U16 Girls back on form and back on the rise

Hampton & Richmond U16G v. Teddington Athletic U16G

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Teddington’s 2018 adventures opened on a bright and breezy day with an increasing wind whipping across Hampton’s home enclosure at King’s Field. As is the way of the season so far, they were understaffed, this time with three players out.

Completing her Christmas show commitments, Sarah Dillamore was unable to play a ‘home’ game three minutes’ walk from her front door. Saskia Brewster was also frustrated to be unavailable, having thoroughly enjoyed Friday’s productive training session. Perhaps more permanently, Ruby Rudkin’s absence presumably means she has indeed left the club.

Teddington are nothing if not adaptable, though, and Jen Neves willingly slipped back into the gloves, behind a back four of Millie Theobald and Amy Hallett flanked by flying full-backs Fran Clark and Emily Bashford – both of them more used to playing further forward but fully expected and encouraged to overlap into the attack.

Further forward, the girls were more settled in their roles: Carla Novakovic, Liz Kriebel and Giulia Clini as the midfield triangle behind an attacking triumvirate of Emily Coulson, Ella Dodd and Ella Bothamley. Doddsy, bless her, had been bed-ridden with a virus for most of the week but turned up swathed in a thick coat, determined to play. Such tenacity should be rewarded and the management decided to start with her and see how she did.

She did very well indeed, helping Teddington roar out of the traps: within the first two minutes the team created three chances. First Em sent Doddsy dribbling along the edge of the 18-yard box to shoot, albeit lacking the requisite power. Then Liz beautifully found Boz whose first-time shot forced a corner – which Emily volleyed just over from six yards.

Teddington had started with similar brightness in the season opener at Udney Park, which they dominated in the first half before a stomach-churning last-kick loss. On that day, two of Hampton’s three goals came from set-pieces, and warning was served in the fourth minute when the home side’s corner-kick flew across the goalmouth less than a yard out but managed to avoid all human contact.

The visitors also looked dangerous from flag-kicks: Liz from the left, Boz from the right. In the fifth minute, Liz wall-passed herself into a position to shoot, forcing the goalkeeper to push wide; two minutes later, Boz’s fizzer was almost nodded in from close range by Emily.

The only surprise about Teddington taking the lead was that it had didn’t happen until the 14th minute, but it was a moment of genuine quality from Doddsy. Making herself available for a quickly-taken throw high on the right wing, she expertly rolled her marker to drive in on the angle; it looked like she’d gone a little wide, but that turned out to be part of the plan as it drew defenders to her, allowing her to square along the six-yard line for Emily to sidefoot home her fourth of the season.

Two minutes later they were at it again down the right. Amy collected at the back of the centre-circle and recycled wide to Bash, who sent Boz on to curl a gorgeous De Bruyne-like ball in behind the defence for Doddsy to run on to. The goalkeeper saved her first effort and was relieved to see the second screwed wide, but she was soon busy again as Liz tiptoed through the tackles around the D and sent in a left-foot tester.

Within the first quarter of the game Hampton were making substitutions, presumably at least as much tactical as rotational, but Teddington had no need to change. With a watching brief from the bench, Annabel Taiwo would be capable of playing in a few positions but was chiefly waiting for Doddsy to tire.

No sign yet, though. More Teddington pressure culminated in a corner from left, Doddsy setting up Boz to drag a left-foot shot wide from the far corner of the six-yard box.

Teddington needed the just deserts of a second goal and almost got one a minute later when Doddsy could’ve doubled the difference. Played in from the right, she took a couple of touches to steady herself before firing past the goalkeeper, only to see an outstretched leg deflect it wide for a corner.

From that set-piece the home side counter-attacked rapidly, and it required a typically superb Amy intervention to hold up the dangerous forward Mia, shepherd her away from goal then slide the ball behind for Hampton’s second corner, to the noticeable excitement of the home contingent; however, this time Millie T was able to commandeer and clear the ball.

It bears repeating that Amy, who began her Teddington career as a striker and almost ended it over summer in the mistaken belief that she’s not an important team member, has been wonderfully consistent in defence - so much so that she may even be beginning to believe she can play football.

Of course she can. They all can. Take her good mate Bash, alongside her at right-back: she’d never claim to be a defender, but she fulfilled that role with ceaseless energy and enthusiasm, darting back to defend before bombing on to join the attack. And on the half-hour she might have scored her second of the season, arriving on the edge of the box to lift a shot toward the top corner which demanded a save from the overworked goalkeeper.

A minute later, Teddington got the second goal their dominance warranted. Collecting the rebound from Doddsy’s fierce blocked shot, Liz’s left-foot shot deflected past a goalkeeper who would have done well to stop it anyway.

With that, Doddsy left the field for a well-deserved break, swaddled once more in heavy clothing. On came Annabel, who joined the club a couple of months ago having previously played as a striker. Since then she’s appeared as a dominant central defender and an energetically overlapping wingback; she may well also be a strong option as a defensive midfielder, but here she returned to her original role up front with the usual fearless brio.

With two minutes to go, Hampton played a through-ball, as a Hampton do, and for the first time Bash was guilty of springing her own team’s offside trap, lingering a few yards behind her buddies and playing the striker on. But Bash being Bash, she simply pelted across to accost Mia and force her to shoot wide.

The half-time talk was positive but guarded against complacency: at Udney, Hampton had come from behind to win, largely by winning the physical battle against their overly polite hosts. The message was simple: by all means play your pleasingly attractive football once you have the ball, but in order to get it in the first place you might have to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.

Fran Clark was certainly keen enough to do so. Returning to her old patch for the first time since the summer switch across Bushy Park, she was in a left-back berth which placed her directly in front of her old supporters. Having represented Hampton as a left-winger, Fran is another who might not consider herself a defender – notably, when a Friday night training drill required “attackers in yellow bibs, defenders in blue”, she donned the yellow – but she has proven herself very capable of playing there when occasion demands.

Such was the case at Hampton: like Bash on the other side, she combined diligent defending – including pacy recovery but also the necessary physicals – with a desire and ability to fly forward. And so she did in the opening minute of the second half, leaving those home supporters far behind her as she soared goalwards up the inside-left channel, creating some interesting footage for her GCSE PE project and almost creating a third goal for her new team.

Instead, the third goal came almost immediately at the other end. Having dispossessed their old mate Fran, Hampton whacked the ball down the hill for the forward – notably more awake than Teddington’s remaining defenders – to race onto and finish high past Jen. This felt a lot like history repeating: would Teddington fold again in the face of pressure from a rampant Hampton?

Short answer: no. For 39 minutes plus a shade of injury time, the visitors showed the requisite determination to stand up to their hosts, winning slightly more than their fair share of possession and using it with the same fearless dedication to fast-flowing inter-passing football that makes them such a pleasure to watch. This was to be a very different half to what had gone before, one in which Teddington would prove their mettle.

Within a minute of conceding they were back on the attack. Leading from the front and growing into her role, Annabel bustled past two or three players before being thwarted by the goalkeeper. Then on the angle of the box, the Hampton right-back brusquely ended Em’s run down the left; Liz’s direct free-kick drifted just wide of the far post.

Boz was hovering under that effort, straining to reach it but not quite unable to turn it in, and Teddington’s top scorer kept turning the screw. She tested the goalkeeper after collecting Liz’s clever diagonal, then her right-wing corner allowed Annabel a volley from eight yards which was well blocked and the rebound hurriedly collected before Giulia could pounce.

By now the ball was pinging from end to end, and ten minutes in Hampton hit the post. With Teddington’s defenders on the halfway line, a long ball over the top sent the right-winger No.7 cutting inside to shoot; just as her opposite number had in the first half, Jen flung out a right heel to deflect it away from the net, this one bouncing off the post and away.

Still the pendulum swung. A well-worked Teddington corner made its way from the left to the inside-right channel, where Bash pinged a 12-yard shot over. Then Mia broke Teddington’s offside trap to race through but drag it wide of the far post.

Just before the hour, Boz collected the ball just inside the Hampton half, surrounded by a thicket of home players. Five yards to her left, Liz saw the gap and pelted forward while screaming for the pass, duly delivered by her mate to the edge of the box; confidently attempting a lob first-time on the bounce, she sent it just wide of the post.

Halfway through the half, Teddington had a period of midfield domination which led to a succession of chances. Em tricked her way down the left and sent a cross fizzing across goal; with Annabel dropping off, Boz made the near-post run but couldn’t quite connect. Within 30 seconds, the ball was winging in from the other side as Boz tore past the left-back and crossed – this time narrowly missing Annabel and Carla.

Then Fran went closest of all, cutting in from the left and sending a right-foot hammer just wide of the far post. A minute later she had another pop, this one tamer, but Teddington’s tenacity and overloading of the midfield were making them the likelier next scorers in an absorbing game. A typically tough tackle from Carla bounced slightly fortuitously to send Annabel through, the stand-in striker calmly dragging it from her left foot to her right but seeing a defensive block take the sting out of her shot.

Having warmed to her role and given the team a fresh option up front, Annabel was withdrawn with 14 minutes to go for the returning Doddsy, freshly divested of scarf, hoodie and overcoat. She arrived just in time to see Hampton hit the post again, shooting from an unpromisingly narrow angle on the right; they would have scored the rebound if Amy hadn’t been there to calmly collect.

By now your reporter was not so much making notes as commentating. Having gathered the rebound from the post in her own box, Amy drove forward and switched the play to Em high on the left, whose cross bypassed the still-acclimatising Doddsy and found Boz to fire wide. Then Em’s left-foot shot from the D was pushed wide by the goalkeeper; the corner was recycled to Boz, whose cross-come-shot was cleared off the line to anguished squeaks from both touchlines.

With Hampton built for the counter-attack, a pulsating game was being played mainly in the home half but threatened goals at either end. Teddington appeared to be taking it in turns to have their shots blocked in melées which would be cleared, gathered in the centre circle by Millie T and recycled again, rinse and repeat – first Bash, then Liz, then Emily.

Giulia’s shot wasn’t blocked because it narrowly cleared the crossbar, the midfielder denied a goal that her battling performance warranted. Also meriting reward was Boz, toasting the left-back at will and drifting a shot just over the near post.

Liz, looking fully fit and gaining a taste for driving forward, also sent another shot just wide before demonstrating her ability in the midfield battle: dragging the ball right-footed behind her standing leg, she created the space to send a left-foot alley-ball onto which Boz pounced, cut inside and shot on her left, the drifting effort forcing the goalkeeper to adjust her footing and grab gratefully onto the ball.

Even with two minutes to go it would still be foolish to predict a result, and when Hampton won a corner as the game ticked into overtime, the stomach lurched with sickening familiarity. But the girls stood firm, won the ball and cleared it to the sound of the referee’s final whistle.

Just over a month after their previous game, a horrible record-breaking 8-3 loss at Wimbledon, Teddington have gone from the team’s worst-ever performance to one of the best. If the aim is to create flexible players who can work hard to retain or regain the ball and then use it with intelligence and fluidity, this was one of Teddington Athletic’s finest hours. Should they put in such performances over the rest of what will probably be their final season, they will win games and fly up the league; more importantly, they will do themselves justice and enjoy their football.

TEDDINGTON ATHLETIC Jen Neves; Emily Bashford, Amy Hallett, Millie Theobald, Fran Clark, Carla Novakovic, Liz Kriebel (1g), Ella Bothamley, Giulia Clini, Emily Coulson (1g), Ella Dodd. Sub: Annabel Taiwo.

Posted in Girls.