Emergence of Sophie Walton gives hope for the future after disappointing Charlton defeat.
FA Women's National Premier League
Sunday 4th September 2005
Charlton Athletic 2-0 Leeds United
On the hottest day on record for the 4th of September, Leeds United Ladies played Charlton Athletic in the capital at Gravesend and Northfleets Ground.
Leeds had a put in a stunning performance last year against Charlton and wanted to carry on in that fashion this time round . Unfortunately, Leeds's lost youngster Sophie Clough in the warm up with a knee that went out of joint. This was really bad luck for Sophie who was just returning from an ankle knock sustained in the Arsenal game two weeks ago. However, fast improving Natalie Haigh replaced Sophie in the starting line up.
The game started with attacks at both ends and it was Charlton who took the early lead. England International strike partners Amanda Barr & Eniola Aluko linking up well, but it Aluko who scored after a Barr low cross to put the Addicks ahead after just four minutes after the Leeds defence were left exposed with four attackers against Leeds three defenders.
This brought the game to life and considering the heat, the game was been played at a high tempo with end to end action. Sue Smith went on numerous runs from the left side and was creating chances for herself and others. Smith beat the offside and burst into the box with only the keeper to beat, as she pulled back to shoot the covering defender Michelle Hickmott recovered well enough clear the ball for a corner with a well timed tackle.
Youngster Jess Clarke was always a threat down the right hand side for Leeds and attacked at every opportunity as well as recovering well.
Leeds went agonisingly close to equalising, but an outstanding save from Pauline Cope kept Ex-England Forward Karen Walker's header out.
A committed display from the Leeds ladies followed right up til half time, but the pace of Aluko and Barr were always a threat.
The second half came and straight away, the end to end action continued. A quality save from Gemma Fay which added to her good work from the first half kept out Aluko and Barr.
On the hour mark, Leeds introduced promising midfielder Sophie Walton for the tired Jess Clarke. Sophie was making her League debut at first team level and coped well playing against Katie Chapman, the current regular England Centre midfielder. For a fifteen year old she didn’t shy out of any tackles with her committed performance.
After that further changes came with Lucy Ward and Alex Culvin been replaced by Sarah Owen and Julie Grundy respectively and with a change to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation, Leeds were looking for the equaliser.
Charlton had the better of the closing minutes and again Goalkeeper Gemma Fay made two outstanding saves, one to her right as she guided the fierce shot around her post and the second from point blank range where everyone on the side lines wondered how she kept it out as she dived on the ball.
However, as Leeds pushed for an equaliser the home side scored a minute from time with Aluko's second and killer goal.
Leeds manager Julie Chipchase commented: “We competed for everything in the first half, but didn’t look the same side in the second.
"It was a better performance than the Everton but one which I am looking for further improvement on Wednesday night. We had a lot of young players out there at times but they did well.
"I was disappointed at losing Sophie Clough in the warm up, we had to change things around, Nat Haigh did well but I wanted to let her learn a bit more before throwing her in a the deep end, she did well and didn’t let me down and will only improve as the season goes on.
"It was good to see Sophie Walton making her league debut as well, Sophie has had to watch the first three games without getting a kick but she has been patient and she performed well when she came on.
"We will all be working hard on Tuesday night and working on things that need to improve, ready for Wednesday's game."
Leeds now face a fast improving, consistent Sunderland side on Wednesday night at Garforth Town AFC and Leeds will be looking for the full three points.
Leeds United Ladies next home game is Wednesday 7th September 2005, Garforth Town 7.45pm Kick off.
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