked up early in the second period to set-up Little, but her stinging shot was held by Shoneye and Bottom was soon required to perform defensive duties at the other end, hooking the ball away when Revell’s under-hit backpass allowed Katie Whitehead to poke past Picton.
Mellors fired across the face of goal when well placed in the 56th minute, and the former Colchester United striker played a part as West Ham eventually stretched further clear 20 minutes from the end. Following a short corner routine with Little, her cross to the back post was met by McCrea’s angled header into the bottom right-hand corner, and the Hammers were 3-0 up.
Blanchflower’s drive was easily clutched by Shoneye, and Barking’s persistence almost paid off in the first minute of stoppage time when Claire Brooks nodded over from a Whitehead cross. However, that just served to spark an incredible passage of play during which three goals were scored inside three injury time minutes.
West Ham were first to notch when two substitutes combined to make it 4-0. Danni Cliffe slid the ball into the path of Masters on the right-hand side and she stroked the ball into the bottom left-hand corner to add some gloss to the scoreline. The Irons weren’t finished yet, though, and Little netted the goal of the game in the fourth minute of injury time when her sweet strike from the edge of the penalty area flew into the top right-hand corner.
Barking deservedly got on the score sheet a minute later. Sub Prior picked up possession and squeezed the ball between Picton and her near post from an acute angle to make it 5-1 and Spencer admitted that, despite the scoreline, Barking had made it tough for his team: “This wasn’t an easy final. Everyone has looked at the tables and made us favourites, but they battled hard. They made us play and they deserved their goal.”
“It didn’t go all our own way; they’d have 10 to 15 minutes on top, then we’d have another 10 or 15 minutes ourselves. It was a very difficult final, and full credit to them because they played very well. We just had a little bit more composure and a little bit more of an idea of what to do in the final third - we managed to pull their centre-halves and their full-backs out of position with a diagonal ball rather than a straight ball - and that was it. In football you live and die by those things.”
Barking: Olubusola Shoneye, Jordan Ferdinand (Liane Prior, 72), Ashleigh Beal, Anna Wyatt, Claire Brooks, Vicky Kinsman, Hayley Piggott, Carly Vigours (Abbie Dell, 80), Carly Copplestone, Katie Whitehead, Leanne Russell. Unused Substitutes: Frances Murphy, Lucy Allen, Elizabeth Allen.
West Ham United: Lauren Picton, Vicky King, Katie Bottom, Lindsey Morgan, Jemma Beard, Danica Revell, Sarah McCrea (Danni Cliffe, 76), Stacey Little, Kelley Blanchflower, Lily Mellors (Emily Masters, 76), Zoe Lipley-Hinton (April Bowers, 66). Unused Substitutes: Olivia Sammons, Jessica McParlane.