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Friday, April 21, 2017


The history of English women's football is littered with teams which later became affiliated with professional men's clubs. The first of these was Millwall Lionesses, founded in 1972, which joined up with Millwall FC in the mid-1980s. The Lionesses reputedly pioneered the "Football In The Community" scheme, and were the first women's club to create a Centre of Excellence for girls. They were founder members of the old Women's Premier League in 1991, and won the FA Cup the same year (they won it again in 1997). 

Now, the club sits in the WSL2 (the second tier of the Women's Super League), and, after picking up just two points from their first five games of the 2017 season, their sixth game of the campaign came on 2 April when they faced the team founded in 1983 as Hoylake WFC and which later became known as Leasowe Pacific (winning their first Women's FA Cup in 1989), but changed their name to Everton Ladies in 1995. 

The Merseysiders won the old National Premier League title in 1998, the League Cup in 2008 and the Women's FA Cup two years later. Everton Ladies were founder members of the Women's Super League in 2011, and reached the quarter-finals of the Women's Champions League the same year. However, they were relegated to WSL 2 in 2014 and have remained there ever since, despite coming close to regaining top-flight status in both 2015 and 2016.

The venue for the game was St. Paul's Sports Ground in Rotherhithe, on the south bank of the Thames, home of ninth-level Fisher FC - many readers will remember them better as Fisher Athletic - named after the Catholic martyr John Fisher (who was executed in 1535 and beatified in 1886). Fisher have had their own chequered history, having folded twice, the most recent disbandment coming in 2009, played in the Conference League in the 1980s and reached the FA Cup first round on more than one occasion. Now, the club play in the Southern Counties East Football League's Premier Division, but are mired in relegation trouble. 

Fisher moved into their ground at the end of the 2015-16 season, and the Lionesses left the New Den to come to Rotherhithe in January of this year. Goals and points had been hard to come by since their relocation, both at home and away; they had picked up one home point before their game against Everton, in a scoreless draw against Brighton & Hove Albion.

They didn't start this match looking like they would change their fortunes during the next ninety minutes, with the visitors dominating the early exchanges. Mollie Green was the first player to have a shot on goal after 5 minutes, when her curling shot was beaten down by Lionesses' keeper Sarah Quantrill. Not long after came the first of many runs from the deceptively fast Emily Hollinshead, and the ball was worked to Kelly Jones, whose shot was deflected over the bar for a corner-kick.

The Lionesses were trying to get forward, and finally awoke from their slumber 12 minutes in when Ellie Mason and Ella Rutherord combined to fashion a chance, Rutherford eventually shooting just over the bar from the edge of the area. Two minutes later, Bonnie Horwood sent over a dangerous cross from the left-hand side, but no-one was quite close enough to get to the ball and it drifted across the penalty-area and away to safety. Brionne Fowle was next to try her luck for Millwall in the 21st minute, but her snapshot from the right side of the area was easily saved by Kirstie Levell in the Everton goal.

The pressure from the home side paid off within 60 seconds, however, and it was a solo effort of sorts from Ella Rutherford. She had attempted to forge a path through the Everton defence, but lost the ball. She regained possession, barge her way through but was blocked and the ball squirmed away. However, she picked up the loose ball and, from just outside the area, fired the ball low and hard past Levell via her left-hand post to give the Lionesses the lead. They deserved their goal, and Rutherford had certainly earned it with her constant ferreting around, trying to create chances for her team-mates.

The goal spurred the Everton team into action, and Fowle beat Leighanne Robe for pace before sending in a low cross with which the lunging Megan Wynne missed by mere centimetres. Green had a shot blocked by Jordan Butler before the latter fouled Hollinshead inside the area with 26 minutes gone. Claudia Walker stepped up to take the penalty, and she only just managed to beat Quantrill with a shot to the goalkeeper's right; Quantrill valiantly got both hands to the ball, but the shot was too powerful and Everton were level.

Quantrill did manage to save Walker's next effort on the half-hour, but was almost beaten eight minutes before the break by an effort from the excellent Hollinshead. A run from Danielle Turner ended with a cross after a one-two with Olivia Chance; a scramble ensued, and Hollinshead sent in a shot from 14 yards out which only just went the wrong side of the right-hand post. Leanne Cowan made a good run for the home side between times, but her final ball was found wanting. Chance sent in another fine cross into the six-yard box shortly before half-time, but it evaded everyone and trickled out of play.

It was level at the break, then, and it was probably the right scoreline as both teams had been playing some good football and were not content to sit back; Rutherford, Horwood and Sarah Kempson had been playing particularly well for the Lionesses. Not to be outdone, Hollinshead and defender Gabby George had put in impressive shifts for the visitors, with Chance and Danielle Turner more than pulling their weight.


The second half began in a more sedate fashion than did the first, but with Everton firmly on top, and Chance fashioned the first opportunity of the half in the 52nd minute, ending a strong run with a shot from 15 yards out to the left of Quantrill's goal, but the Lionesses' goalkeeper pulled off a fine save. At the other end, Ella Rutherford got in front of an Everton defender on the edge of the area, turned and shot, but her effort was deflected away for a corner.

On the hour, Everton's Beth Harford forced another good save from Quantrill with a header from a cross; from the resulting corner-kick, she got another header on target, but Quantrill foiled her again.

Within five minutes, the home side regained the lead with a goal which was slightly against the run of play; nonetheless, it was a lovely strike. Cowan went on another run down the left and passed to Kempson, who returned the ball to Cowan. She sent in a cross which was met by Arsenal loanee Charlie Devlin, whose side-footed half-volley flew into the top corner.

Everton quickly regained their composure and set about levelling the match, but were unable to fashion a serious chance until late in the game. In the meantime, Amber Stobbs and Mollie Green both had half-chances which proved to be no problem for Quantrill, and Green went on a jaunt through the Lionesses' defence and almost found Claudia Walker with a blind pass, but Quantrill got to the ball just before the Everton player.

Walker almost found a way through with six minutes left, but her shot from the edge of the area went just to the right of the Millwall goal. Michelle Hinnigan let fly with a curling half-volley which Quantrill saved well, and the goalkeeper pulled off an excellent save in the 88th minute from Walker's powerful header from close to the penalty-spot. The home side had struggled to create many chances in the second half, though a move involving Devlin and Alison Cheatley looked promising until Cheatley's pass to Devlin floundered.

With four minutes injury-time well under way, Everton thought they had equalised, but the goal was disallowed - though it was difficult to see why. Quantrill collided with one of her team-mates and they fell to the ground with Everton's Amber Stobbs in close attendance. Stobbs collected the loose ball, turned and rolled the ball into the empty net. Any joy Stobbs might have felt was short-lived as the referee disallowed the goal, instead - to the consternation of the Everton support present - awarding a bounce-ball. There did not appear to be any - or much, at any rate - contact between Stobbs and the two Lionesses, and certainly nothing to merit the award of a bounce-ball (or even a free-kick). Stobbs' goal should have stood.

Everton kept pressing, but, apart from Stobbs shooting - and blasting over - from an acute angle with almost the last kick of the ball, were unable to create anything before the final whistle sounded. It was a most welcome win for Millwall Lionesses, their first of the season, and it ended a poor run of form. It was also the Blue Girls' first defeat of the campaign.

They had certainly earned it, and Sarah Quantrill in goal more than played her part in her side's victory, although Rutherford, Horwood, Kempson and Jordan Butler deserve much praise; Horwood and Kempson kept building attacks and, at the back, Butler and her co-defenders were adept at thwarting them. That isn't to say that their team-mates hadn't done their bit; it was a real team effort from the home side. Everton may have come away empty-handed, but the Walker-Green combination  was a constant threat, Hollinshead was incisive and George in defence was one of the best players on the pitch; team-mate Turner also impressed at the back.

MILLWALL LIONESSES: 1 Sarah QUANTRILL, 2 Jordan BUTLER, 4 Leigh NICOL (11 Charlie DEVLIN), 6 Leighanne ROBE, 7 Bonnie HORWOOD, 10 Sarah KEMPSON, 12 Megan WYNNE (5 Billie BROOKS), 14 Gerogie GIDDINGS, 15 Ellie MASON (9 Ashley CHEATLEY), 16 Ella RUTHERFORD, 32 Leanne COWAN 

SUBSTITUTES (unused): Sindi KANTO, 22 Amber GAYLOR

EVERTON LADIES: 1 Kirstie LEVELL, 2 Vicky JONES, 3 Danielle TURNER, 8 Michelle HENNIGAN, 11 Kelly JONES, 12 Georgia BROUGHAM, 17 Olivia CHANCE (28 Lauren DAVIES), 18 Claudia WALKER, 21 Mollie GREEN, 23 Gabby GEORGE, 25 Emily HOLLINSHEAD (9 Amber STOBBS)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 26 Faye BRYSON



POST-SCRIPT: Millwall Lionesses also won their next match, away to London Bees, by 2 goals to 1, and Devlin and Rutherford struck again. Meanwhile, Everton Ladies also won their next match, an away fixture at Aston Villa, 3:0. Walker, SImone Magill and Faye Bryson got their names on the scoresheet. At the time of writing, the Lionesses are in fifth place in WSL2 with 8 points from 6 matches; Everton are third with 9 points from 4 games.



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