The RAF Ladies Representative Team opened their Inter-Services Football campaign on 15 March against the Army Women at the EBB Stadium, the home of Aldershot Town.
The pitch was in excellent condition and the weather was warmer than what you would normally expect for early spring with the sun shining and next to no wind. With a reasonable crowd and some vocal support from the squads, it was obvious what a victory would mean to both teams.
The Army were the first to try their luck with a shot from 30 yards flying high and wide on 3 mins. Soon after the Army were awarded a free kick on far left of the pitch close to the edge of the box. Cpl Mandy Kidd delivered the ball into the danger zone but no Army players were there to meet it.
The RAF responded with some decent interplay, creating an opening for SAC Sam Wylie to break away but the Army intercepted the pass, just when it looked dangerous.
The next attack of note saw SAC Stephanie Lee run down the right flank but she was tripped in full flight. The resulting free kick was taken by SAC Rachel Rutherford who curled a lovely ball into the box but there was nobody attacking it at the far post, so the ball ran out of play.
Another wild shot from the Army reminded the RAF that they needed to be alive to the threat with the Army looking to break quickly and go direct. The midfield battle was a feisty affair with numerous tussles for possession and a few strong challenges.
Cpl Rachel Griffiths showed good strength by holding off her opponent but was then fouled as she looked to be lining up a pass but the free kick came to nothing.
A short period of Army pressure saw a couple of quick shots but nothing was concerning SAC Laura Parsons in the RAF goal. The desire of both sides was evident and a crunching tacking by SAC Rachel Rutherford on Sig Laura Murray stopped another of the Army’s attack dead. The Army forward line were mobile but great defending by Rutherford and Went was keeping the threat at bay.
On 22 mins nice passing between Beaver and LAC Lauren Welsh worked the ball from the centre to the right hand side, Welsh then then beat her opponent and went to cross, but the Army defender recovered and put the ball out for a corner. This was delivered deep to the far post and as SAC Samantha Wylie went to retrieve the ball and recycle the play, she was tripped – penalty to the RAF.
Captain Catherine Beaver took responsibility stepping up to dispatch the penalty to the keeper’s right, leaving her no chance of stopping it. 1-0 to the RAF.
The Army responded immediately with Cfn Kelly Aldridge surging forward, showing good footwork to go past two players but she was eventually stopped by another fine sliding tackle from Rutherford.
More good work by the Army saw Cpl Olivia Dixon move down the right, jinking inside she unleashed a powerful strike that hit the cross bar with SAC Laura Parsons looking worried in the RAF goal. With 34 minutes on the clock the Army crafted another break, with an excellent low drive across the six yard seeing Cfn Aldridge looking a certainty to score as she met the ball but Parsons reacted well and blocked the effort, a great save by the RAF keeper.
An injury to SAC Widdicombe gave both sets of players the opportunity to get a drink as the sun continued to beat down. More probing from the Army saw their next attack cleared for a corner. Cpl Olivia Dixon delivered it into the box and Cpl Zoe Stewart met it firmly but watched her header go just over the bar.
Steward then broke down the Army’s right and delivered a good low cross into the box but neither Dixon or Aldridge were able to reach it and the ball ran out of play for an RAF goal kick.
The Army continued to apply the pressure and on 42 minutes Aldridge intercepted a loose RAF pass, beat Rutherford and crossed well to her strike partner Dixon but again the Army were unable to hit the target from 5 yards out when they really should have levelled the score.
The final action of the half saw SAC Jo Vasey go on a good run down the right but she was fouled by a late challenge. Surprisingly the Referee decided there was no need for further action when it looked like his notebook was going to be needed.
Half time – RAF 1 – Army 0.
Substitution at half time saw SAC Rachel Howes replace SAC Kaye Widdicombe.
A nice reverse pass by Cpl Mandy Kidd freed Cpl Zoe Stewart up, she delivered a pinpoint pass to Cpl Olivia Dixon who shot from 12 yards but again Parsons gathered comfortably. The RAF created another opening when SAC Nicola Symons played a one-two with SAC Stephanie Lee before rolling the ball into the on-rushing LAC Lauren Welsh but the attack was snuffed out by a combination of Army defenders.
Looking to stretch the play, the Army were looking to get beyond the resolute RAF defence whereas the RAF were looking to work the ball forward. A ball over the top saw a foot race between SAC Howes and Cfn Aldridge with Howes just getting a toe on the ball to turn the ball out for a corner.
The Army opted for a short corner which caught the RAF players unprepared but as the shot was taken it deflected off an outstretched leg to loop up into SAC Parsons raised hands as she confidently gathered. The RAF then made their second substitution with SAC Keri Haywood replacing SAC Stephanie Lee.
The match was fairly balanced and both sides were trying to create openings. A fine run down the right by SAC Nicola Symons saw her cross to Welsh who controlled well and set up Griffiths to shoot, unfortunately her effort went wide as she was left in a heap by a crushing tackle with the Referee deeming it to be a fair challenge.
Another RAF attacked saw more trickery from Welsh, turning her marker and driving into the box but the Army keeper, LBdr Daisy Burnfield was alive to the danger and was quickly off her line to smother the ball as Welsh looked to shoot.
Soon after a hopeful punt forward by the RAF created havoc in the Army defence with the Army keeper rushing out to clear. Unfortunately for her, Welsh had worked hard to close her down and blocked the clearance, as the ball broke loose it looked like the keeper pushed Welsh over but the Referee was unmoved by the protests and play continued as the Army cleared their lines.
On 75 minutes Cpl Ash Mester was introduced to the match in place of SAC Nicola Symons who had run herself into the ground for the team.
Another free kick on the edge of the RAF box saw Stewart dispatch a decent shot goal bound but RAF keeper Parsons took it confidently and launched the ball forward to get the RAF on the front foot again. Mester received the ball and took off down the right leaving her marker trailing behind, she crossed to SAC Keri Haywood but she had strayed offside.
As the match was drawing to a close the Fourth Official signalled 4 minutes of added time. Mester attacked again and opted to go for goal instead of the corner but her effort was easily taken by the Army keeper.
The Army were now throwing everything at the RAF as they searched for the equaliser but the whole of the RAF team were being resolute. A foul in the centre circle by Haywood saw the Army loft the free kick into the RAF box but it was well cleared. The Army came again this time needing SAC Howes to produce a great tackle to divert the ball for a corner.
With a minute left to play (93 mins) the Army delivered the ball to the middle, this was met by another headed clearance back towards the corner taker. As she looked to control the ball SAC Samantha Wylie closed her down and unfortunately caught the attacker just inside the box – penalty to the Army. Cpl Lucy Forman stepped up and belted the ball into the back of the net to level the match. RAF 1 – Army 1.
Just after the restart the Referee brought proceedings to a halt with the match drawn 1-1 and both sides sharing the Williamson Trophy.
The late equaliser was a real bitter pill for the RAF to swallow with it being so close to full time but the players on both sides could not have given more for their teams.
Final score: RAF 1 – Army 1.
The RAF LRT’s next fixture will be against the RN on 29 Mar 2017 at the Cosford Stadium, RAF Cosford, 1400 kick off.
SAC Laura Parsons (Gk) SAC Jo Vasey SAC Kaye Widdicombe SAC Laura Went SAC Rachel Rutherford Cpl Rachel Griffiths SAC Nicola Symons Cpl Catherine Beaver (Captain) LAC Lauren Welsh SAC Stephanie Lee SAC Samantha Wylie
SAC Jeannie Gillespie SAC Keri Haywood SAC Mollie Lambert SAC Rachel Howes SAC Sonyia Jones SAC Ash Mester SAC Samantha Wiggan
RAF – Cpl Beaver – 23 mins (penalty)
Army: Cpl Lucy Forman – 93 mins (penalty)
Report courtesy of RAF LRT