South Park swept aside by resurgent U16 Girls

South Park U16G v. Teddington Athletic U16G

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A mild noon kick-off in Reigate, at the foot of the chalky downs in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This was your reporter’s first visit, although Teddington Athletic have been to South Park’s tidy little home ground twice before, winning on both occasions.

However, any possible sign of complacency at facing the Premier Division’s bottom club was ruthlessly stamped out. South Park have struggled this season but their three most recent games had been a narrow 3-1 loss to AFC Wimbledon, an even tighter 2-1 reverse to Hampton & Richmond and a 3-3 with Abbey Rangers.

For the fourth time in the season’s 10 games, Teddington were down to a bare 11. Emily Bashford and Annabel Taiwo were unavailable, as were Saskia Brewster and the presumably departed Ruby Rudkin. However, Sarah Dillamore returned at centre-back and Amy Hallett – who’s come a long way in the three years since she scored at South Park as a striker – happily switched into the attacking right-back role in which her great mate Bash did so well last week.

Teddington were otherwise unchanged from last week’s victory at Hampton and soon set about their hosts. Within two minutes Ella Dodd split right to send in a cross from which Carla Novakovic did well to roll her centre-back and set up Emily Coulson, but the goalkeeper parried the shot and Doddsy couldn’t reach the rebound. Em went close again a couple of minutes later, a half-volley from an Ella Bothamley cross squeaking just wide of the far post.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Teddington took the lead in the fifth minute. For all the team’s laudable desire to play attractive football, their success must be built upon a desire to do the dirty work first, battling to get possession: win the ball and you win the right to play. Such was certainly the case at Hampton, and it happened again at South Park.

Frances Clark, asked to reprise the attacking left-back role that had helped destroy her old Hampton team-mates, was already limping slightly after one tough challenge, and Emily winced after another – but not enough to stop her tracking back down the left to put in a tackle. Recycling through Giulia Clini, Em received the return pass out wide and crossed for Boz to nip in front of the defender and finish first-time under the goalkeeper.

South Park set out their own stall, playing through-balls down the noticeable slope. It took them 10 minutes to get in behind Teddington, and even then the centre-back combination of Dillers and Millie Theobald scampered back and limited the striker’s options to a tame shot easily saved by Jen Neves.

The stand-in goalkeeper then went the best part of 15 minutes without touching the ball as Teddington took control: thwarting the long balls, gaining possession, seeking team-mates, working their way up the hill. Having had a shot saved after cutting in from left, Emily then sent a diagonal for Boz to pull just wide of the far post. Boz turned provider with a run up the right followed by a cross well-met by Doddsy’s header, but the centre-forward’s run had darted outside the near post and she couldn’t quite turn her effort back towards goal.

Still South Park sent the ball whizzing down the hill, mainly trying to feed their right-winger, and with 25 minutes this tactic produced their clearest chance of the half. The goalkeeper’s drop-kick bounced through, the winger’s centre crossed the six-yard box, but Amy did enough to shepherd away from danger. Millie defused another attack but Jen was then called into action, saving at her near post, before haring out of her box to clear the latest long-range heat-seeker.

Jen’s good with her hands, but her outfield experience allows her to operate as a sweeper-keeper, tidying up any overenthusiastic through-balls and able to recycle the ball intelligently. This allows Teddington to quickly counter, one attack threading balls between Liz Kriebel, Carla and Emily; the next one, on the half-hour, would put them two goals clear.

It started with the skipper, Carla digging back to end an attack. Some players might have hoofed into touch or blindly up the pitch, but Carla calmly found Emily, who stepped infield to send a diagonal to Boz, who set off down the right. Reaching the byline, she pulled back for Liz, arriving late, to lash home.

The visitors reached half-time 2-0 up and knowing that the not inconsiderable slope was now in their favour – and, perhaps more crucially, against South Park. The hard yards of fitness training Teddington’s squad put in over summer and on regular occasions since are now starting to come into their own; despite only having 11 on this occasion, and 12 including a visibly unwell Doddsy in the previous game at Hampton, the girls have been notably fitter than their multi-substituted opponents on both occasions.

Still, the home side came out determined to get back into the game, and three minutes after the oranges there was a flurry of activity in Teddington’s area. Dillers sacrificed a boot while blocking a shot on the six-yard line, then a combination of Carla and Giulia smothered the follow-up in the D to complete the recovery.

An early deficit-halver might have necessitated a rearguard action, as at Hampton. Instead, thereafter it was almost all Teddington. With South Park’s wingers finding it more tiring to run uphill than downhill, Fran and Amy had more opportunity to overload the midfield, while Liz – being filmed again for GCSE – was shooting from distance, albeit with somewhat more regularity than accuracy.

Ten minutes in, the third goal killed the contest. Boz’s cross from the right landed with Liz, whose screwed left-footer fell for Emily; she reset for Giulia to have a shot blocked on the six-yard line, which in turn dropped for Boz to unceremoniously wallop high past the goalkeeper and in off the bar. South Park had survived shots from shirt numbers 15 and 16, but not 17.

Three became four just before the hour, with Teddington showing a useful ability to score from a set-piece. Taking a free-kick at the back of the centre-circle, Carla surprised herself by playing a long diagonal to Boz on the angle; soon she set Doddsy to roll a defender and poke home left-footed under the keeper and into the far corner for a warmly-welcomed goal. It’s the centre-forward’s first since September, but her game is about much more than goals and her selfless, knowledgeable, ever-developing team play is absolutely crucial to Teddington performing at their best.

The Fran got in amongst matters. On the hour, she cut inside from the left and unleashed a bazooka toward the top corner which the goalkeeper did well to reach, and two minutes later she helped make it 5-0. Her quickly-taken throw on the left sent Em to cross for the two Ellas. Doddsy couldn’t quite reach it but her run made space for Boz, arriving inside the back post to take it down and tuck home her hat-trick. Boz has now matched last season’s total of nine and surpassed her 2015/16 total of eight, with six games still to go. She’s also edged above Ale Fairn to go fifth in TAFC’s all-time scorers table with 29 goals from 48 games.

Intriguingly, it’s the first Teddington treble for this reliable scorer: her 29 strikes have come in 21 games, a sign of her dependability. South Park were her first victims back in September 2015, and since then she’s also scored past Kempton Girls, Crystal Palace (Reds), Fleet Town, Crystal Palace Blues, Maidenhead, AFC Wimbledon, Hampton (with and without Richmond), Abbey Rangers and Carshalton. Not bad for a girl who came to Teddington somewhat disenchanted with football; it’s fair to say she has rediscovered her spark and brings joy to many, not least herself.

The hosts immediately pulled a goal back, breaking Teddington’s excellent offside trap and slipping the ball expertly under the onrushing Jen, but five minutes later the visitors restored the five-goal cushion with a dose of South Park’s medicine. Dillers distributed to Amy, who found Boz deep inside her half; glancing up to see Doddsy already on the shoulder of the last defender and looking for the through ball, Boz sent a searcher which Doddsy collected, controlled and despatched past the keeper.

The only question now was how many, and the visiting 11 didn’t let up. With three minutes to go a fluffed clearance was seized upon by Liz, who spied the big gap where the goalkeeper wasn’t and drilled in from distance. That’s four in the last four games for the American, who looks fitter than ever and is starting to find lots of little pockets from which to shoot; she needs four more to have her best goalscoring season, and you wouldn’t bet against her.

This was Teddington’s biggest margin of victory in just shy of two years, and fully deserved; their first consecutive victories of the season have started 2018 in precisely the right frame of mind, each one moving them a notch up the league table. With their final six fixtures now scheduled, after next weekend’s interesting rematch with Wimbledon they have three successive games against mid-table rivals: Fleet, Abbey and Fleet again.

Their campaign is set to end with trips to the division’s top two teams, QPR then Crystal Palace. It’s a tough end, but one that the girls can look forward to: if they play like this, they can show just how far they’ve come. As a small example, three Januarys ago they won 5-1 at South Park, the following season it was 6-2 and now 7-1. But those are just results.

More importantly, across the arc of the half-decade they’ve been together they have grown as players: adaptable, intelligent and seeking to play a style of football as beautiful as the countryside they lit up on Sunday. Those are life lessons they can keep on board forever, wherever their careers and lives take them.

TEDDINGTON ATHLETIC Jen Neves, Amy Hallett, Sarah Dillamore, Millie Theobald, Frances Clark, Carla Novakovic, Liz Kriebel (2), Ella Bothamley (3), Giulia Clini, Emily Coulson, Ella Dodd (2).

Posted in Girls.