It has been a long time since I have been able to have an ‘away day’ and watch some women’s football outside Hampshire and I was excited about my road trip from Portsmouth to Solihull for the National League Finals Day. The opening match of the double-header was an 11 am KO to settle the FA Women’s National League Plate Trophy between tier four side AFC Wimbledon and tier three side Nottingham Forest.
Looking at the league table, Andy Cook’s Forest team should come away as winners but after watching Wimbledon’s victory over another third-tier side, Portsmouth. In that game they showed quality to go 2-0 up and strong character to come back from a 3-2 deficit in extra time, after conceding an equaliser in injury time, to win through penalties.
Nottingham Forest had the pressure of being favourites but under the management of Cook I was confident that they will approach this game fully prepared and not taking Wimbledon lightly.
Road to the Final…
1st Round – Norwich City 4-0 (Hincks, Stanley, Stow x2)
2nd Round – Chesham United 3-2 (Sargent, Stanley, Stow)
3rd Round – Portishead 2-1 AET (Sargent, Stow)
QF – Portsmouth 3-3 (7-6 pens) (Donovan, Hincks, Russell)
SF – Sporting Khalsa 4-1 (Hinks x3, Stanley)
Road to the Final…
1st Round – BYE
2nd Round – Doncaster Rovers Belles 1-0 (Moncaster)
3rd Round – Bedworth United 5-1 (Bonsor, Brown, James, Reynolds, West)
QF – Alnwick Town 1-0 (Steggles)
SF – Cheltenham Town 3-0 (Greengrass x2, Mitchell)
Not knowing too much about Solihull Moors’ Damson Park I was immediately impressed as I walked into the sunkissed stadium. It was great to see National League flags, banners and advertising boards. I wish I saw that more going into club grounds on match day!
It was a strong start to the game by both sides, with the first chance falling to Wimbledon’s Ashlee Hincks. The former Chelsea and Crystal Palace forward picked up the ball centrally and about thirty yards out, noticing the Forest keeper Emily Batty off her line, her attempted lob looked good but just didn’t quite drop quickly enough and hit the top of the net.
This scare sparked Forest into life and they found an extra gear going forward, calling Wimbledon’s keeper Faye Baker into action on a few occasions.
In the thirteenth minute, Forest took the lead when a good ball from Charlotte Greengrass found Rachel Brown in the box, the midfielder was then able to prod the ball passed Baker.
At this point, Forest were in control of the game and appeared that they could run riot. Hayley James and Greengrass were both denied by smart saves from Baker.
In the twenty-fourth minute, Wimbledon showed their character and ability to level things up. Kelly Highman was able to head in a Hincks free-kick at the far post. Game on!
The game went end to end for a short while but around the thirty-minute mark, Nottingham Forest were awarded a free kick. Rebecca Anderson placed the ball down, just outside the area and central to the goal, then hit a perfectly struck free-kick over the wall and into that top corner of the goal. Baker had no chance!
The score stayed 2-1 going into the half time break. It was a superb half of football and a great advert for the National League. If I am honest, Forest were good value for their lead but with Hincks leading the line, Wimbledon were always dangerous.
It wasn’t until just before the hour mark when the best chance of the second half came. Anderson burst into the box but the in-form Baker was able to tip it onto the bar and Forest were unable to follow up.
Wimbledon were caught in a difficult position, if they push for the equaliser then they left themselves exposed and at risk of conceding again. Forest were pushing for a third but found a committed Wimbledon defence who were holding firm.
There were a flurry of substitutions in the final twenty minutes but this only seemed to benefit Forest as Wimbledon were then unable to find any rhythm and mount a serious series of attacks.
There was a further stoppage in the eighty-ninth minute as Kate Stanley received treatment. She was unable to continue and was carried off by two of her teammates, to huge applause from the travelling Wimbledon fans.
With Wimbledon appearing to tire Forest were able to see out the final minutes and claim a deserved victory.
Wimbledon could certainly hold their heads high and based on the two performances that I’ve seen in person this year, they are certainly ready for the third tier. Next year there is going to be an almighty scrap with Hashtag United or Billericay Town (whichever is confirmed as finishing second after Sunday’s final round of matches).