A crowd of around 200-300 mostly human people, including local sports teams and renowned chip-botherer Gilbert the Gull, witnessed the Torquay United Ladies side progress to the third qualifying round of the Women’s FA Cup, which will be contested on the Planet Earth in early October. A dominating and disciplined performance from TULFC saw them emerge 1-0 winners against a surprisingly flat Bournemouth side. Sian Chapman’s first-half finish in front of the Babbacombe End, converted from a lively Sarah Smith cross, was enough to seal the victory – although the Yellows could conceivably have extended their lead on several occasions.
I arrived at Plainmoor about two or three minutes into the game, and was told by TT Editor Dom that there had already been a decent chance for TULFC early on. In front of us, Adele Rogers had just launched herself into the first of many committed challenges in front of the Family Stand. I already had an inkling that this was going to be an eventful afternoon.
Indeed, TULFC enjoyed most of the early chances, with some particularly good runs from Sarah Smith on the left and Jana-Kate Richards on the right. It only took 25 minutes for one of these runs to prove fruitful, with Smith putting in a delicious cross about as welcome as a barbeque on a summer’s afternoon, and the bustling Sian Chapman slotted home under duress from a Bournemouth defender.
TULFC continued to pose much of the attacking threat during the first half, with Rhi Bailey delivering a couple of inviting corners and some tasty through balls. Keeper Beth Marshall does need to make one save, down low to her right.
Her counterpart between the sticks at the other end is far busier, and her afternoon doesn’t get any more relaxing after the half-time interval. One cross-come-shot from Jana-Kate Richards – who has been terrifying the Bournemouth left-back all afternoon – eludes her grasp, bouncing off the post behind her and falling kindly into her arms. Another lands on the roof of the net, and from there we enter a scrappy period where Bournemouth find it hard to clear their lines from a succession of goal kicks. The TULFC midfield looks hungry (metaphorically speaking), and each clearance is charged down, giving the Yellows plenty of confidence. Sian Chapman finds herself at the heart of many of these moves, as TULFC get the opportunity to show off their passing game.
Bournemouth get a wonderful opportunity midway through the second half to make their hosts pay for not taking some of these chances, however, when a cross into the box is delivered to an unmarked player with the goal at her mercy. The speed of the cross is enough to complicate the shot, and the finish is more of an awkward ricochet than a genuine attempt at goal. Mercifully, it deflects over the bar and TULFC survive the pressure.
Player of the Match:
This is a tricky one. It was a good team performance, but I need to single out a few of the girls here. TULFC were defensively very tight, and Alex Sheppard was responsible for much of that, mopping up a lot of the early Bournemouth activity. I also witnessed some ‘persuasive’ challenges from Adele Rogers. In the middle of the park, Rhi Bailey provided creativity and physicality in equal measure, while Daisy Self found herself consistently in good positions. Out on the left, marauding full-back Sarah Smith had an effervescent first half and caused a lot of problems going forward, and up front, goalscorer Sian Chapman was always dangerous and deserved her goal.
But it’s no secret that I love a proper winger, one who will take on their opponent, get to the goal-line and whip a cross in. In Jana-Kate Richards, TULFC have just such a winger. The end product wasn’t always there for her today, but she never stopped running, consistently caused Bournemouth problems down the right hand side (particularly in the second half) and when she was substituted after about 75 minutes, it’s probably because she was absolutely knackered. Great to watch.
Bournemouth got stuck in at times, although were largely outmuscled and outfought by a determined TULFC side, and did forge one or two opportunities to draw level – including a free kick and that absolutely golden chance from what must have been a distance of about three paperclips out (laid widthways). Ultimately though, they were reduced to merely containing TULFC’s dominance, and struggled to build any momentum of their own. In the second half, wayward goal kicks gifted the ball back to the home side time and time again, and as a result the visitors never really looked like they were going to be able to get a hold of the ball to bring it forward.
Make no mistake, every chance the Ladies team gets to play at Plainmoor it is an opportunity to win over a few new fans. Undoubtedly, they will have achieved that objective today. Pretty solid at the back and very dangerous going forward with the wind in their sails, TULFC should be looking ahead to the next qualifying round of this SSE Women’s FA Cup with confidence.
On a personal note, I have been trying to give TULFC some coverage through the Highway to Hele fanzine over the last three years. Shamefully, although I have interviewed several of the current squad and shared many an email chain with co-manager Vicki Fannon, this was my first actual game. I intended to bring my 9-year-old step-daughter, sadly she got called to pantomime rehearsals (yes, apparently it is nearly Christmas) so couldn’t make it. But this definitely won’t be my last game, and I’m sure next time I come along I’ll have a partner in crime.