Swale Ladies 3-2 Bromley - Team spirit and hard work takes you a long way, says Swale co-manager Chris Baacke

Sunday 03rd April 2016
Swale Ladies 3 – 2 Bromley
Location Homelands Stadium, Ashford Road, Kingsnorth, Ashford, Kent TN26 1NJ
Kickoff 03/04/2016 14:30

Kent Reliance Women’s Plate Final
Sunday 3rd April 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Homelands Stadium

SWALE LADIES co-manager Chris Baacke says team spirt and hard work ensured his side pulled off a giant killing to stun holders Bromley to win the Kent Reliance Women’s Plate for the first time.

GIANT KILLERS: Swale Ladies produced a giant-killing when they defeated holders Bromley to win the Kent Reliance Women's Plate for the first time at Ashford United's Homelands Stadium.
Photo courtesy of Kent Football Association

The Sittingbourne based side defeated Teynham Gunners (3-2), Margate (2-0) and Faversham Strike Force (4-1) to make it through to their maiden final.

Bromley’s Ravenetts, meanwhile, have reached this Final on three occasions, losing to Herne Bay, beating Prince of Wales in their last two finals and defeated Anchorians (6-3 after extra time), Kent Football United (2-1), University of Kent (1-0) and Cray Valley (2-1) to get here.

Swale went into the game in second-place in the South East Counties Women’s Football League (Kent Division), 12 points behind the league leaders and stunned Bromley, who were in seventh-place (of 11 sides) in the Greater London Women’s Football League.

A crowd of 149 witnessed a thrilling game on the artificial playing surface at Homelands Stadium in Ashford.

Natalie Long, the smallest player on the pitch, headed in a deserved lead for Swale, to score her second goal of the season.

Swale deservedly doubled their lead through striker player-of-the-match Sarah Fletcher, before Bromley skipper Rebecca Bays clawed her side back into the game with a solo finish.

Swale pulled of a tactical masterstroke by bringing Fletcher back on (roll-on-roll-off subs are allowed in this competition) and she scored a beautiful finish against the run of play to score her 20th goal of the season.

Bays produced another brilliant solo run and finish to score her 19th goal of the season but Swale went on to cause an upset.

Swale Ladies co-manager Chris Baacke said beating Bromley meant everything to his club.

“For this season, everything because what we’ve gained is what we’ve aimed for,” he said.

“It’s proved a point that with a bunch of local girls from the area dedicated to footy and loving their footy, team spirit and hard work takes you a long way.

“We knew they were favourites to win. We knew we were underdogs but we also knew the team spirit we’ve got with this really special group of girls that we can go a long way with it and that’s the kind of thing I played on.

“It was basically believe in yourself, believe in your team mate standing next to you and that will carry us through.”

Hayley Pickett, who is Bromley’s first woman manager at senior level, said: “I think it was a tight game. I think the difference one team took their chances and one team didn’t.

“It mirrored our league form this year, constantly playing good football, constantly creating chances and not taking them!

“When you’re playing a team of good quality and you don’t take your chances you’re going to lose and that’s what happened today.

“I think we’ve hit the bar two times, if they go in, it’s a different game isn’t it?

“We worked hard because individual errors cost us two goals, but they took their goals really well.

“Their number 11 (Fletcher), I don’t know her name, very good player, she’s a constant pest. She’s fast, she’s strong, she’s quick. Everything you want in a centre forward.

“Fair play to them, they defended well. They kept us at bay, sometimes lucky when we hit the bar, when we missed our chances but they hit us where it hurts and probably a fair result.

“It’s our third consecutive final, which is an achievement in itself. We are proud of that. We would’ve liked to have won to retain the trophy but we’ll be looking to be back here next season in the same place.  The girls are down but they’ll get over it. We’ll pick up from this. We’ll finish the season. We’ve got four games left and just carry on.”

Swale started the game the more dominant force and holding midfielder Megan Seymour released Long through on goal and her shot was well blocked by Bromley goalkeeper Kristy Higginson as she rushed off her line and Long steered the ball just past the foot of the near post.

It was therefore no surprise when Swale opened the scoring with 08:55 on the clock.

Samantha Miles swung in the corner from the left, the ball was headed on by Grace Baacke, Higginson failed to gather the loose ball which was allowed to bounce in front of her and Long jumped to head her downward header into the net.

Baacke revealed the move was worked on during training last week.

He said: “Ironic, what a fantastic move because we were actually working on set-pieces in training on Tuesday and that is one we actually worked on and we couldn’t believe it. We looked at each other and its paid off. It was like fantastic so really pleased.”

“Smallest player on the pitch? Isn’t it always that way through?!” added Pickett.

“Again, you make these individual errors, the corner happened because of an individual error, a defender lost the ball, they got a corner. The keeper comes out flaps at the ball. The smallest player on the pitch gets up and heads the ball in. It’s football. It happens. People make mistakes and we just got punished.”

Bromley were to be denied by the crossbar just 54 seconds later when Bays was put through on goal through the heart of the pitch and her chip agonisingly bounced against the crossbar from 22-yards.

Pickett said: “I mean, realistically Becky should probably be on about 30 goals this season but for whatever reason she hits every inch of the woodwork this season. Again, that’s just the way her luck has been this season, an inch lower it goes in.”

Baacke added: That’s football! On a good day, on a lucky day, on whatever kind of day, on any other day it could’ve gone in but it never. It’s happened to us, we’ve had the chances and the opposition sometimes you’re one kick away from making it 3-0 or you’re two miles away and you’re 2-1 down. That’s football unfortunately and that’s the way it goes.”

Swale were attempting to play through balls through the heart of Bromley’s defence along the deck and a charging run from Jemma Barton sent Grace Baacke through the middle and she played the ball in behind the Bromley defence to put Fletcher through but her shot sailed into Higginson’s hands for a comfortable catch to her right.

Higginson was penalised by a flag waving assistant for being a yard outside her box by the time she punted a big kick straight down the middle of the pitch.

Referee Tony Woods spoke to the keeper without producing any card (he was also lenient with a couple of heavy Bromley tackles during the first half) and Swale had a great chance to score at the halfway point.

Grace Baacke smashed the resulting free-kick into the base of the wall, the ball ran loose to Abby Jackson, which deflected into the Bromley keeper’s hands.

Swale were in dreamland when they doubled their lead in the 23rd minute, through Fletcher’s stunning strike.

Gillingham should really look at this quality player on their doorstep.

The talented striker collected the ball down the left, cut inside towards the edge of the penalty area and drilled a right-footed angled drive, which screamed high over Higginson’s left shoulder and went in off the underside of the crossbar.

Baacke was full of praise for Fletcher, who scooped the player-of-the-match award.

He said: “That’s her game and that’s how she’s been all season. Tireless constant running and that’s how she gets her goals. She’s been no different today to what she has been all season, that’s how good she is!

“That’s the story isn’t it? One end it hits the bar and it’s come out and the next end it’s hit the bar and gone in! that’s football for you and that’s what makes the game so exciting!

“We definitely knew we needed another goal because I didn’t really want to go 2-1, but we did. But I think the girls’ done very well and consolidated the lead.  Yes, we were under pressure for small patches in the game but we defended stoutly and the midfield worked tireless to get up and down because it’s a huge pitch out there today and it was hard work. It was a little bit nervy in places but they bounced back.”

Pickett was left cursing her luck as Swale struck the woodwork but scored.

She said: “Again, there’s the difference, isn’t it? On some days you get the luck, sometimes you don’t and today I think they had all the luck and we didn’t!”

When asked her thoughts at 2-0 down, Pickett said: “Not to panic because I know that we can play football, that’s what we do. Throughout the season we’ve played football. We keep the ball down and we keep the ball and we work hard and that’s what we do, work hard until the end.

“It was never really a panic, I knew we’d score because we do score.  I was thinking we need to score but we can’t concede and that’s where our problems have been this season.”

Bromley’s despair, however, was short lived as their captain Bays dug them out of a hole by pulling a vital goal back just 118 seconds after falling two goals behind.

Bays copied Fletcher’s run, cutting in from the right and dancing past several pink shirted players and once inside the penalty area she used the outside of her right foot to sweep her low shot into the corner from 15-yards.

“That’s what Becky does, Becky’s at her best when she receives the ball, stays strong enough to hold of defenders and then she’ll run, drive at goal and she’s composed enough to find the bottom corner – great goal!”

Baacke added: “We know that they were quick on the break so we were kind of working on that throughout the game. For the best part of the game we were consolidating and using their speed. It was a bit unfortunate that she was allowed to go through but hey, what difference does it make now?”

The Ravenetts, who won the corner count by 9-2, were to be denied an equaliser by a goal-line clearance by Seymour.

Beth Donovan swung in a corner from the left and the ball was cleared out to Chloe Robertson, who was lurking on the edge of the box, but her right-footed shot was blocked.

Bromley were now playing with an attacking tempo and were causing problems in the final third.

Rusk showed desire to slide towards the ball to poke the ball through to  winger Tanya Holley, but her shot was poor and rolled into the hands of Maisie Jones in the Swale goal.

Seymour played a ball over the top to put Baacke through on goal and after shrugging past Donovan, she drove her shot over the top of the near post.

Emma Jones was penalised for a bad foul on Baacke and once again the referee kept his cards in his pocket and awarded Swale a free-kick 25-yards from goal.

Set-piece specialist Abby Jackson stepped up and got her right-footed free-kick over the wall, forcing Higginson to dive to her left to spill the shot.

Miles swung in the resulting corner from the right, the ball was flicked on again by Baacke and Gemma Murrey’s header clipped the far post.

Baacke said: “It was our turn to hit the post. Bromley hit the woodwork a couple of times and we’ve done exactly the same!

“Cracking free-kick, even in the second half she done it. Brilliant effort. She’s been practising hard on it and it would’ve been fantastic to see her score a goal because I know her dad would’ve been really proud of her because she puts in a lot of hard work for that.”

Pickett added: “A good save. Kristy has been a good goalkeeper for us this season, she pulls off some great saves and she’s got that stretch and that reach to get to the corners, which a lot of goalkeepers at this level don’t actually have so yes it was a great save.”

Swale deserved their 2-1 lead at the break.

Both camps were asked their thoughts at half-time.

Baacke said: “Well Ian spoke to the girls and he said remain calm, remain solid.  Let’s be structured and let’s manage the game properly. Don’t do nothing silly, believe in yourself and it paid off.”

Pickett said: “Keep going, we don’t focus on the negatives or the individual errors because we make mistakes as a team and we win as a team and lose as a team.

“Kerry (Newbound) and Dave (Pointin) my coaches just said to them you’ve got to keep going. We’ll play football and the chances will come. We just didn’t take them when they did!”

Bromley created the first chance of the second half ten minutes in.  Donovan’s corner from the right was cleared by Swale and the ball came out to Bromley’s central defender Rachel Baker, who was given time and space to drill her drive sailing over the bar from 35-yards.

Pickett admitted she knew it wasn’t going to be The Ravenetts day as soon as Emma Rolfe hit the crossbar in the 58th minute.

Bays’ run saw the number 7 reach the by-line down the right and she cut the ball back to Rolfe at the near post, who swept her first time shot against the crossbar from 10-yards.

It was only fair, as co-managers that Ian Jackson took over the post-match questioning for his thoughts on the second half.

Jackson said : “I know Emma Rolfe, she was one of our Crystal Palace ladies so they had experience and they have quality in their side but it was one of those things.

“If there was a tiny bit of disappointment once we got those two goals ahead we can’t cancel and consolidate it for 5-10 minutes just to quieten it down.  We sort of went back in our shell and they attacked and scored a good goal, they’ve got some quality players.”

Pickett added: “Emma Rolfe’s hit the bar, an inch lower it goes in doesn’t it and then it’s a different game and then I think we’ll go on and win it but those little bits of luck in a game that makes a game.

“As soon as Emma Rolfe hit the bar I turned round to Kelly and said it’s not (going in).  It’s been this way all season. The girls’ played well today, it's just luck isn’t it?”

Swale pulled off a tactical masterstroke by bringing Fletcher back on as their sixth substitution and within a minute the decision effectively won them the game in the 62nd minute.

Barton played a sublime through ball which cut open Bromley at the back to put Fletcher through on goal and she swept a beautiful left-footed shot across the keeper and her outstretched left hand to score from 15-yards.

Jackson explained the tactical masterstroke in bringing on their best player again.

He said: “It’s something that we work on and we know but that lone striker is a really hard role to play and proves at the sped that she plays at so to be fair Bethany Catchpole has not got the speed but she plays a slightly different way but she can hold it up and just keep them busy and then so we know with half-an-hour to go we’ll change it.

“We can get the outlet and Sarah took advantage within the first minute being on and put the ball in lovely.

“That’s something that we know and we were trying to work on it and she does it week-in-week-out.”

Pickett added: “A good finish! She was a pest for the whole time she was on. She was a danger, she had already scored, she was constant. She was a very clever player. She played on the last man and she’d work that line really well and that’s what she did for the third goal. She’s pressing, she’s pressing, found the space and she was composed enough to put it past Kristy, it was a good finish.”

Fletcher was given another chance to hurt Bromley when she got in behind again, but this time she failed to replicate her earlier finishes, the ball bouncing into Higginson’s hands for a comfortable save.

Bromley failed to call Jones into action when Robertson played the ball in from the right, Bays laid the ball back to Rusk, who leaned back and skied her shot from 22-yards.

But Bays pulled it out of the bag for a second time to bring the game to boiling point with 20 minutes left.

Left-back Donovan released Bays down the left, she burst past Abby Jackson, cut inside and once inside the box placed her left-footed shot across Jones, the outcome, the ball nestling into the bottom far corner of the net.

Pickett said: “Again, it’s a typical Becky goal. She received the ball deep comes and gets it be strong enough and quick enough. She’s been doing it for years, finding the bottom corner, that’s what she does. That’s what she is, no surprise it nestled in the net.

“She should have more (goals), if it wasn’t for the posts!”

Jackson added: “Rebecca is a quality player, she scores lots of her goals, we’ve seen that. It was again one of those things. They got on the run, which we should’ve covered a little bit. Sometimes we have to decide the ball’s more important than the recovery player but that’s something we can improve on.

“There is improvement and if we can make those little adjustments to make us hopefully a slightly better side for next season because we are going up!”

Swale’s Shannon Burden was given time and space to unleash a left-footed drive from 30-yards, which bounced off Samantha Taylor and was gobbled up by Higginson.

But the longer the game went on, Swale were getting closer to the main prize.

Bromley keeper Higginson pulled off a world-class save to deny Abby Jackson from scoring from a free-kick from just outside the left-hand corner of the penalty area with five minutes of this cracking game remaining.

The defender whipped in a right-footed free-kick, which appeared to be sailing over Higginson’s left shoulder into the top far corner of the net, but Higginson dived high to her left to push the ball onto the bar – the fifth time that the woodwork was struck during this thrilling game.

Jackson said: “It’s something that she’s been working on after training, as the same as most of the good players do, practice and she’s been doing it on Saturday’s and after training in the pouring rain on a Tuesday night.

“It’s just disappointing that she didn’t get that goal but she’s done enough. It was a terrific save to push it onto the crossbar but that proves that with a little bit of extra work and a little bit of determination they can all do it!”

Pickett said: “That was a great save! That was Kristy at her own game, like reaching into the top corners and stopping the ball from going in. She’s got a great reach and she’s got a great sprint on her. It was a great save. Again, they’d say it was unlucky that it didn’t go in (off the bar).”

Barton almost caught out Higginson with a first time cross from the left, the Bromley keeper back-peddling to pluck the ball out of the air to save at the last moment.

The Ravenetts have four league games remaining, starting with a home game against Hackney next Sunday (at Charles Darwin School).

Pickett said: “We’ll have a bit of fun in training on Wednesday and try and take our chances. You’ll probably find that now the season doesn’t mean anything and we can’t win anything, we’ll probably start winning by fives and sixes and everything will go in!”

Jackson admitted he felt relief when the final whistle went and pride when captain Sharon Lyons lifted the Plate.

“Relief in one way that they’ve actually done it,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t see it starts in July, pre-season training and all those nights when it’s raining and windy and no one wants to get out and they’ve done a full days’ work and they have to come out training and that’s the thing. It’s all those nine months to get to this stage.

“The final whistle’s blown and it’s relief and you think they’ve done it and you can relax and then enjoy it. Relief and the excitement and tonight we’ll celebrate.”

Swale Ladies: Maisie Jones, Sharon Lyons, Grace Baacke, Megan Seymour (Natalie Long 71), Abby Jackson, Gemma Murrey, Samantha Miles (Shannon Burden 57), Jemma Barton, Sarah Fletcher (Bethany Catchpole 32, Sarah Fletcher 61, Bethany Catchpole 90))), Natalie Long (Beth Rodger 38, Farron Rayment 57)), Gemma Hook (Bethany Jackson 24).

Goals: Natalie Long 9, Sarah Fletcher 23, 62

Bromley: Kristy Higginson, Jemma Spinks (Rachel Baker 13), Kimberley Morris (Beth Donovan 24), Nikki May (Emma Jones 6, Amy Cannon 46, Alex Rusk 89))), Samantha Tyler, Rhiannon Davies, Alex Rusk (Nikki May 70,Emma Jones 75)), Emma Rolfe, Rebecca Bays, Tanya Holley, Chloe Robertson.
Sub: Georgia Edwards

Goals: Rebecca Bays 25, 70

Attendance: 149
Referee: Mr Tony Woods (Bexleyheath)
Assistants: Mr Terry Rogers (Sevenoaks) & Mr Darren Taylor (Sittingbourne)
Fourth Official: Mr Geoff Bains (Gravesend)