Goals from Billie Brooks, Leanne Cowan and Ella Rutherford cancelled out Simona Petkova's early strike to give Millwall a first-day win of the new season at Watford's expense.
Watford hit the ground running
Starting the game on the front foot, Millwall poked and probed going forward before the Golden Girls counter, getting it into the area following a throw-in. The move telegraphed, the defence caught cold by the square ball across, Sarah Quantrill unable to prevent the goal as Simona Petkova eased the ball home on the far side of the box.
Taking the goal in stride, Millwall pressed back on, getting more bodies forward as yellow shirts sat back and absorbed the pressure, doing their best to break the play up where they could. Well composed, Watford counted with purposed and held back well when they opposition advanced on them, the visitors far more composed than the Lionesses.
Seeing more of it and certainly having more joy getting forward, Merrick Will found herself in enough space to get the ball out of her feet and slice one at goal, the shot wayward but the hosts exposed once more. The game evened out once more and the Lionesses found parity, Ashlee Hincks’ corner put right into the mixer and headed home by Billie Brooks, the ball grazing Jo Fletcher’s fingertips as the ‘keeper grasped at it on the way through.
Winning another corner just minutes later, Fletcher pawed at the ball once more, parrying it back into the danger-zone, the ball live as both teams kicked at the air between their boots looking for enough purchased to send the ball one way or the other. The ball eventually working its way out to Leigh Nicol, the midfielder wayward with her effort.
Millwall find a second
A tug-of-war in midfield the ball went one way and then back, neither team able to get purchase, a drive forward from one prompting similar from the other. An acrobatic effort from Charlie Devlin curled over before Will nodded over Quantrill’s bar at the other end. The game stretched, saw both sides needing to calm down and resettle, a coming together between Fletcher and Ella Rutherford brought about a break in play just before the half, both deemed fine to continue.
The stoppage in play enough to see the Lionesses restart brighter, Leanne Cowan streaking through the centre before charging down on Fletcher’s goal and poking the ball into the far side of the net, well out of the reach of the ‘keeper. The goal not necessarily against the run of play, just highly unexpected give the ten minutes that proceeded.
In a more subdued start to the second-half, there was little to write home about from either, both still off of their best, arguably needing more than pre-season to get them into the swing for the elongated 2017-18 season.
Despite their first-half joy, Millwall had little to show for a rash of corners, the hosts pressing well however, Watford forced to bide their time to counter. But the team on top, Millwall’s third wasn’t too far off, a thunderous drive from Ellie Mason from range clattered against the bar, the away defence scrapping to clear before Rutherford fired into the far corner. Rianna Dean influential in the build-up, just seconds after coming on.
The goal fired both teams up again and injected some much-needed tempo into the game, both sides suddenly with their tails up.
Given the chance to put the game to bed with not much more than half an hour left on the clock after Megan Wynne was felled in the area, Dean’s resulting penalty was well-saved by Fletcher, the ‘keeper able to pounce on the loose ball before Dean could poke home the rebound. The ball immediately recycled by the visitors who surged forward, Rinsola Babajide’s thumping effort driven against the upright.
A nice move saw Watford cut forward Cherrelle Albert feeding Babajide, the former Millwall girl’s shot skipping off of the 3G and into Quantrill’s arms. The Golden Girls enjoying a greater period of pressure, the substitutes serving their purpose to use their fresh legs to get forward, Bonnie Horwood able to do similar for the hosts and relieve any building pressure.
An unfathomable second yellow to Laura-May Walkley saw the chasing visitors reduced to ten, another handful of set piece chances left to go begging by the Lionesses. Two goals to the good with a man advantage and little left on the clock, Millwall were afford the chance to get numbers forward and close the game out in style although the Golden Girls dug in and still looked to break.
Having won a free kick out on the left, Megan McKeag hammered the ball towards the back post, Brooks alert to clear off of the line before Babajide saw her shot blocked at the resulting corner, the next pulled back for a foul. The visitors hitting the afterburners at the death but it was for naught and Millwall could bring the ball away to keep them out and ease to the win.
Though both clearly weren’t up to top gear for the season the performances bode well for both, Millwall looking to continue off from their sumptuous Spring Series form and Watford looking far more like a team than when Keith Boanas took charge.