Watford Ladies head coach Katie Rowson declared herself “thrilled” after her team battled back, against all the odds, to snatch an unlikely 2-2 draw in their opening Women’s Super League game away to London Bees last night.
The Hornets looked to be dead and buried as the Bees took full control of the contest and raced into a two-goal lead following Jo Wilson’s superb strike and a Nicola Watts penalty. However, the away side rallied and scored twice, through Charlotte Kerr and Mollie Burgess, in the last three minutes to salvage a point. It was quite the way to launch a new era and a season.
“I’m thrilled because we showed everyone what we can do because we didn’t do that in the first 80 minutes,” Rowson said. “We’re a bit frustrated but we’ve come away a good away point and we need to crack on now. We need to play like we did in the last ten minutes for the full 90 against Yeovil. It was one of our key points for our players that if you go a goal down, don’t let your head go down, and that is our main point today.”
Rowson elected to field four of the Hornets’ six new signings against a side that finished two places above them last campaign. But for all their high-tempo pressing, Watford struggled to keep the ball and after a nervy opening it told. The Bees were a considerable threat going forward and were close to taking the lead early on when Watts tried her luck with a delicate chip from a tight angle. Luckily for the Hornets, Sophie Cheadle, the keeper signed from Queens Park Rangers, was on her mettle.
Evdokia Popadinova was also causing problems down the right wing and her header would’ve given the home side the lead if it wasn’t for a sensational fingertip save onto the bar from Cheadle. There is plenty of competition for the No 1 jersey, after it was announced on Tuesday that Lucy Gillett had also signed, but Cheadle showed she is going to take some removing.
The Hornets responded positively to the Bees’ early pressure, Katie Stanley, an ever-present for Oxford in the last two seasons, showing the Bees back four a clean pair of heels, but her cross was inches away from the outstretched leg of Natalie Richardson.
But the Bees were having the better of it and turned their chances into a goal soon after. Watts broke clear of the Hornets’ backline and was cynically brought down by Cheadle in the box. The forward picked the ball up and made no mistake from the spot.
The Bees continued to pile the pressure on and almost doubled their lead before half-time. Jo Wilson beat three Watford players on a slaloming run into the box but her anti-climatic finish was saved comfortably by Cheadle.
After the break, the Hornets came back into the contest and looked to release captain Anneka Nuttell and Stanley at every opportunity in search of an equaliser. However, with 15 minutes to go, the Bees dealt what seemed to be the killer blow. Slick interplay through the midfield area found Jo Wilson, who made no mistake in firing her effort into the top corner.
It looked game over but the Hornets threw themselves a lifeline on 88 minutes when a defensive mix-up was pounced on by Kerr and the substitute forward smashed her effort past Sophie Harris. That set up a grandstand finish and set the stage for someone to be the heroine. Step forward Burgess, who headed in the most dramatic of equalisers.
“Absolutely it’s a great foundation,” Rowson added. “But it’s so good that we got that game underway, got that point away from home and now we need to push on. In the second half we were more organised and that organisation worked. That’s what breeds the confidence, and that breeds the goals.”
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London Bees: Harris, Hurley, Fogarty, Watts (Will 89), Anderson, Dempster, Goddard, Popadinova (Scanlon 86), Beckett, Wilson (Whitter 79), Howells. Subs not used: Riches, Oates, Hinchcliffe, Williams.
Watford Ladies: Cheadle, Wooton (Farrow 86), Tullett, Littleboy, Burgess, Pepper, Nuttall, Read (Donnelly 51), Miller, Richardson (Kerr 61), Stanley. Subs not used: Mason, Gunn.