Stevenage FCW maintained the four point gap at the top of the ERWFL Premier Division on Sunday with an entertaining victory over bottom of the table Bedford Ladies. A match-winning cameo from the precocious talent that is Erin Price secured the points as the bumper crowd at the County Ground were treated to a veritable feast of football. Having already witnessed an appetiser with a four goal victory for QPR Reserves against the Stevenage Development Squad, the fans in attendance were treated to a further seven goals and end-to-end entertainment throughout the ninety minutes.
After the turmoil of the previous week, with Fadi Mazloum leaving the Boro’ dugout, Stevenage were buoyed by the return of top scorer Amy Makewell to the side and it took her just two minutes to get amongst the action as her early shot was well saved by Erica Turner.
Bedford also began brightly and worked hard to pressure Stevenage. That pressure paid off as they took advantage of a rare loss of possession at the back and a delightful cross from the left hand side was sliced wide by the fabulously named Ocean Gregory.
Stevenage finally began to assert themselves more consistently although shots were mostly limited to the back three of Hannah Nebbitt, Vicky Neal and Nicole Farmer, although all these attempts narrowly missed the target.
With 20 minutes gone, Nebbitt took control of set piece duty in a similar position to Grace Brooks’ wondergoal for the Development squad the week before. Just inside the Bedford Half, her free kick carried well and tested Turner to the maximum as she just palmed it onto the bar, with the resulting header going over.
Emily Schofield was next to have a go, albeit unsuccessfully, before Neal got free in the Bedford box. She was hauled down as she battled for the ball and the referee pointed to the spot. Makewell stepped up to lift the ball beautifully high and to the right, sending Turner the wrong way for her thirteenth goal of the season.
Schofield was the last player to really test Turner before half time. Her lofted shot was saved well, leaving both sides going in at the interval with all to play for. During the half, Becky Shephard replaced Makewell. This was a particularly poignant appearance as the games played were in memory of her father, Dave, who passed away in December 2019 from a brain tumour. Awareness was also being raised for the charity Brain Tumour Research.
Bedford started the game with added vigour. For the opening fifteen minutes, they dominated the play and put the Boroough defence under immense pressure. Neal was cautioned after hauling down one attacker before Bedford equalised. Aliya Bhatti raced down the left hand side before squeezing a powerful shot between Mian O’Brien and the goalpost.
It took four minutes for Bedford to turn the game on its head. This time the attack was down the right with Lauren Coppin whose cross was inch perfect for the oncoming captain, Tasha Fensome, to turn the ball past O’Brien.
Interim manager Dave Perry began to ring the changes as he brought on Price for Holly Greenwood and within two minutes the young talent had levelled the game. Tilly Fidler gave the ball to Price on the edge of the box and with a little shift of the ball she unleashed a speculative effort that bamboozled Turner with the bounce before nestling in the net off the post.
Destiny Pap was next to be speculative as she unleashed her effort from the halfway line after Hannah Bodily was adjudged to have committed a foul. O’Brien had taken a step forward and was also rendered helpless by the bounce which went too high for her and into the net.
It was hard to take for Stevenage and Neal had two headers in quick succession that went wide from corners, but the lead only lasted a minute. Boro’ went straight down the other end, earned a corner, and who else but Vicky Neal headed home the Kelsey Millen corner from close range.
Neal had two further headers that were wide of the mark before the goal of the game. Price was given the ball by Schofield and having picked her place; she sent an absolute rocket into the bottom corner from distance. “It was great to contribute to the three points today. Shooting from outside the box has been part of my development plan so it is nice to see it paying off!” she said after collecting her Player of the Match award.
Both sides spurned chances in the last fifteen minutes, with the most dangerous coming in added time as the ball flashed threateningly across goal from the Bedford right. Stevenage held on to ensure the day ended favourably for the Hertfordshire side. Perry was pleased afterwards, “We showed great character to come back which I am most pleased about, the fight for each other was fantastic and they did everything we asked them to do.”
AFC Sudbury won their game against Colney Heath Ladies, meaning that two more wins from their last four will put them in an unassailable position from a Stevenage perspective. For today though, it was a game of football that Dave Shephard would have enjoyed from his celestial viewing spot. A fitting tribute to a man who loved the game.
You can donate to Brain Tumour Research here: https://www.braintumourresearch.org/donation/donate-to-brain-tumour-research
All donations would be gratefully received. Together we will find a cure.
Stevenage: O’ Brien, Farmer, Neal (c), Brooks, Nebbitt, Bodily, Greenwood, Schofield, Millen, Makewell, Fidler
Subs: Price, Shephard, Lightning
Subs not used: Halliday, Ray
Goals: Makewell, Price x 2, Neal
Bedford: Turner, Glasspool, Pap, S Carroll, Cripps, Ajayi, Z Carroll, Bhatti, Coppin, Fensome, Gregory
Subs: Robinson, Washington, Kruszyna, Kaczorowski
Goals: Bhatti, Fensome, Pap