A last gasp goal from Emily C gave Brighton and Hove Starlings a dramatic and deserved win over Lewes Lionesses to maintain their perfect winning record in the Sussex Girls Development League on Saturday.
After three weeks off, East Grinstead Bluebirds having cancelled late on unable to raise a team the previous week, it was a particularly young Starlings side which took on a considerably older and taller Lewes team at Falmer, reports a proud and delighted coach Amy Macmillan.
"It was a shaky start for our girls and Lewes took control of the match quickly. Subconsciously I think there was a little fear from the girls due to the size difference. But our defence held firm, with GK Tess making a number of good saves, and multiple Lewes PCs were thwarted. The girls all grew into the game and after 20 minutes or so the game was more balanced and we looked more settled. The remainder of the half was fairly even, but Lewes had the better of the chances. We'd barely been in the D to this point and it was 0-0 at half time.
"Coach Amy Mac praised the girls at half time for hanging in against good opposition and doing well to go into the break goalless. Amy asked the girls to build on that, focus more on keeping their shape, make more movement off the ball to ensure there was always a pass on, remain goalside in defence, but step in front to intercept if it was on. And with the girls intently listening a few other nuggets of hockey wisdom were spoken and drawn on the whiteboard.
"The response to this was incredible, particularly given a first half injury meant we now had no subs and one of our players was just back from a broken foot. The girls played superbly throughout the second half; the defence looked in total control throughout, on the rare occasions Lewes had an attack. The forwards were making great lead runs, the midfield were strong and linked well with the forwards and the backs.
"The half was a constant barrage of Brighton attacking pressure, but we just couldn't score. Lewes packed their defensive D, meaning that although our attacking play up to the D was fantastic, we struggled to get clear chances. The girls did well not to snatch at chances in the D and did try and move the ball around and outsmart the Lewes defence, but it was to no avail.
"The few clear chances we did have were at the end of tiring passages of play and we just didn't have the energy to strike like we usually do. Shots were saved, tackles were made and multiple chances fell just the wrong side of the posts.
With the constant encouragement of the parents and with Amy running to get balls for corners and sidelines, as Lewes were clearly settling for a draw and in no rush, the girls just kept going and going. Their attacking was relentless, but the ball just wouldn't go in.
"Finally, unaware there was seconds left, Emily C took a shot which was saved by the keeper, it rebounded to Issobelle F, whose shot was also saved by the GK, back to Emily the ball came and she calmly slotted it in to rapturous applause and cheers from everyone ... everyone from Brighton that is. As the girls jogged towards the re-start and Amy started to give calming defensive instructions, the final whistle went, the goal being the last touch of the game.
"I'm extremely proud of the girls today. This was a tough game, against a strong, older opposition. They could have easily crumbled 10 minutes in. Instead they dug deep, grew into the game, then in the second half, their hockey skill, their attitude and their commitment honestly blew me away. They were a pleasure to coach today and showed maturity well beyond their years."
It means the Starlings have won all 19 league matches and the championship with three games of the season remaining. They have conceded just five goals this campaign.
The Gulls were also in winning form, beating Burgess Hill Ambers 3-1 at home to all but secure second place.
"A cracking goal 10 minutes in from Sophie E after a run from 20m out set the pace for this match and soon after CM Leah's strike from the edge of the D hit the backboard," reports Sue Everton. "Fast attacks and quick passes between the strikers Sophie, Hannah and Nia led to another goal from Leah early in the second half and we went 3-0 up.
"Burgess Hill got one back but, to be honest, the Gulls were always in control of this match with our strong defence seldom troubled. Another great strike from Leah five minutes before the end was disallowed and denied her a hattrick. The Gulls were happy with the result and deserved the points. Well done to Millie J for playing despite a recent injury and Betti and Laura for umpiring."
On a busy Saturday afternoon the Gulls then faced a strong Guernsey Under-18 side and, after tiring in the second half, went down 4-0 despite some goalkeeping heroics from Emily B.
"The Gulls went into this match with a little trepidation and it was clear from the start they were facing a very strong and well drilled side," reports Sue. "The team was bolstered by former team mate Amber P playing as CM, her presence keeping the team focused and determined.
"From the outset Guernsey launched countless attacks on goal but our magnificent defence Megan, Rosa M, Olivia T, Alex N, and Ellie held them at bay until half time. It was however keeper Emily B, later nominated by Guernsey as the player of the match, who was the star, making countless phenomenal saves.
"In the second half the girls tired and despite defending a number of short corners, the Guernsey half time talk did the trick and they started to score.
Try as we might we couldn't get the ball through to our forwards, Sophie, Hannah and Nia, despite maximum effort on the behalf of the mids, Rosa T, Tilly, Amber, Leah and Ines. A couple of breakthroughs were quickly run down by the Guernsey defence.
"This was a great experience for the Gulls against tough opposition and they should be proud of themselves - they never gave up and maintained their composure until the end. With two back-to-back matches in one afternoon, the exhausted Gulls were pleased to reach the clubhouse! Incidentally the same Guernsey side beat the Sussex Under-17 team on Sunday morning 3-0. Thanks to Amy for supporting the team and Larna for umpiring."
Updated 21:18 - 20 Mar 2019 by Atul Patel