Stevenage FCW returned to the top of the Eastern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division with a superb last minute winner against Luton Town. Their opponents have occupied the top spot for most of the season so far and have just one defeat to their name – to FA WNL team – Ipswich Town. That though, was a cup game. Here at the Herts FA County Ground, Stevenage inflicted the first league loss of the campaign so far.
The first half saw both sides testing the waters without causing either defence too many issues. It took almost a quarter of an hour to offer a noteworthy chance, as Kelsey Millen sent in a wicked cross from the right that Emily Schofield couldn’t quite convert from close range.
As the half hour mark approached an opportunity arose for Stevenage to deliver the first decisive blow. Lucy Webster took over attacking duties and broke through the middle of the park, before being unceremoniously dumped to the floor as she entered the area. Chris Geelan pointed to the spot and entered Hannah Major into the book with a yellow card. In the absence of Amy Makewell, Jodie Bellinger, making her 40th career appearance for Stevenage, stepped up in the ultimate showdown. Her effort however was matched by Angelica Kopec in goal and the game remained at a stalemate.
Borough had one final major opportunity to take the lead before the break after Schofield was brought down at the edge of the area. Shianne Swarres hovered over the ball before delivering a sublime free kick over the wall, but on a collision course with the crossbar. Luton cleared their lines and the scoreline remained level.
Immediately upon the restart, Boro started with a spring in their step. Nicole Farmer mimicked Swarres’ earlier effort as she hammered the ball into the bar from a free kick. Down the other end, Stevenage rode their luck as Elizabeth Sanders wandered around Tea Oldroyd only to find her effort blocked on the line by Neal and cleared.
The reprieve lasted barely two minutes as Leyah Maddix scored her ninth goal of the season as she latched on to a ball from ex Boro-player Andie Dickens and saw her header roll into the empty net.
Stevenage could have been deflated and defeated, but they continued to dig in. Amy Gooderham made her return to action and gave the defence something to worry about. Her best early opportunity came from a great ball from Erin Price, but her initial touch was just too heavy and Kopec had no trouble winning the race.
Two minutes later and Boro’ were level. A free kick from Webster was pushed onto the post by Kopec. The ball rebounded off the woodwork and rolled into the path of Kopec and ex Boro’ defender Tanya Blacksley who was unfortunate to deflect the ball into her own net. Blacksley had made 69 appearances for Stevenage in her career without ever scoring, but the Borough fans were overjoyed.
The game continued as it started, a battle with two teams slugging it out to see who would be top of the mountain. Becky Shephard was starting to find some spaces and had set Gooderham up with another opportunity that Kopec was equal to.
As the minutes ticked into the additional three minutes that were added on, Boro’ earned a corner. Shephard took the set piece and placed it into the perfect spot for Neal to attack the far post and be first to the ball with a vicious header that sent the home fans and staff into ecstasy. “I’ll remember that one, I was glad I could contribute with one off the line and that goal!” Neal said afterwards. “I feel like we really fought for the game today.”
A nervy minute was played before the final whistle blew and Stevenage celebrated their return to the top of the league with Luton still very much in the hunt for glory thanks to their games in hand. Captain Lucy Webster was “Buzzing” after the game, claiming “Today just showed our standards and nothing is better than beating the team at the top of the table in the last minute of the game.” This was something the manager, Fadi Mazloum, fully agreed with. “It feels good. You could see the fight and determination from the girls today. I always felt we were in it. That’s the standard, week in, week out.”
Stevenage: Oldroyd, Farmer, Webster (c), Neal, Re, Price, Bodily, Greenwood, Schofield, Millen, Bellinger
Subs: Shephard, Makewell, Swarres, Gooderham, White
Goals: Blacksley (og), Neal
Luton: Kopec, Taylor, Wade, Blacksley, Major, McKay, Palmiero, Constable, Dickens, Sanders, Maddix
Subs: Payne, Lewis, Hussain, Milton, Wilson