Fleet beat, four-nowt

A week of intermittent rain had forced some of Teddington’s sister (and brother) teams into postponements as early as Friday, but Fleet Town have a fixture backlog and their Oakley Park pitch was easily in a playable condition under a brisk wintry Hampshire sky.

As is ever the case, Teddington had a staffing shortfall. This time the enforced absentees were Amy Hallett and Ella Bothamley, the latter ending a 15-game ever-present streak and missing only her second game since Christmas 2015.

With Annabel Taiwo struggling to find the venue – albeit not as spectacularly as Amy’s detour last year via Box Hill – it looked for a while like Teddington might be down to 11, but Annabel bounded over for thre end of the warm-up and a watching brief on the bench. Saskia was welcomed back for her second appearance of the season and slotted in at left-back alongside Millie Theobald, Sarah Dillamore and, reverting to the right-back role in which she excelled at Hampton, Emily Bashford.

Bash’s nine appearances this season have come in five different positions – left-back, centre-back in a three, right-back, right wing-back and right wing – and she would finish this game on the left wing. To a manager, such players are a dream, and a saviour when numbers are low.

Speaking of adaptability, Frances Clark – who so far in her 10-game Teddington career has played left-back, left wing-back, left wing and right-back – moved forward to the left flank, with Emily Coulson switching to the right of Ella Dodd. At the centre of it all, the usual midfield triumvirate of Giulia Clini, Liz Kriebel and Carla Novakovic represented a stable core.

Playing into the sun, Teddington took 10 minutes to open the score with a fine team move. Supporting Emily high on the right wing, Bash centred along the 18-yard line; it was scrambled out to the left flank, where Fran survived a clattering challenge to lay the ball forward for Carla. The captain’s left-footed cross marginally evaded Doddsy but Emily, by now loitering between the posts, used her right foot to control it past a helpless defender and her left to tidy it into the bottom corner.

That brought her level with Liz on five goals, but only for two minutes. Leading the line in her usual style, Doddsy stole some space away from her marker and executed the flick-on; it didn’t quite get there but the half-clearance fell to Liz, bang-centre 25 yards out. Anyone who’s watched a Teddington training session knew precisely what was coming, and the American’s lovely effort floated over the goalkeeper to put the visitors in control. Finding pockets of space with increasing intelligence, Liz has now scored in three successive games, and long may the run continue.

Fleet endeavoured to rally, knocking balls over the top of an offside line constantly getting stronger and higher. It took them until two minutes from half-time to fashion a real chance, breaking through middle of an unusually somnambulant Teddington defence but dragging it wide of Jen’s post; the stand-in goalkeeper did seem to have it covered.

By then, up the sunny end, Liz had drifted one just wide of the post; Carla had sent Emily down the right for a cross which Doddsy couldn’t quite reach; then Doddsy had laid off for Liz to fire in a fierce shot on the angle which the goalkeeper was happy to palm away, with nobody there for the rebound.

That, perhaps, was because Doddsy had yet again been involved in the build-up, as she so often is. The likeable centre-forward can sometimes despair at her lack of goals, but she is developing into a fine all-round player, not only perpetually aware of the movement of her team-mates but also willing and crucially able to bring them into play. If she really wants to get among the goals, she may have to be a tad more selfish, to stop coming so deep, and to leave the running and creativity to her team-mates.

She was told all this on the touchline while resting, having been substituted off for Annabel on 34 minutes. But as it turned out, she wouldn’t come back on up front, because the substitute was about to have the most impressive game of her Teddington career.

Her first moment of note came right at the start of the second half. Having won a right-wing corner by ceaselessly chasing down the defenders, she was perfectly positioned on the edge of the six-yard box to receive Liz’s typically accurate corner. But nobody expected the acrobatic mid-air volley Annabel instinctively attempted, a bravura effort befitting the No.14 she wears on her back – the number of Johan Cruyff and Thierry Henry, each of whom would have applauded the effort and wished they’d executed it. Scorching just past the post, it could’ve been a contender for goal of the season, but that would have to wait a few minutes.

First Teddington had some defending to do as Fleet started the second half in fiery fashion, forcing a couple of corners in quick succession, the second cleared off the line by Dillers. Had Fleet turned 2-0 to 2-1, it could have been a nervy second half in the style of the win at Hampton. Instead, in the 47th minute Teddington went up the other end and made it 3-0 – via none other than Saskia Brewster.

It started with laudable Doddsian work from Annabel, holding the ball up in the centre-circle and laying back to Fran, who calmly rolled the ball into the path of the galloping overlapper. Saskia simply stampeded forward at such a lick that it seemed like she’d run out of pitch, but just as it looked like she’d taken it too wide she leathered the ball toward the near top corner; the goalkeeper’s parry was excellent but insufficient to stop Sas scoring only her second goal in 78 appearances, and her first since the header in the cup semi-final 364 days previously.

Clearly enjoying herself, Annabel executed a lovely turn on the edge of the box past a defender but couldn’t quite finish with her left. Then sweeper-keeper Jen zoomed out of her area to clear and forgot to go back in, instead hanging around at right-back. She went back in eventually, apologetically. She does everything apologetically, even the stuff she does brilliantly.

In the 56th minute, a beautiful goal from Giulia Clini exemplified precisely why Teddington are flying at the moment. The Italian had been battling among the midfield mud and thunder all day, and the coaches were just briefing Doddsy to give her a breather when she won the ball among the flying feet in the centre-circle, played a one-two with Fran to her left, moved toward goal and laid off to Liz, who played a delightful return forward to the edge of the box. Continuing her run, Giulia calmly lifted the ball into the top corner for the sort of goal that all observers – players, supporters, coaches – can do nothing but applaud. Like her team, she earned the right to play then showed herself very capable of it, matching attitude with aptitude, guts with guile, graft with craft.

Two minutes later, still a little jingling from the fourth goal, Teddington allowed Fleet through – but Jen came out to tackle, then to punch the ball away. Millie arrived to clear to Giulia, who played a little round-the corner ball to Liz, who sent Fran haring down the left, but her cross was defended successfully.

Teddington continued to press. They had three efforts the space of 15 seconds when Fran’s lovely angled cross-field ball sent Emily to sting the goalkeeper hands, then Liz had a shot cleared, then Giulia reset for Carla to send one wide from 25 yards.

Just after the hour Giulia was applauded from the pitch, replaced by Doddsy – another player with the Teddington trademark of adaptability. She’s been impressive up front for 18 months but settled straight back into midfield, again with that combination of fearlessness and finesse.

The girls may not have loved their summer fitness schedule but it is paying off handsomely on the heavy pitches: they simply look fitter than their opponents, no matter how often their managers roll the substitute dice. In this instance, Giulia got all of nine minutes off before bouncing back into action when Fran suffered an elbow in the neck; her left-wing role was taken by Bash with Giulia into midfield and Carla fitting in at right-back. The skipper looked slightly confused but she’s the queen of adaptability, having played in every single outfield position for the team.

Surprising herself a little by lasting the pace, Annabel displayed another lovely touch, those graceful long legs bringing the ball down beautifully out of the sky and knocking it past the defender. Her performance had deserved a goal and she was inches from it when she almost connected with a cross from Doddsy, who had cleverly found space down the wing to collect her mate Carla’s throw.

In the end Teddington had to settle for 4-0 when in truth there was a greater disparity between the teams. At least they could enjoy a clean sheet, their first in 13 games, since beating Carshalton 1-0 in both ‘halves’ of a one-day double-header. As for full 80-minute matches, this was the first clean sheet in 17 attempts since beating Abbey 4-0 in an unforgettable Cup semi-final… 364 days previously. Saskia scored that day too. Obviously she likes late January.

The clean sheet is credit to Jen, who is a much better goalkeeper than she thinks, and to her defence, marshalled expertly here by two dyed-in-the-wool centre-backs Millie’n’Dillers. The players in front of them work hard to earn the right to play, and look capable of scoring from several sources. Even with top-scorer Boz absent, four different girls found the net, making it six different scorers in the last two games. Truly, this is a team.

A win next Sunday against Abbey Rangers would register the perfect half-term – four wins from four – and would hoist Teddington into fifth place, two points clear of the inactive Hampton & Richmond, yet still with a game in hand on their Bushy Park-based rivals. Their final four games may include some tough challenges, but playing like this, Teddington need fear no one.

TEDDINGTON ATHLETIC Jen Neves, Emily Bashford, Sarah Dillamore, Millie Theobald, Saskia Brewster (1), Carla Novakovic, Liz Kriebel (1), Emily Coulson (1), Giulia Clini (1), Frances Clark, Ella Dodd. Sub: Annabel Taiwo.