Barking & Dagenham 0-0 Wokingham (a.e.t.) – B&D won 5-4 on penalties
THE HEROICS OF Mei Wang in the Barking & Dagenham goal played a hugely significant role in her team’s progression to the next round of the Southern Counties Cup against Wokingham: a sensational string of saves stretched across each half, extra-time and a decisive penalty shootout saw the Henry Green stopper steal the show in an end-to-end game that neither side deserved to lose.
The hosts signalled their intent straight from the opening whistle as Violette Sharpe twice saw efforts on goal fire wide, before Kaltrina Ibrahimi found the side netting with barely a minute on the clock.
Unity Clark and Frida Ferrer threatened for the visitors but it was the arrival of Ruby Abela eight minutes before half-time that prompted a period of prolonged pressure from Barking & Dagenham.
Her instant impact fashioned a chance for skipper Ellie Mai Morgan, only for a last-ditch block to deny the captain at the crucial moment.
Then a succession of Ibrahimi corners only needed a touch from a teammate to convert – a touch which never came.
Just before the interval, Wang pulled off the first of her heroics, diving bravely to deny the onrushing Ferrer from point-blank range before a stunning double save moments later denied the same player, after a little help from the left-hand upright.
As with the first half, Barking & Dagenham resumed on the front foot as Pearl Osei-Yeboah’s powerful burst led to Morgan’s effort being saved in fine style.
It was the Berkshire side though who had the clearest opportunity as Ferrer was once more denied by Wang when clean through on goal.
Throughout, Kirsten McNaughton was imperious at the back for the home side, winning a series of crucial tackles, blocks and interceptions. Backed up on either side by Kezia Owusu-Abeyie and Elishah Mintah-Adarkwah, the George Carey centre-back stood firm, repelling the fiercest of the Wokingham advances.
Despite their best efforts, neither side was able to create the decisive moment so extra-time arrived, passed and left in breathless fashion with both sides having opportunities to win the tie.
Another of Ibrahimi’s corners was whipped into danger zone, cannoning back off a defender, via the post, into the grateful arms of Isabelle Hester in the away goal.
Owusu-Abeyie’s late effort also came close as a charged-down clearance rebounded off her shins agonisingly wide.
And, at the other end, Wang produced a stunning two-handed stop low to her right to repel Clark from mid-range before Mintah-Adarkwah’s match-saving sliding block tackle maintained a well-earned clean-sheet.
That meant the spectre of spot-kicks loomed.
Barking & Dagenham had lost their previous two shootouts, going out of the national 9-a-side tournament twice in successive years. This time though there was no mistake – eventually…
First up, McNaughton fired home, via the underside of the bar before Grange slotted into the bottom corner and Ibrahimi thundered an unstoppable rocket past Hester.
Wokingham converted all three of their attempts in reply as no one looked like missing.
High drama then ensued when Hester saved from Abela, before the visitors fired wide to keep it level. Morgan found the top corner to put her side one ahead again but Wokingham pulled one back to cancel it out – despite Wang getting two hands to the shot, almost removing the need for sudden death.
Under mounting pressure, Lily-Mae Elsey showed nerves of steel to stride up and convert before Wang’s sighter from the previous spot-kick stood her in good stead for the twelfth and final penalty. Diving the same way as the previous strike, she once more got two hands to the ball – this time though, a pair of strong wrists repelled the attempt and passage through to the next round was secured.
Last year’s runners-up now face either Woking or Thurrock at home in the New Year as the competition advances to the semi-final stage.
Barking & Dagenham: Mei Wang (Henry Green); Kirsten McNaughton (George Carey); Ellie Mai Morgan (Henry Green); Violette Sharpe (Gascoigne); Jessie English (Roding); Pearl Osei-Yeboah (Valence); Lily-Mae Elsey (Richard Alibon); Elishah-Oliviae Mintah Adarkwah (George Carey); Kaltrina Ibrahimi (William Ford); Kezia Owusu-Abeiye (Valence); Ruby Abela (Dorothy Barley)