FC United women saw their 100% league record ended but, under the circumstances, it has to be viewed as a point gained at Ellesmere Port against a Tranmere Rovers side looking likely to be the Reds’ closest challengers for the league title. On a largely frustrating afternoon, FC went behind just before the break when an apparent mis-communication gifted Tranmere the opening goal. Despite having the majority of possession and chances throughout the second half, FC looked to be headed for a first league defeat of the season until captain Kirsty Chambers, having seen an earlier penalty kick saved, was given a second chance from the spot in the third minute of added time and this time made no mistake.
FC United keeper Chloe Ainsworth was in early action, needing treatment for an injury sustained in knocking the ball behind for a corner but had recovered enough to make a save from Tranmere skipper Faye Jones.
It was the 23rd minute before FC United had their first clear sight of goal as Chambers caught Heledd Roberts in possession close to the Tranmere area but was wide of the target with a shot across goal. However, within a minute, Roberts was involved at the other end as she met a free kick floated across goal by Georgia Walters but only found the side netting with her shot as Ainsworth moved quickly to cut off the shooting angle.
The end-to-end pattern of play continued with Kaylea Cunliffe trying her luck from outside the area. The shot appeared to have been turned behind by Tranmere keeper Katie Maddock but the referee gave a goal kick!
Walters had a chance for the home side, capitalising on hesitancy in among FC defenders to pick up a loose ball and shoot wide from outside the box.
First blood went to Tranmere four minutes before the interval and it was something of a gift. A harmless looking ball was sent down the inside right channel but keeper Ainsworth and central defender Chelsea Patient were caught out apparently leaving the ball to each other, allowing Lucia Molinari to pounce and roll the ball into the net to put the hosts 1-0 ahead.
FC had a couple of chances to have levelled before half time. A powerful shot from Cunliffe floored Tranmere’s Amie Neale who blocked it and the ball ran loose to Chambers who shot wide. Samantha Ball was also just off target with an effort in injury time.
A much clearer opportunity arose two minutes after the break as Ball’s legs were taken by Jade Collins in the area for a clear penalty. However Kirsty Chambers’ attempt from the spot didn’t appear to be as decisive as is usual for her and Maddock was able to get down to her right and save.
A further chance presented itself as Jordon Bailey laid a ball back for Cunliffe who blasted high and wide.
FC United midfielder Cara Fields made a welcome return after injury seven minutes into the second half, taking the field as substitute for Jess McCarrick.
There was no suggestion of Tranmere sitting back on their lead though. A ball was played over the defence down the left for Molinari to run onto and square into the box. A half clearance fell to Walter who volleyed over the bar. Then Hulmston lofted a ball into the FC United area that was taken well by Ainsworth under pressure from Danielle Riley.
Chambers then fed a ball to Bailey on the edge of the Tranmere box, FC’s no. 10 jinked past a couple of defenders to find a shooting angle but fired wide across goal. Moments later the action was back at the other end. The ball skimmed off Ball for a corner. The kick was met with a firm header by Tranmere’s Lindsay Smith but it Bailey was on hand again to block on the line.
A Chambers effort from a free kick was initially spilled by Maddock but cleared. The ball made its way back to the FC United captain, who fired wide. Maddock’s next intervention was much more decisive, producing the save of the match as she rose spectacularly to tip the ball over for a corner after another Chambers shot struck a defender and was looping towards the top corner.
FC’s next attack foundered in more controversial circumstances. Jordon Bailey raced clear but was clipped round the ankle by Smith and brought down. The challenge was as audible as it was visible but the referee, mystifyingly waved play on, leaving Bailey on the turf in obvious pain. When play next stopped it soon became obvious that Bailey was unable to continue, leaving FC down to 10 players for the remainder of the game as all available substitutes had already been used.
Smith herself was on the receiving end of a challenge soon afterwards that earned a yellow card for Fields.
Walters threatened as Rovers looked for a goal that would probably have killed off the FC challenge but, in trying to find a shooting angle, lost control of the ball. FC put in a strong finish but it looked increasingly like their efforts to crack a well-organised Tranmere defence would prove in vain as Chambers hit a shot wide after a sliced clearance dropped handily for her. Emily Marsh took a chance to shoot on the left side of the area but was also off target.
The home side passed up another chance to wrap up the win with substitute Jade Thomas firing over the bar from Walters’ lay back.
The referee indicated five minutes of stoppage time to be played. Three remained as FC United launched yet another attack and, as the ball dropped in the area, Fran Davies was clattered from behind by Roberts. The referee unhesitatingly pointed to the spot for the second time in the match and, despite her earlier disappointing effort, there was no question of Chambers handing over the responsibility. The spot kick was put in roughly the same area as the first but this time with more pace, hitting the net much to the delight of Chambers, her team-mates and the FC faithful.
It was a good point under the circumstances although we were almost architects of our own downfall. Apart from the soft goal, Kirsty had a penalty saved early in the second half. Tranmere were well organised in defence but we still had 19 shots and didn’t convert one of them!
A case could certainly made that we should have won, having given away a soft goal and had 19 shots on goal (including a penalty) before finally converting one but, bearing in mind that Tranmere look like being the closest challengers, this has to be considered a good away point ... and sets things up nicely for the return league fixture at Broadhurst Park this coming Sunday 24th November kick off 2pm.
Report by Phil Bradbury
FC Player of the game: Jordon Bailey - despite having her involvement curtailed by injury, another outstanding all-round effort that saw her cover just about every blade of (artificial) grass ... and every bead of rubber as well!
Teams 17th November 2019: Attendance: 61
Tranmere Rovers Ladies FC: 1 (1)
1. Katie Maddock
2. Heledd Roberts
3. Amie Neale
4. Ceri Holder
5. Lindsay Smith
6. Jade Collins
7. Georgia Walters
8. Lucia Molinari (Goal 41 minutes)
9. Olivia Hulmston
10. Danielle Riley
11. Faye Jones (Capt)
12. Elisha Price (For No9, 90+2 minutes)
14. Lauren Davies
15. Alanna Lynch
16. Jade Thomas (for No10, 67 minutes)
17. Kian Sullivan
FC United of Manchester Women: 1 (0)
1. Chloe Ainsworth
2. Fran Davies
3. Emily Marsh
4. Samantha Ball (yellow card, 53 minutes)
5. Chelsea Patient
18. Caitlin Clancy
17. Jess McCarrick
8. Maxine Smith
9. Kaylea Cunliffe
10. Jordon Bailey
11. Kirsty Chambers (Capt) (Goal - penalty 90+2 minutes)
6. Cara Fields (for No17, 53 minutes) (yellow card, 80 minutes)
14. Katie Sorensen (for No18, 59 minutes)
20. Kate O’Gara (for No9, 59 minutes)
Venue: Ellesmere Port Sports Village
Official FC photography: Mark Lee & Samantha Coates
Film Footage from Neil Boothman
FC United stats first column:
Shots on target: 7...........4
Shots off target: 13..........10
Stats courtesy of Paul Hinson