Barking & Dagenham 0-2 Croydon
VICE-CAPTAIN MIQUELLAH MEADE produced a stellar midfield display against visitors Croydon in the first round of the South East girls’ cup. The Henry Green and district stalwart was everywhere, biting into tackles and at the heart of the home side’s attacking play. In the end though, the skill, power and physical strength of the visitors meant that a first-half Croydon Blitz brought two goals without reply, ultimately resulting in victory for the visitors.
Against a pacey and athletic attack, Barking & Dagenham were slow to start, caught out down their right-hand side in just the fourth minute. Failure to clear their lines and hesitancy in the penalty area undid the hosts as a calm cross picked out an unmarked striker at the far post for an easy finish.
Barking & Dagenham showed a spark of life three minutes later when Ruby Abela cut in from her wing to switch play to Kaltrina Ibrahimi. The William Ford winger then fed Ellie Mai Morgan inside the box: however, a last-ditch tackle saw her effort deflected agonisingly wide at the crucial moment.
The rest of the half was typified by the pressing play of Croydon, pinning Barking & Dagenham back deep and always threatening to extend the advantage, hitting the woodwork three times in a crowded and often chaotic penalty area.
Meade refused to yield however, popping up all over the pitch, making tackle after tackle in defiant protest. Often outnumbered, never defeated, Kezia Owusu-Abeyie joined in, crunching into challenges against much bigger opponents, helping repel their advances in support of Meade and the rest of the home defence.
Morgan continued to carry a threat on the break, winning several corners which Ibrahimi whipped wickedly into the danger zone – but no-one was brave enough to make contact and hurl themselves into the firing line to divert the ball home.
Instead, it was Meade’s volley from twenty-five yards that came the closest to hauling her side back into the contest. If anything though, it was hit too well – arrowing straight to the visiting goalkeeper who nonetheless was forced to fumble, snaffling the ball at the second attempt.
The lead was doubled five minutes before half-time as Croydon caught Barking & Dagenham on the break, with the hosts clearly on the ropes and grateful for having only conceded two in an exhausting onslaught from their imposing opposition.
They managed to cling on until half-time though where they were able to regroup and catch their breath before coming out for the second half with renewed purpose and resolve.
Bit-by-bit, Barking & Dagenham clawed their way back into the game, with George Carey pair Kirsten McNaughton and Elishah Mintah-Adarkwah in inspired defensive form. Mei Wang’s handling in goal showed renewed confidence as Abela and Ibrahimi brought stability on the flanks.
The next significant chance was prompted once again by Meade as she intercepted a weak goal-kick twenty-five yards out in a central position before playing in Morgan with the goal at her mercy. Opting for power, the skipper’s strike was hit true but Angel Amponsah produced a wonderful instinctive save to preserve her clean sheet.
For the final quarter of an hour, it was now an even game, with Croydon attacking in numbers, only to find Barking & Dagenham holding firm. First McNaughton, then Mintah-Adarkwah showed amazing athleticism as both produced desperate blocks to deny certain goals. Meade was inevitably on-hand to tidy up any other loose balls, zipping from box-to-box with relentless energy.
Eventually, her energies forced another mistake from the visitors as Meade burst forward and was fouled thirty yards out in a perfect position for Ibrahimi to exploit with the craft and guile of her set-pieces. Her left-foot attempt was hit superbly, dipping over the Croydon defence and heading for the bottom corner, only for Amponsah to save with her feet in unorthodox and dramatic fashion.
And it was Ibrahimi who had the final chance to give Barking & Dagenham the goal their second-half play deserved. The move began with Morgan holding up play well before switching wide-right to Abela. The West Ham winger’s through-ball to Ibrahimi looked judged to perfection but the greasy surface took the ball just wide of where it needed to be and Ibrahimi’s first-time effort on the run found the side-netting.
Barking & Dagenham will take heart from their second-half display where they stood up and were counted after being under the cosh for so long. Learning from their experiences will be crucial for the games ahead and they will take many positives from their response to adversity.
Next it will be Wokingham as they begin their Southern Counties Cup campaign – a competition in which they reached the final last season. Five of that squad remain and many talented players have joined the group – so hopes will be high as the district team dust themselves off and prepare to go again.
Barking & Dagenham: Mei Wang (Henry Green); Miquellah Meade (Henry Green); Kirsten McNaughton (George Carey); Ellie Mai Morgan (Henry Green); Violette Sharpe (Gascoigne); Jessie English (Roding); Pearl Osei-Yeboah (Valence); Elishah-Oliviae Mintah Adarkwah (George Carey); Kaltrina Ibrahimi (William Ford); Kezia Owusu-Abeiye (Valence); Ruby Abela (Dorothy Barley)