Barking & Dagenham 2-3 Bexley
KALTRINA IBRAHIMI CELEBRATED becoming the hundredth player to represent Barking & Dagenham girls’ district team by slotting home two well-taken first-half goals, sending her side into an early lead against opponents Bexley. However, an inspired fightback led by visiting captain Ruby Gaitley saw the Kent side draw back the advantage just before half-time – a lead they refused to relinquish despite Barking & Dagenham’s heavy pressure during the closing stages.
Ibrahimi’s first came after just five minutes, following Ellie Mai Morgan’s powerful burst which split the Bexley defence in two, before the new district skipper centred to Kayla Grain. After initially shaping to shoot, a cleverly-disguised pass to the left found Ibrahimi in acres of space as the William Ford winger took two touches to lash home from eight yards.
The lead was doubled just six minutes later when the hard-working Violette Sharpe again played Morgan through beyond the Bexley backline; Morgan then unselfishly cut back to Ibrahimi – who made no mistake from a similar position to her first.
With seven players making their debuts, Barking & Dagenham’s more-experienced opponents remained a threat. None more so than Gaitley, who – from the restart – charged from the centre circle, into the heart of the home defence, riding several tackles and testing keeper Mei Wang with a low, drilled shot. The first attempt was blocked: however, the ball spiralled towards the home goal as Isabelle Dorney pounced to prod home from close range.
Naïve defending then cost the host two more goals in quick succession as Gaitley got herself on the scoresheet, ruthlessly exposing Barking & Dagenham’s failed attempts to clear their lines.
Only Lily-Mae Elsey’s turn and shot offered any kind of resistance as the home side clung on to make it through to half-time.
After the break though, a renewed stubbornness and will-to-win slowly began to filter through the home side. First, Wang denied Gaitley her hat-trick, diving low the right to tip a certain goal out for a corner.
Then Morgan led her team from the front, embarking on a trademark solo run before seeing her top-corner bound effort tipped wide at the last second.
Following her lead, vice-captain Grain typified Barking & Dagenham’s grit and vigour, tracking Gaitley’s run from one end of the pitch to the other, sliding for a last-gasp tackle to keep her team in the game.
Kirsten McNaughton and Elishah Mintah-Adarkwah were warriors at the back, repelling Bexley advances with a series of tackles, blocks and clearances.
Sensing a shift in momentum, Barking & Dagenham bossed the closing stages as their opponents began to tire. Ibrahimi’s run led to another snapshot for Morgan, who also had a further effort blocked from inches out after being played in by Grain.
The roles were reversed moments later when Morgan teed up the Arsenal midfielder for a left foot finish that was well saved. And Grain also saw a header from Ibrahimi’s whipped left-foot corner glance agonisingly wide with time running out for the hosts.
On the break, Bexley continued to threaten. Wang twice denied the visitors who were desperate to kill off the tie once and for all.
However, despite the frenetic finish to the game, neither side was able to find that final touch in a characterful display from both hosts and visitors.
Barking & Dagenham: Mei Wang (Henry Green); Kirsten McNaughton (George Carey); Ellie Mai Morgan (Henry Green); Violette Sharpe (Gascoigne); Jessie English (Roding); Kayla Grain (Richard Alibon); Lily-Mae Elsey (Northbury); Elishah-Oliviae Mintah Adarkwah (George Carey); Kaltrina Ibrahimi (William Ford); Kezia Owusu-Abeiye (Valence); Ruby Abela (Dorothy Barley)