Crawley Wasps have had a dream start to the season, kicking off with two impressive wins against Plymouth and Oxford United, keeping a clean sheet in both. That great run of form has continued ever since and as they prepared to welcome Portsmouth to East Court, they side joint top of the National League South with Watford.
Quite a long time ago I earmarked this fixture as one I didn’t want to miss. I wanted to see for myself all of the good work that has been done by first team manager and club chairman, Paul Walker and his team.
Prior to the game I managed to catch up with Jay Sadler, the Pompey boss had just been named Manager of the Month award for October. I didn’t envy his task of selecting a starting eleven now that Katie James and Hannah Haughton have returned from their silver medal exploits with Team GB. His one big change in the starting line up was to give Tamsin de Bunsen the nod at number ten over top scorer, Becki Bath.
After the whole ground had paid their respects on Remembrance Sunday the game got under way. I took up my spot on the terrace which was situated at the top of the small hill next to the pitch. It made a pleasant change from watching a game at pitch level and gave me a great view of the games first big chance from de Bunsen. The former Reading player pounced on a loose ball in the centre circle, took a touch and let fly with a left-footed shot and as the home fans held their breath, the ball went just passed Frankie Gibbs‘ goal.
Five minutes later, Emma Plewa put in a lofted cross which evaded Haughton at the near post and former Portsmouth winger Tash Stephens noded in from close range to give the home side the lead.
In the twenty-sixth minute Jade Bradley gave the ball to de Bunsen, who again put in a dangerous shot from distance. Gibbs was only able to tip the ball onto the crossbar, Jade Widdows is the first to react and nodded in from close range to make it 1-1.
On the balance of play this was a fair scoreline as both sides were trying to be positive and looking to put pressure on each other’s defence. The travelling Pompey fans had only just sat down after celebrating their equaliser when Plewa restored the home side’s advantage. Capped twenty times by Wales, Plewa found herself in acres of space on the left and finished superbly passed Haughton.
At this point there would have been no need for Portsmouth to panic as they were showing more than enough quality to find their way back into the game but their challenge was made more difficult after James was given a straight red. Most of the crowd couldn’t understand why the referee has come to that decision but it later emerged that the James had kicked out at Megan Stow. After looking at the replay it was more of an attempted trip reminiscent of Beckham and Simeone. Stow didn’t go down or make a meal of it but rules are the rules and the ref was left with little option.
As both teams came out for the second half I couldn’t call how it was going to go. Whatever Sadler said at half time inspired this players as they were superb and forced Wasps to spend much more time in their own half that they would have hoped.
Widdows epitomised her team’s endeavour and played what I consider to be her best game in a Portsmouth shirt. I have seen Jade take apart defences and score spectacular goals but this performance had something more to it, she set the tone for the half. When Portsmouth got the ball forward she would protected the ball, she would bring in her teammates, as well as making sure that she was in a position to receive a pass. When Portsmouth were out of possession, Widdows was pressing to keep win it back in the hope of dragging her team back into the game, there was only one goal in it after all.
Despite the visitors causing problems, Crawley maintained their compsure and made sure that Portsmouth weren’t able to create any meaningful chances in front of goal. I was especially impressed with Ellie Russell and her colleagues in the Crawley defence.
Plewa sealed the points in the seventy-seventh minute after she outpaced the Portsmouth defender to pick up a lofted through ball and lifted the ball over the oncoming keeper.
While Sadler will be dissapointed with the result, he could be proud of the way his side reacted to going a player down against the form team of the league this season. On the other hand, Walker can also be over the moon about how composed and clinical his side were. They how sit top of the National League South, three points above Watford who have a game in hand.
I also wanted to mention how impressed I was with Walker and his team, not just the players but all of the back room staff. They made me feel very welcome and I cannot wait to go back as soon as possible! If you get a chance to check them out for yourself then I encourage you to do it and I challenge you not to come out of it becoming a fan of Crawley Wasps.