21 August 2017 16:38
A resounding victory for Luton Town Ladies on opening day in the Women’s Premier League South East Division 1, as they powered past rivals Stevenage Ladies with a scintillating attacking display.
The same fixture in May finished 0-0 so perhaps this result is indicative of the progress made by Nikki Baker and her team during the summer, as they seek to improve on regular top 5 placings in recent seasons and launch a serious promotion bid.
The match could have unfolded differently had the visitors capitalised on a couple early chances. First when Leah Littlechild’s cross was headed wide by Emma Marshall and more pointedly when Donna McGuigan’s volley from the edge of the area forced an excellent save from Town keeper Grace Brooks.
The hosts assumed control of the contest thereafter as they surged into a 3-0 lead. Zara Carroll notched first with a thunderous strike into the top corner from over thirty-yards out and she also got the second, guiding the ball over the keeper after Rachel Kosky’s free kick was headed into her path by Jessica McKay. McKay was then on target herself, springing beyond the opposition’s backline and curling one sumptuously into the far corner.
The Town defence almost gifted Stevenage a route back into the game with a diverted ball towards their own goal, but fortunately Brooks claimed it to spare their blushes. McGuigan then scuffed an effort wide from close range before the skipper finally got on the scoresheet, latching on to Amy Makewell’s through ball and slotting the ball home.
The momentum was with Stevenage and Littlechild’s controlled shot off the crossbar came agonisingly close to reducing the deficit further. Clamours for a penalty were dismissed by referee Dean Carney after McGuigan went down under a challenge from Brooks, but they didn’t have to wait long to get their second of the afternoon. McGuigan pounced on a loose goal kick and whilst her initial shot was saved, Marshall wasn’t to be denied as she followed up to smash in.
Such was the frantic nature of this encounter, straight from the kick-off The Hatters had an opportunity through McKay as she rounded the keeper and proceeded to crack one of the crossbar. A Stevenage injury halted the rapid tempo of the match, prior to the half-time break.
The Boro were more ebullient in the second period having wrestled their way back into the game, but were lacking a bit of composure in the final third. They should have levelled when Nicole Emmings found herself one-on-one with Brooks and whilst her shot had power, it lacked the precision to evade the grasp of the Luton stopper. Emmings turned provider shortly after as she delivered a dangerous ball across the box that, to her frustration, eluded a blue shirt in the middle.
Town clinched the win, however, when Dionne Manning picked out Nicola Henman on the edge of the area and the winger was able to place her shot into the bottom corner. That curtailed any momentum Stevenage had gathered, yet they could have still recovered through Littlechild as Makewell fizzed a pass into her and she drilled one at the impressive Brooks.
Town had never settled on four goals and almost got a fifth when Joanne Rutherford’s driven strike was tipped round the post by Katherine Long. They secured that crowning goal from the resulting corner, which Rutherford took and Henman converted at the back post for her second to cap off a wonderful win for Town at Caddington.
Team morale will understandably be high after such an emphatic start to the new campaign, although one concern would be how the visitors were allowed back into the match when Town were in such a strong position. Their credentials will be tested further next Sunday with a trip to the Queen Elizabeth Stadium to take on Enfield Town Ladies, KO 2pm.
Town manager Baker spoke about her delight with 3 points on the opening day “It was an excellent win for us and to score 5 goals is even more pleasing. It was disappointing how we let Stevenage back in it as we gifted them 2 goals with defensive errors. The girls showed fantastic mental strength to hold out for the first half and then go on and score twice more. All 5 goals were taken well. There were some really pleasing performances all across the pitch and we look forward to the next game now”.