Last Wednesday saw the women’s Blues leave the country in search of their first win of the BUCS League campaign. No passports were forgotten, nor change for the toll bridge as they made the arduous trip over the Severn to Cardiff essentially equipped with Haribo sweets, Take a Break magazine and Disney sing-a-longs.
The Blues started sharply, converting a period of early pressure into a well-won short corner thanks to Emma Goater’s usual flair. Anna Stanley’s first strike was well saved but the Cambridge forwards pounced on the rebound, Hannah Rickman on hand to calmly nutmeg the onrushing Cardiff goalkeeper to make the score 1-nil.
Cambridge maintained this pressure with some strong attacking with excellent drives up the line by Rachael Barraclough from right defence. However, it was Cardiff who made the next breakthrough. A swift counter-attack was capitalised upon by their number 8, Natalie Cartwright, one of several Welsh internationals in the team. She found space in the middle of the D to pull off a superb finish into the top corner.
The Blues were shaken and then stirred into a swift response. They tightened up their marking and managed to contain Cardiff’s star players very effectively. Sarah Baggs did a fantastic job of marking their right midfielder out of the game, giving Lisa Noble room to dominate the midfield and to execute her peerless distribution across the whole pitch. The tight end to the half was marked by some excellent skills and aggressive attacking runs by Charlotte Brearley, while some fantastic grit from Baggs saw her shrug off tackle after tackle to drive into the Cardiff 25. Captain Rosie Evans was frequently released from defence by square balls from Goater and Noble, putting some excellent passes into the D, but the blues were unable to convert this dominance into goals. (Instead it was converted into injury for several of the Cardiff players.) The half-time whistle saw the score level at 1-1.
Cardiff came out after half-time having significantly reorganised their press and their formation, and with both sides struggling to settle into the half it was a scrappy first few minutes. However, the deadlock was broken when Jenny Stevens poached the ball from a Cardiff defender caught napping, drew the sweeper and slipped a ball to the baseline. Anna Stanley met the weighted pass and then proceeded to pull out an incredibly struck finish from an unbelievably tight angle, slotting the ball in the narrowest of gaps on the near post and leaving the goalkeeper astounded.
With the scoreline at 2-1 the blues were guilty (as is a bit of a theme!) of sitting back and letting Cardiff play in their half. The home side’s aggressive new press proved more effective than their first-half effort, though Eleanor Wiseman managed to thread some excellent balls up the line to the blues forwards. The Cardiff pressure culminated in a scrappy episode in the defensive D, and despite some excellent saves from keeper Fran Stubbins, a Cardiff shot finally hit a defender’s body on the line. Even the somewhat reticent umpire could have no hesitation in awarding a penalty flick, which Cardiff’s number 8 duly converted to bring the scores even.
This seemed to galvanise the Cambridge team, who woke up and fought straight back. The midfielders put in some fantastic crosses across the Cambridge D, with excellent runs from Becca Langton to the far post resulting in shots which the Cardiff keeper only barely managed to tip wide of the goal. Eventually, Emma Goater gained possession on the right of the pitch and drove past several defenders to the baseline, managing to slot a ball back to Jenny Stevens on the flick spot. Stevens, cool as a cucumber, wrong-footed the keeper and pushed the ball neatly into the bottom corner of the goal, re-establishing Cambridge’s lead.
This was to prove to be the winning goal. In a panicky end to the match, fresher Kirsty Elder showed fantastic composure under pressure, calmly picking balls off Cardiff players and distributing passes out to the midfield with Stubbins-esque casualness. She and Anna Stanley fully deserved their MOM awards (whilst Becca and Rickers shared the first wearing of the DOD shorts) as Cambridge embarked on the long journey home happy to have got the result and three points that they had hoped for.