Having not played since mid-November 2020 due to the lockdown, the girls were itching to get back onto the pitch and compete once again for New Milton Town Ladies under 15s. Their last game was, in fact, the previous round of the Hampshire League Cup where they saw off Oakley Youth Storm to reach today's Quarter Final encounter with AFC Portchester Youth.
As to be expected, the players from both sides took a little while to find their feet and the opening passages of play were scrappy and lacking in composure and fluidity. Neither goalkeeper had been seriously tested until Ridgley opened the defence with an accurate pass to put Jennings through on goal with only the 'keeper to beat. True to her form this season, she coolly slotted the ball into the top right corner to put the Linnets 1-0 up. Although the remainder of the first half didn't improve in terms of quality of play, the Linnets dominated much of the possession and the centre back pairing of Gulliford and Hammond made sure that any threats in the defensive third would be quickly and effectively dealt with.
The second half saw a change of formation from New Milton Town Ladies, switching to three at the back with Culwick playing alongside the two centre backs and allowing MacKinnon and Brookes to join in the attack as wing backs. The added offensive pressure combined with solid central midfield displays from Carmichael and Sedgwick meant that their possession was now producing goal scoring opportunities and it wasn't long before a cross-field ball from girl-of-the-game Kristina found Ferrett on the edge of the box who within an instant had fired low onto the bottom corner to double the lead. As the game entered the final 20 minutes, AFC Portchester were starting to tire, and gaps were opening up for the Linnetts to exploit.
Long range shots were now reigning in from all areas and it was Ridgley who eventually latched onto a neat pass from Ferrett just inside the penalty area; as she was moving away from goal, she managed to unleash an unstoppable strike into the top right corner, giving the 'keeper no chance. It was Ridgley again who put the game out of reach of AFC Portchester when she showed great determination to close down their defender, who in an effort to clear the ball, was blocked by Ridgley and the rebound found the back of the net from close range.
The opposition did carve out two glorious opportunities to reduce the arrears in the second half, but Linnets Goalkeeper White saved well with her feet and an open goal was somehow blazed over.
New Milton Town Ladies go into the Semi-Final where we will meet either Moneyfields Youth or Vectis Youth, who play their quarter final match on April 17th.
Manager of the Under 15 girls Kristian Weller gave his views on the performance and the result after the game.
"Today's fixture has given the girls the perfect opportunity to improve their fitness and re-discover their competitive edge after such a long break. I was especially pleased with their attitude and resilience when success appeared to be hard to achieve. I knew that patience and perseverance would be key to us unlocking their defence and indeed this proved to be the case.
Before the game, I made it clear to the girls that having fun and enjoying the remainder of the season was our number one priority, but at the same time I wanted them to put in a performance that represented their capabilities. The girls certainly enjoyed the game and furthermore they demonstrated that they undoubtedly continue to be competitive!
AFC Portchester were a physical side and were eager to upset our style of play. The girls could, however, have so easily given way to this type of contest but instead they held firm and were relentless in their attack and belief. In the end I feel we were the deserved winners but more importantly, the team have now had the chance to play football with one another and enjoy each other's company once more. We can now look forward to progressing into the semi-final and continuing our league campaign.
Finally, there were many great individual performances today, but I think a special mention for Ridgley and MacKinnon is justified for their continuous threat to the opposition through their ingenuity and positive play.
Craig and I are delighted with the positive start we have all made and have thoroughly enjoyed being back amongst it again."