Honours were even in the battle between the second and third placed sides in the London & South-East Regional Women’s Football League Division One North (tier six).
Played on a typically dank and drizzly December afternoon at Gander Green Lane, the two teams played out a fascinating game that at times resembled a chess match and at others was an end to end drama of the most epic nature.
Sutton United began the game calmly, looking to establish their patient probing passing game on the opposition. An early example of this saw a carefully weighted ball through from Olivia Watson towards Fern Colepio which won throw in down the left on the edge of 18 yard box.
With six minutes gone, the home side won a free kick just outside of the box on the right hand side. Jenifer Neves played the ball in which was met by the head of Mika Keen, but Emily Jones gathered in the Clapham United goal.
Sutton threatened again as Keen played in Emma King, with the move ending with the latter’s long range shot landing on the top of the net.
As the early exchanges wore on, it was more apparent that Sutton’s patient approach work was the more successful as Clapham’s attacks were restricted to occasional long balls down their left hand side. One such move ended with an outstanding tackle by Colepio on Clapham’s Florrie Maxwell.
Just after the quarter hour mark, Evie Nebbitt was dispossessed by Molly Yoemann thirty yards out. The Clapham substitute ran on but her shot lacked power and was comfortably held by Paige Hersey in the Sutton goal.
The visitors threatened again shortly afterwards when Asia Harbour Brown got in a shot which was put out for a corner. Sutton comfortably dealt with the danger.
Sutton responded after 23 minutes when, following a throw on the right, Mika Keen found Fern Colepio who hit a powerful effort wide from just outside of the box.
By now the game was developing into an end to end encounter. It was the turn of the visitors to fashion an opportunity. It came when Lauren Robinson played a slide rule pass into Letitia Campous-Lennon, but Hersey saved well. On the half hour mark Clapham came close once more as Serena Guardino’s free kick from the right hand edge of the box went narrowly over the bar.
With thirty-four minutes gone, a superb move from the hosts almost led to a spectacular goal. Captain Darcy Wells put in a superb tackle in the centre of midfield and played in Sophie Hendy who returned the favour with Wells hitting a great effort that narrowly went over the bar.
From the resulting goal kick, Clapham earned a chance but Hersey dealt with Phoebe Dennis’ effort from the edge of the box. Seven minutes from the break, Dennis did have the ball in the net after being played in by Maxwell, but the assistant referee’s flag went up somewhat belatedly, but correctly.
With four minutes of the half remaining, Sutton United’s Olivia Watson put a header wide after promising build-up play by Hendy and Keen.
Despite Clapham having as many opportunities as the home side as the first half wore on, one was always left with the feeling that Sutton had the greater quality in their locker in terms of build-up play and skill in the squad.
However, what was also apparent as the second half opened was the growing importance of the first goal.
Sutton started the second half on the front foot and Darcy Wells was in the thick of the action again as the home captain hit a shot against the right hand post.
Shortly afterwards, a delightful ball from Hayley Halford down the right played in fellow substitute Gabby Howell whose effort forced a corner, which was eventually cleared at the second attempt by the visitor’s defence.
Clapham substitute Natalie Kennedy had two excellent chances within sixty seconds of each other, proving that her side were still well in the game. First, a promising build up resulted in her volley on the turn which went wide. Moments later she was one on one with Paige Hersey, but the home keeper blocked the effort.
On the hour mark Emily Jones was called into action to deny the hosts. Sophie Hendy’s run down the left found substitute Keisha Small. Her cross was not dealt with by a hesitant Clapham defence which allowed Halford to get in a shot which was deflected out by the keeper for a corner.
The home side continued to press and a great piece of combination play between Small and Evie Nebbitt forced a corner which was eventually cleared.
As the persistent drizzle got heavier, Sutton’s pressure grew. Hendy played in a teasing ball which Jones did well to get to first in the Clapham goal.
Yet, despite this, the game remained goalless. That is, until the sixty-eighth minute.
Clapham were awarded a free-kick centrally, just outside of the ‘D’ when Sally Cheeseman was brought down by Gabby Howell. Up stepped Serena Guardino whose effort went round the wall and couldn’t be stopped by Hersey before it crossed the line.
With a quarter of an hour left, the visitors gained another free kick outside the box after Keisha Small fouled Cheeseman on the right, outside the box. This time the set piece curled wide of the left hand post.
Sutton created a much needed opportunity when the ball fell to Tamara Graham outside the area, but her powerful long range effort went over. Shortly afterwards, Cindy Colliver played in Darcy Wells, but Jones managed to reach the ball first before Wells could get a shot away.
As the game entered the final ten minutes there were two opportunities for the hosts. First, Olivia Watson couldn’t quite get on the end of a floated ball through and the ever impressive Wells had an effort which was just over.
With eight minutes left, Fern Colepio combined with Darcy Wells who was fouled. The resulting free-kick curled towards the far left corner but Emily Jones made a good save.
In the eighty-fifth minute, there was another chance for the hosts as Gabby Howell played in Hendy. Her great cross from the right that curled towards the left hand post just needed the slightest of touches to go in, but Olivia Watson couldn’t quite get there in time.
But both Sutton and Watson had better luck just sixty seconds later when a teasing cross from the right by Howell saw the midfielder slide in at the far post to grab the equaliser – her first goal for the club in only her fourth start.
Sutton were desperately unlucky not to win it at the start of stoppage time when Watson was fouled on the left and the resulting free kick was put behind for a corner with a minute left. A beautifully curling flag kick was met by the head of Keisha Small, but her effort was just centimetres wide.
The final exchanges were frantic amid huge vocal support from the Sutton United supporters. The action was played out entirely in the Clapham half, but try as they might, and with Wells, Small and Watson particularly prominent, the home side couldn’t quite get the winner.
Sutton United: Hersey, Neves, Hendra, Nebbitt, King, Graham, Colepio, Watson, Keen, Wells, Hendy.
Substitutes: Colliver, Howell, Small, Savage, Halford.
Clapham United: Jones, Lemos, Sharrock, Guardino, Robinson, Cheeseman, Maxwell, Campous-Lennon, Harbour Brown, Dennis, Walker.
Substitutes: Shimnell, Skazlic, Yoeman, Kennedy, Jump.
Referee: Kevin Guest.
Photo: Paul Loughlin