Mathilda Fidler was the catalyst for Stevenage FCW to reach their second semi final of the season as they defeated Royston Town in a competitive match at Garden Walks on Sunday. With the knowledge that both sides will contest the County Cup final in a month’s time, this match could have been seen as the dress rehearsal, had it not been for the two league games that had already taken place.
Those occasions had led to a victory for the team playing at home, however, that advantage was immediately nullified as Stevenage got off to a blistering start. Kelsey Millen showed early attacking endeavour and sent a superb ball through the defence to Fidler who fired the ball low into the net and stunning the home side.
Royston soon settled into the game and worked to regain parity. Annie Georgiou sent a long range effort goalwards from around 25 yards, but Mia O’Brien was equal to it and turned it expertly around the post.
There was no such luck for O’Brien when the equaliser arrived. This time, Georgia Miller was in space at the edge of the box and took control of the ball as it was headed clear from a corner. Her shot was placed brilliantly out of reach of the diving O’Brien who was left with no chance.
The game continued at pace and with both sides battling to gain the ascendancy. Amy Gooderham had a good opportunity after Shianne Swarres set her free, but after a neat shift to the right, the ball was sent just wide of goal. At the opposite end, Poppy Smith was left one-on-one with O’Brien who raced out and saved well with her legs to prevent the goal.
Smith may have been unlucky but she received a huge slice of luck with a few minutes of the first half remaining. This time, O’Brien’s legs could only take the pace off the ball after Smith took advantage of a loose ball in the defence. Vicky Neal raced back and she looked to have cleared the ball off the line but the official, whose sight was obscured by Neal herself, gave the goal despite protestations from the captain for the day.
With time almost up for the half, Boro’ won a free kick on the left flank which Nicole Farmer lined up. Her shot went high and over Amy Martin who could not prevent the ball from bouncing into the net and ending a pulsating first half with both sides level.
With the threat of extra time looming, both sides wanted to put the game to bed before the ninety expired. Stevenage had the first chance of note when Erin Price met a Millen corner with her head, sending a looping header that threatened to go in but bounced off the crossbar and out for a goal kick instead.
It took three minutes for Stevenage to regain control of the tie. Swarres lofted a ball over the top for Gooderham to race onto. Her control was good and her shot powerful, but Martin was equal to it. She could only parry the ball, however, and Fidler was on hand to guide the ball into the empty net.
The Crows were never going to drift silently into the cup abyss and fought tooth and nail to peg Boro’ back. It was difficult for either team to get into a flow with a flurry of stoppages and infringements, but with the game on a knife edge it needed a calm head.
Enter captain Lucy Webster. Her effortless running caused the defence trouble, but it was her accuracy that eventually did it for Royston. Rosy Wodhams took control of a melee in the middle of the area and threaded a ball into Webster who took aim with her right foot sending the ball neatly past Martin and securing the tie for Stevenage.
Manager Fadi Mazloum said afterwards “I know Tilly’s qualities and we put her in the Development squad to get her rhythm. I feel like it’s here now, to get two goals in a game like this and the Player of the Match award too. We knew we had the quality, we just needed to work harder than them and it paid dividends”
The cliché goes that football was the winner in games like these. It would be churlish to use that line in a game where Stevenage advance in a trophy that they have not contested for many years. However, with the County Cup final looming on the 23rd April, it is apparent that anybody attending will be treated to an absolute belter on this evidence.
Royston: Martin, Fox-Barker, Georgiou, Page, Houghton, Gunn, Hendricks, Miller, Croucher, South, Smith
Subs: Lucas, Holt, Todd
Goals: Miller, Smith
Stevenage: O’Brien, Neal (c), Farmer, Brooks, Swarres, Price, Bodily, Millen, Nebbitt, Gooderham, Fidler
Subs: Webster, Shephard, Schofield, Wodhams, Hendy
Goals: Fidler (2), Farmer, Webster