Barking & Dagenham 3-2 Gloucester
BATTLING BARKING & DAGENHAM TWICE came from behind to level and eventually lead against a dangerous Gloucester side in horrendous weather conditions. Wind, rain, hail and sleet all played their part in a soggy encounter that served as the first leg of the visitors’ half-term tour. Kara Mason-Wisbey’s twelfth goal in nine games ultimately settled the tie after earlier strikes from skipper Lily-Mae Elsey and Rihanna Zaman had kept the hosts in contention.
Barking & Dagenham began brightly as Gloucester’s long journey eastwards seemed to catch them on their heels.
As early as the second minute, strong forward play from Violette Sharpe, backed up by the ever-willing Gracie Jones, fashioned a chance for Mason-Wisbey, cutting in from the left. Her resulting effort was pressured away from the target however, hitting the side netting.
From the resulting goal-kick though, the breakthrough almost came. Elsey sensed a chance to get her first goal in six games as she intercepted the clearance to volley a dipping effort from twenty yards. As it dropped towards goal with the keeper stranded, her strike seemed to hold up in the wind as it veered off its initial course to crash back off the bar.
Instead though, it was Gloucester who capitalised on uncertainty at the back to grab the lead just after the ten-minute mark. A ball in behind the Barking & Dagenham back-line wasn’t dealt with and the hosts were behind.
The lead didn’t last for long though as, two minutes later, Sharpe intelligently spread play wide to Mason-Wisbey on the left. The dangerous winger drove to the by-line before cutting back a dangerous centre to the onrushing Jones. The initial cross was cut however and desperately cleared out of the box. But there was Elsey, in an identical position to her earlier attempt. This time she made no mistake as, two touches later, the ball nestled in the bottom corner of the Gloucester goal.
The game now was end-to-end with both teams’ forward lines threatening to add to their tallies.
For Barking & Dagenham, the best opportunity fell to Jones, whose first-time effort on the run brought a fine save from the visiting keeper.
At the other end though, a lack of communication once more gifted possession to Gloucester as a through-ball wasn’t dealt with and the visitors pounced again to take the lead on the stroke of half-time.
After the interval, Barking & Dagenham drew parity once again with their second equaliser of the day. Leighana Maine’s long throw-in on the right caused problems as the ball bounced through to the Gloucester penalty area. A hasty clearance fell straight to Mason-Wisbey wide-right who whipped a curling ball across goal. The incoming Rihanna Zaman adjusted her run perfectly to connect around the penalty spot and glanced a perfect header into the far corner for her first district goal. And what a spectacular way to start!
It was Gloucester’s turn to threaten next as they probed away at Barking & Dagenham’s drenched backline. However, when they did find a way through, Connie McChrystal stood firm in the home goal to make a great save with her legs to deny the visitors a sniff of another lead.
A piece of individual brilliance decided the game. Mason-Wisbey picked up the ball in her own half after switching flanks to the right. Showing pace, balance and poise, she cantered the length of the pitch, advancing deep into Gloucester territory before composing herself for a rasping finish into the back of the net from just inside the box. It was an unstoppable effort worthy of winning any game.
Both sides had further chances. The best of Barking & Dagenham’s fell to the hard-working Tianna Dowuona-Hammond who twice popped up in front of goal only to see her efforts well-saved.
Meanwhile, the hosts offside trap limited Gloucester’s opportunities and, when they did break through, Mason-Wisbey came from nowhere to make a last-gasp challenge and preserve the lead she had given her side.
After three nine-a-side defeats on the spin, the result was the ideal fillip for Barking & Dagenham as they look to build upon their seven-a-side success over the second half of the campaign. The reigning Southern Counties, Essex and London champions will face tough competition if they are to hang on to their titles in the next few weeks – and this was an encouraging start.
Barking & Dagenham: C McChrystal (Grafton); A Santo (Henry Green); L Maine (Northbury); R Abela (Dorothy Barley); L Elsey (Northbury); Y Moore (Henry Green); T Duouwana-Hammond (George Carey); V Sharpe (Gascoigne); G Jones (Grafton); R Zaman (Hunters Hall); E Young (Hunters Hall); E Mason-Wisbey (William Bellamy)