For Loughborough Women’s first eleven February 25th was to be an important stepping-stone towards reaching the BUCS knock out cup final. This was the day of the quarterfinal match against Bristol. Pushback was at 3pm on the Loughborough water base. Grey skies with sunny patches and not too low temperatures made ideal playing conditions and encouraged a good crowd of spectators to come and support. The morning had seen the team eat breakfast together, reminiscent of the year before when they had similarly met Bristol at the quarterfinal stage. Last year Loughborough had won 5-2, but this did not change the outlook the girls had on the game. They knew they could not be complacent and were going to have to give a good focused performance. At 2pm they headed to the changing rooms, where individual goals had been placed at their seats. Music was played and the team wrote quotes on the white boards above: motivation and belief to calm the nerves.
After a thorough warm up and good preparation from their coach, James Ross, Loughborough started the game with good possession. Playing with three at the back allowed them an attacking progressive structure. Some good defence shown from Bristol kept Loughborough outside the attacking D. However, the purples couldn’t be kept out for long. A circle penetration from the right resulted in a penalty corner. Ellie Tait took the ball, eliminated the first defensive runner and hit it accurately into the bottom corner of the goal. This was quickly followed by a succession of attacks down the right hand side. Lizzie Honarmand quickly secured the second goal as she deflected in a ball from deep centre midfield player, Ella Picton.
The next twenty minutes of the half proved a tougher task, as possession equalled up amongst the teams. Bristol was able to put in some fast counter attacks from long attacking balls through. The Loughborough team appeared a bit panicked compared to the start yet continued to mark players tight. However, Bristol were able to win a short corner. It was defended cleanly by the number one Loughborough runner and redistributed to higher players. Even with the score at 2-0, Bristol were still very much in the game.
The half remained fast paced with high intensity. All players had to work at maximum levels. Some dynamic attacking work was seen by Loughborough, however they were unable to secure the final pass into the attacking D. At half time, the result of 2-0 was reassuring.
However, the pressure was on and the intensity of the game meant that Loughborough did not feel comfortable yet. Both Captains were told to tell their respective team to watch the tackles made, as cards would be given out. The intense desire both teams had to win was evident.
Beginning the second half, another penalty corner was won by Bristol. They slipped the ball then slapped it past the goalkeeper. At 2-1, everything was to play for. Both teams were now linking play well and looked threatening. Another corner won by Bristol showed the closeness of the game, with both teams gaining attacking opportunities. The next goal was crucial.
Loughborough defended the corner well. And headed on a counter attack. It was here when Loughborough showed how well drilled they were. A great intercept by FFion Thompson on Bristol’s outlet allowed her to quickly dribble into the left hand side of the D. Here she passed it off her right foot into the penalty spot, received it back on the base line and then slipped it across to Captain Kim Leiper who deflected it in on the post. Loughborough gained momentum here as this was followed by a further goal by Maddy Newlyn. Bristol’s keeper attempted to clear the ball from the area, but Newlyn was quick to the rebound making the score 4-1.
Bristol did not make it easy for the Loughborough girls though and maintained pressure, winning a penalty corner. A great save from goal keeper Laura Myers kept the score line. Loughborough were tested further when a yellow card was given out to one of their players for a tackle, meaning Loughborough were down to 9 outfield. However when the final whistle was blown, Loughborough remained victorious at 4-1. 7
There is no doubt Bristol fought to the end, but it was Loughborough that secured their place in the Semi Finals. Reflecting on the victory, Loughborough captain, Kim Leiper, said, ‘I thought it was a really fast and intense game. We were really fired up and this caused the game to get a bit scrappy at times. We started the second half on the defensive and let a goal in, but we managed to fight out of a lapse in concentration.’ Next up the girls will meet Exeter. This is the same path the Loughborough team followed last year. ‘Having had a close game with Exeter last year and coming out on top, we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead. Having the final held at Loughborough is something we don’t want to miss out on.’ said goalkeeper Laura Myers