After Emma Beckett’s late penalty cancelled out Rinsola Babajide’s first half header, the London Bees bagged an extra point against Watford as the two went straight to penalties to decide the tie in the WSL Cup group stages.
All bark and no bite
Two teams suffering through miserable results this season, with neither having registered more than a point in five league games the Bees and Watford took to the pitch at the Hive full of attacking intent, aware of their history of snatching points off of one another.
With no grounds to be made in the league, the match dead rubber in the league cup with neither able to progress from the London-heavy group, the local rivals refused to hold back, glory and a much-needed confidence-boosting win on the line.
The half chances flowed for both as home and away showed their defensive and attacking weaknesses, the game without a discernible rhythm as the ball bounced from one end of the pitch to the other.
Merrick Will’s free kick fifteen minutes in was as close as either came during the opening exchanges, the former Bee curling the set-piece around the wall but harmlessly into Nicola Hobbs’ gloves.
A lack of finesse and inability to retain the ball made watching the match more like following an aggressive tennis rally, neither able to capitalise on each other’s mistakes.
It took well over half an hour before either side was finally able to cut open the other, the hosts with the first sighter when Destiny Toussaint raced round the outside to bring the ball under control in the area.
However, instead of going for goal the pacey attacker opted to pass as the box filled up, the ball put behind for a harmless corner. The chance at one end, opening up one at the other, a last-ditch tackle from Sophie Fogarty one of the highlights of the half as her well-timed slide prevented Rinsola Babajide from letting fly in the area.
The Golden Girls still advanced as Helen Ward spurred a glorious chance, her salmon leap three yards out seconds too early, with Meghan McKeag’s cross drifting behind. The game suddenly sparked into life as Hobbs’ got the faintest of touches on a whipped effort from Ward to glance the ball against the top of the bar, the goal begging.
The deadlock finally broken in the last knockings of the first half, Babajide’s header at a deep corner too much for the hosts to deal with as it rolled over the defence and landed against the back of the net.
More of the same
The second-half unfortunately followed the same disjointed pattern as the first, both teams in the mood but neither with the requisite tools at their disposal to make anything of their half-chances.
In a move that typified the match, the Bees found themselves with a chance in front of goal, Fran Kitching left over-committed after plucking the ball off of Paula Howells’ toe, but unable to hold onto it, it rolled to Toussaint. With the goal wide open, Toussaint was reticent, fumbling over taking a touch opting to let Emma Beckett have a crack with red shirts getting back. The eventual effort blocked by Anneka Nuttall, the match crawling along.
Breaking at a Bees attack, Watford found themselves with another good chance, Fogarty’s well-timed tackle enough to stop Babajide from extending the lead with the hosts ragged.
A flurry of set pieces for the Bees lead to their late equaliser, a clumsy shove on Chelsea Weston leading to a calmly converted penalty by Beckett. The goal not entirely undeserved with the hosts having seen more of the ball though with both sides so blunted in attack it was hard to argue the game really deserved the goals.
Finally with something to go at, the hosts saw more and more in the way of chances, Kitching sharp to pull off a string of good saves, the ‘keeper one of the best on the pitch. Babejide claimed the last good chance deep in stoppage time though her effort punched straight into Hobbs’ gloves.
Penalties for the point
Given the new rules in the Conti Cup, there can be no draws in the group stage, so despite the dead rubber nature of the tie – with the Bees guaranteed to finish dead last no matter the outcome – the two teams readied themselves for the immediate shoot out.
Starting on the wrong foot, Howells saw the first spot kick saved well by Kitching before Ward clinically put hers near the bottom left corner to give the Golden Girls the advantage.
Unable to make her mark during regular time, Toussaint fired the ball straight down the centre from 12-yards before Adekite Fatuga-Dada clipped the top of the bar with her effort.
All square again, Evie Clarke hammered her ball to the right of the net before Cherelle Albert tucked her penalty just inside of the upright.
With the substitutes in fine form from the spot, Danielle Lea kept up with the status quo with one to the top left before Babajide calmly fired hers past Hobbs, the two unable to be separated after four a piece.
With Kitching sent the wrong way, Weston put her effort into the right side of the goal, Nuttall’s effort grazing Hobbs’ gloves on the way in to set up sudden death.
Having already put one away from the spot, Beckett tipped the scales back in favour of the Bees as Kitching went the wrong way. Needing to score to keep Watford in it, McKeag lashed her effort towards the top right corner, Hobbs a match to it, the former Belle punching the ball clear before letting out a scream of appreciation.
The win not doing anything to change the outcome of the group, or even the finishing order of the bottom two though somewhat puts an end to the Bees 12-game winless run.