A sabre-sharp wind cut a cruel chill across the Long Lane fields as cold hands set to the task of erecting the goal posts for the latest chapter on the epic journey that is the Girls Under 10s Panthers 2013/14 season. Today’s visitors were well known to the team, as this was the third time the two would meet in this season’s fixtures, the third time the new recruits of Wyrley had met the hardened veterans of arguably the league’s best team.

The first encounter was, fortunately, a friendly, as the Hednesford girls racked up a cricket score. Yet it was a far from demoralised Panthers side that met Hednesford away in the league just two weeks after that sobering experience. Wyrley lost that first league encounter, going down 3-0, but it was the absolute epitome of a “game of two halves”. Hednesford had scored all their goals in the first half, and had probably expected to add more to that total given the result of their previous friendly, but it was a fully-toothed Panthers team that emerged that day for the second half. Eleanor was given the job of marking their dangerous number 9 and had played her off the field in that second half, keeping her out of the game.

What? You don’t believe me? You think I am a biased Dad? OK, but how else do you explain the Hednesford coach’s decision during that second half to have his prized number 9 take the corners and throw ins if it was not to get her away from the close attentions of our centre half? How else do you explain why he saw the need for such a radical change? In truth, all the girls played the proverbial blinder in that second half, so it was with a fair degree of confidence that they approached this third contest.

Martin and I discussed what we thought Hednesford would do? Should we shake it up, expecting them to know we would task Eleanor with the same game plan as before? Should we stay with the plan and hope they would happily go along with it? We would see what they would do as the game progressed and Eleanor was again tasked with keeping the dangerous number 9 out of the game with a full pitch man-marking role.

Alongside Eleanor at centre half, we had Ruby in goal, Lily twin at left back and Madison at right back. Ellie and Mille were our midfield to start and Shannon, our leading scorer with three so far this season, started at centre forward. Lily not twin, Lateisha and Chloe kept the bench warm to begin with, eager for their turn in what we hoped was set to be a keenly contested game. Madison was also made captain for the day.

Given that the game was being played on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, it was only right and proper that the girls and spectators stood for what proved to be a beautifully and immaculately observed minute’s silence in honour of those who had given their all for this country. We shall remember them.

Hednesford won the toss and decided to play down the slope, so the Panthers kicked off. They went about their business from the start, claiming the ball and launching a series of attacks on the Panthers’ goal. The Panthers were slow to start, but Shannon broke free of a couple of defenders on the 5 minute mark and was clean through on goal. Hearts leapt as she bore down on an isolated ‘keeper, but a heavy final touch saw the ball get away from her and the grateful Hednesford goalkeeper was able to claim and snuff out that inaugural Panthers assault. Worse followed seconds later as Hednesford took the lead, breaking down the Panthers left. The dangerous number 9 slipped her leash long enough to open her account for the day.

Hednesford had their tails up, the Panthers still inexplicably subdued, and made it 2-0 after 8 minutes from a corner. Finally, the Panthers seemed to wake from their torpor, Ellie shooting narrowly wide.

Lily “not twin” came on for Millie after 12 minutes, Shannon dropping into midfield with Ellie and Lily “not twin” taking up the forward role. This third quarter of the first half saw a slumbering Panthers team finally wake and press more and more, though Hednesford finished the half with a couple of corners, content it seems to try and contain the Panthers’ resurgence up to half time.

The first half finished 2-0, but there was hope in the Panthers’ camp now they seemed to have risen from their slumber. Like King Théoden in “The Lord Of The Rings”, who was released from his sorcery-borne curse of indolence and weakness by the actions of Gandalf and rose up to lead his people in their hour of need, the Panthers too seemed to have been unleashed in that second quarter. They had started to threaten, fashioning a couple of good chances and the mood was keen for more in the second half.

The second half indeed started brightly, with both sides trading blows, one to try to get on level terms, the other to enforce their advantage. Events again went awry for the Panthers, however, when Hednesford made it 3-0 three minutes into the second half, breaking down the left again and slotting home a fierce cross-shot into the far corner.

Madison came off at this point and Chloe made her entry into the game. The Panthers were swiftly rewarded for their efforts with a goal in the fifth minute of the half, as Ellie Gooch, who had bustled and fought all game so far, blasted home from short range. 3-1!!! The Panthers were not yet beaten!

Ellie again went close a minute after her goal, shooting narrowly wide after another strong run through midfield. Hednesford were being pressed hard, their goalkeeper working harder than at any time during the match so far. Ellie again shot wide on the eleven minute mark and, a minute later, a marvellous defence-splitting pass from Shannon found Lily “not twin” free in the penalty area, but she could not control the ball and it ran out for a goal kick.

The half was coming to a close, with the Panthers keen to get on terms, but a quick throw in and close range shot ruined their hopes as Hednesford made it 4-1 fourteen minutes into the half. Ellie came off at this point, replaced by Lateisha. A substitution again seemed to galvanise the Panthers and Lily twin shot narrowly wide again on the 15 minute mark, the twins working well together again. A long shot by Shannon was saved by the ‘keeper’s legs just a minute later. Millie returned to the fray on the eighteen minute mark, replacing Lily not twin.

The half, and the game, finished cruelly for the Panthers however. Ruby’s goal kick to Lily twin was pounced upon by the Hednesford attack and the game finished 5-1 as the final shot of the game went in off the near post and into the far corner.

Théoden had awoken half way through that first half and led his team to Helm’s Deep for the battle to come. But, this time round, there was to be no arrival of Gandalf at dawn on the third day with Eomer and his army, so no third book, no third film, no destruction of Isengard’s forces and no glorious death on the Field of Pelennor for the King of Rohan.

One note of minor controversy was the allegation that Hednesford had brought on a player for their number 9 who had just finished an earlier game, not being in their starting line up or on the bench to start. The “legality” of such an move was queried, but it did not change the overall result. Their clinical finishing earned them a good victory.

Hednesford had changed their tactics for this game. The dangerous number 9 slipped the leash once all game, opening the scoring, but played little further part until her substitution late on for the alleged “new player”. They were playing down the flanks more than through the centre, especially down the Wyrley left, and most of their goals came from this channel. There was always an out ball to one or other flank, often cross field from left back to right wing or vice versa. They had learned their lessons from the first league game.

Score line aside, there were some good Panthers’ performances, and but for some better shooting boots, matters could have been different. Hednesford were better drilled, better organised and better shots, but the Panthers progress is clear for all to see over the past few games, running Penkridge close, beating Phoenix and again pushing hard today. Hednesford had done their homework after the last game and had prepared well for this one. Some of the Panthers were a little upset by the result today, but they need not be. They had shown some great qualities overall, not least of which was their undaunted spirit. Commiserations girls, but you can be proud of how far you have come.

Ellie won a deserved Player of the Match award and her goal makes her equal top scorer with Shannon.


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