Sunday November 4, 2007; National Premier League

Doncaster Rovers Belles 1 Cardiff City Ladies 1

Doncaster: C.Collie, V.Stevens (R.Beighton 83), E.Thomson, C.Utley, A.Turner, N.Hughes, V.Cantoro (C.Cantrell 62), V.Exley, P.Hamilton, S.Hopper (S.Owen 78), L.Hansen.

Cardiff: R.Nokes, T.Beddows, S.Cheedy (L.Harries 63), N.Cousins (replaced 58), L.Townsend, K.Isaac (N.Clipston 86), J.O'Brien, Charlotte Miller, M.Barrow, L.Dykes, N.Harding.

Doncaster Belles would have been looking at this game as an opportunity to give themselves some security against a possible relegation battle.

Cardiff seem certain to have a season long struggle ahead of them but would have come into this game with realistic hopes of getting something. After all, it was in the corresponding fixture last season that Cardiff saved themselves with a victory.

There was no real confidence in the visitors' play in the early stages, however. With a typically haphazard defensive formation and a midfield camped in a bunch just outside their own penalty area Cardiff seemed intent on handing the initiative to the home side and the Belles were quickly pressing for the opening goal.

Despite having numbers behind the ball there was no real organisation to the Cardiff defending and Doncaster looked dangerous every time they came forward.

Vikki Stevens moved up from full back to release Vicky Exley who shot through Rhian Nokes' legs but the England player had moved too soon and was flagged narrowly offside.

This hardly seemed to matter as it appeared to be simply a matter of time before the Belles scored and then, perhaps, a question of how many.

Liz Hansen was showing for the ball well up front and being supported well by Natasha Hughes and Sophie Hopper in the wide areas while Exley and Precious Hamilton were first to everything in midfield.

The first sign that Cardiff had anything to offer came when the Belles messed up a short corner which was intercepted by Loren Dykes who set off on an impressive dribble upfield. Although the break petered out around the edge of the Doncaster box it signalled the start of a fine individual performance from Dykes.

Within moments, however, play was back at the other end and this time Doncaster did make their attack count. Hamilton produced a nice touch to make herself a yard of the space just outside the box but then got lucky as her shot was blocked by a defender only for the ball to roll through perfectly to Hansen who made no mistake in slotting past Nokes.

Cardiff tried to respond but Caroline Collie was alert in coming outside her area to kick clear as Natasha Harding chased a through ball. This incident did give a clear indication of Harding's raw pace, however, and it seemed clear that the visitors had the forwards to trouble Doncaster if any kind of service into them could be supplied.

Nicola Cousins had her side in trouble when she lost possession just outside her own box allowing Hansen to win a corner. The delivery from Hughes was spot on and Exley would have been disappointed to head wide from ten yards.

Hughes, who tended to flatter to deceive, went on a driving run before finding Hansen on the edge of the box and the striker got a good effort away which Nokes had to tip over at full stretch.

In general the game was becoming more even, however. The Cardiff midfield was playing slightly further forward and Dykes continued to offer hope with some clever forward bursts. The sting had gone out of the Belles' attacking play as well and the home side now looked pedestrian in their efforts to get forward.

One of the games' pivotal moments also came midway through the half when Terri Beddows suddenly produced a prolonged verbal assault on her teammates. This probably amused the home crowd but it was just what the visitors needed.

It was becoming more and more apparent from the stands that there was something in this game for Cardiff if they showed a little more belief in themselves.

The speedy Harding responded with a forceful burst down the right and when she laid the ball back into the path of the supporting Lauren Townsend her deep centre sailed over Collie's head to hit the inside of the far post before bouncing to safety.

The Belles retaliated with a dangerous centre from the left by Hopper and although Marie Barrow did well to turn the ball away from Exley she was in danger of conceding an own goal until Nokes got down smartly to smother at the foot of her post.

Hamilton then played a fine pass beyond Jodie O'Brien to send Exley running into the box and, having checked back onto her favoured right foot, she sent in a strong drive which forced a fine save out of Nokes.

There is no question that Cardiff are fortunate to have a goalkeeper as good as Nokes to call on. Not only is she a fine shot stopper Nokes offers the opposition little encouragement at any time and is one of the best around in dealing with crosses.

Cardiff produced their best attack of the first half just after the half hour mark when Charlotte Miller linked well with Harding down the right before sending in a cross shot which was only just too high as it passed the angle of post and bar.

Cousins, who had looked uncomfortable from the start, got herself into a tangle under pressure from Hamilton but was just about able to force the ball behind for a corner and was also guilty of bringing Exley down in a dangerous position but the Cardiff defending, in general, had become more assured as the half progressed and despite trailing the visitors must surely have reached half time with increased confidence about their chances.

Half Time: Doncaster Rovers Belles 1 Cardiff City Ladies 0

Even though they had the lead you would have imagined Doncaster would have been eager to impose their authority on proceedings at the start of the second half but the early action was totally uninspired with neither side seizing the initiative.

Scrappy defending almost allowed the Belles a chance but Hughes was finally crowded out by sheer weight of numbers as she tried to force the ball home.

Cardiff began to show some neat short passing moves and Kelly Isaac sent in a decent cross which Collie claimed just in front of Harding. Then Dykes slipped a good ball through for Harding and when she centred it was Isaac who was inches away from making contact.

Suddenly the game was opening up and Doncaster made a couple of presentable chances. Hansen sent in a fine, inswinging cross which Hamilton headed narrowly wide and then Exley produced a superb header from a Nokes goal kick to send Hansen racing forward. From the angle her powerful effort was just over, however.

Cousins, who had suffered an uncomfortable afternoon and was also struggling with an injury, was replaced on 58 minutes and Cardiff immediately looked more secure at the back.

Miller found Harding with a good ball but the strikers' attempted lob was weak and Collie saved easily.

There was increasing conviction about everything Cardiff did at this point, however, which was emphasised by the fact that O'Brien, who had been sat in front of her own defence all game, suddenly got forward to meet a Terri Beddows centre with a well struck half volley which Collie was happy to see fly straight into her arms.

Just past the hour though Cardiff were back on level terms. Beddows lifted a clearance straight down the middle, Harding rose well to flick on and Dykes showed good pace and strength to hold off the challenge of Emma Thomson before finishing clinically into the left hand corner.

The Belles immediately brought on Carla Cantrell for Veronica Cantoro and Exley tested Nokes from 25 yards but once again the Cardiff keeper was efficiency personified.

Cardiff made an attacking substitution of their own by introducing Laurie Harries for Sian Cheedy but as this change saw Dykes moved back into a midfield position the wisdom of the move was open to question.

It would be some time before Cardiff could get Dykes back into the game out on the right wing but when they did she immediately looked extremely dangerous attacking Amy Turner.

Precious Hamilton showed excellent close control to squeeze between two opponents and matched this with a fierce effort from 30 yards but the ball would not dip in time to test Nokes.

Suddenly the visitors managed to get the ball out to Dykes and they enjoyed their best spell of pressure in the entire game. Dykes waltzed past Turner before sending in a testing centre that Collie did well to hang onto at full stretch and then skinned her full back again for a cross that was headed behind for a corner at the near post.

The last ten minutes saw the game becoming increasingly stretched as the teams began to tire and both sides looked capable of snatching victory.

Hughes wasted a good position by shooting straight at Nokes from the edge of the box with colleagues better placed and then Hamilton sent in a bouncing shot that was only just wide of the post after a free kick had been headed out to her on the edge of the box.

Cardiff were still dangerous, however, and when Dykes sent in her next cross from the right wing Isaac headed on to Barrow who got her shot away ahead of the onrushing Collie but saw the ball flash the wrong side of the post.

Barrow had the bit between her teeth and stormed forward onto a clever pass from Harding only to be stopped in her tracks by an extremely dubious offside flag.

Carla Cantrell had been disappointing since her introduction for the Belles but suddenly caught hold of a snap shot from outside the area and Cardiff were grateful to see a deflection send the ball just wide of the far post.

The game entered injury time with both sides still trying to grab a late winner. A foul on Hamilton gave the Belles a free kick in a dangerous area and when this was chipped in Turner had a good chance but headed too high from close range.

Back came Cardiff and Dykes saw a shot from 20 yards inadvertently blocked by a teammate when you felt sure she would take on the last defender instead. Fatigue might have been an issue for a player who had obviously given everything to the cause.

The last action of the game saw Harding, herself pushed back into midfield for the last few minutes, send in a huge up and under which was dropping underneath the crossbar.

It was the type of ball you always wonder about in womens' football but Collie kept her nerve, held the ball safely and ensured that honours remained equal.

A draw was unquestionably the right result and both sides have reason to be concerned about the season ahead. Cardiff look to be in the greater danger despite playing some of the better football here and having a couple of attackers who look genuine Premier League quality.

Their defence inspires little confidence and it is often impossible to tell what formation the team is supposed to be playing.

Doncaster will have been extremely disappointed with this performance but look more organised and better equipped to take points off other teams, a fact highlighted by their recent victory over Birmingham City.

Full Time: Doncaster Rovers Belles 1 Cardiff City Ladies 1

Star Player: Loren Dykes

I really enjoyed watching Dykes play. Her touch was excellent, her movement good, she was always looking to bring other players into the game and she showed herself to be an exciting dribbler.
She also took her goal extremely well and had every reason to be proud of her performance.
Along with the speedy Natasha Harding she provided a real threat and this pair seem to offer Cardiff their biggest hope of beating the drop.

Tuesday, November 6
We Woz Robbed

Not many things stop Arsenal Ladies in their tracks but having drawn a blank in the first half at home to Watford last week they returned to their dressing room at half time to find there had been a break in and the players' personal possessions had been stolen.

After the police had been alerted the game had to be abandoned apparently because the floodlights at the Borehamwood ground have to be switched off by a certain time and the game could not be finished.

Tough on Arsenal as it is never pleasant to be the victim of a robbery and tough on Watford who had done so well to stay in the game during the first half.

Embarrassing for those in charge of security at the ground and disturbing as well. Let's hope we never have to report any more such incidents at any ground.

In the other midweek games Chelsea handed out a routine 4-0 beating to Charlton while Everton won 2-1 at Doncaster Belles.

Danielle Buet, Chelsea's exciting midfield prospect, got two of their goals against the Addicks while Veronica Cantoro scored the goal of the game for the Belles against Everton with a stunning free kick.

Most eyes were on the League Cup quarter finals at the weekend and there was some cracking action.

Chelsea put up a good fight at Arsenal but ended up going the way of all flesh as two late goals gave the holders a 3-1 win.

Karen Carney scored the only goal of the first half but Chelsea pulled level after the break when Faye White put through her own net.

Arsenal are relentless, however, and secured their place in the last four with late goals from Jayne Ludlow and Lianne Sanderson.

Everton scored a comfortable 3-0 win over the last remaining team from outside the National Premier League, Sunderland.

All the goals came in the first half with Michelle Evans getting a rare right footed goal from Rachel Unitt's centre, Fara Williams curling in a cute free kick after Emily Westwood's forceful run out of defence was halted illegally on the edge of the box and then Williams clipped another shot from around the edge of the box beyond the keeper.

Everton continued to press after the break but could not add to their tally, Williams coming the closest with a rasping drive against the post from distance.

Liverpool enjoyed an excellent win away at Blackburn. Levi Penny gave the home side an early lead but this was wiped out by a Chantelle Parry hat trick and Liverpool managed to hold on after Natalie Preston pulled one back for Rovers ten minutes from time.

Parry is one of the Liverpool players with top flight experience having previously played for Everton but she has had a frustrating start to the season with the Reds. Maybe this game will signal an upturn in form for her which would give the team a huge boost as they look to consolidate their league status.

Watford looked comfortable at home to Birmingham City as two Helen Lander goals put them in control and it looked to be game over when Cori Daniels made it three with less than twenty minutes left.

Birmingham gambled with a triple substitution and promptly pulled a couple of goals back. Danni Bird gave them hope before Laura Bassett converted a penalty awarded after a foul on Heather Scheuber.

With a grandstand finish in prospect, however, Birmingham were then left with only ten players after a nasty injury to Chelsea Weston and Watford were able to claim their place in the semi finals without further alarm.

The draw sees Liverpool handed the short straw with a trip to Arsenal while Everton travel to Watord.

In the National Premier League Leeds were the latest team to hammer Charlton, Amanda Barr scoring twice in their 5-0 away win, while struggling Doncaster Belles and Cardiff City shared the points after a 1-1 draw in South Yorkshire. There is a full match report from that game above.

Sunday November 11, 2007; National Premier League

Leeds United Ladies 0 Chelsea Ladies 1

Leeds: C.Telford, N.Emmanuel, S.Bradley, G.Bonner, A.Culvin (O.Thackray 53), J.Moore, K.Holtham, S.Walton (C.Ward 86), J.Clarke, A.Barr, S.Smith.

Chelsea: S.Chamberlain, S.Larkin, C.Stoney, K.Davies (G.Gidding 70), S.Perry, J.Smith, L.Edwards, L.Cooper, D.Susi, E.Aluko, E.Whitter (D.Buet 45).

On paper this looked like an intriguing fixture between two clubs with aspirations for the runners up spot in the National Premier League. I was looking forward to a good game between two competitive and well matched teams and I was not disappointed.

On a fresh, bracing day the early exchanges highlighted a stark contrast in the way the sides were approaching the game. Chelsea were hoping to build up their attacks patiently from the back whereas Leeds adopted a more energetic, physical style and it was this that looked the more likely to succeed in the opening twenty minutes.

Quick to close down their opponents all over the field and eager to get players forward in support of the attack from all quarters Leeds had the visitors pressed back in their own half constantly and looked likely to take the lead at any moment.

While Chelsea were unable to dictate play at all in the opening exchanges and looked anything like convincing in their attempts to play their way out of defence they did defend resolutely in and around their own penalty area and managed to keep the Leeds attack at bay, just about.

Nicole Emmanuel displayed the home sides' urgency with a quick break forward from right back and having shown some nifty footwork to open up space fed a good ball out to Sue Smith but the England winger spoiled the approach play with a weak centre that was easily cut out at the near post.

Then Chelsea played themselves into trouble when Casey Stoney attempted to find the feet of Lizzie Edwards but the pass was never really on and Leeds immediately moved in to claim possession. The ball was quickly moved out to Jess Clarke and when her centre was only half cleared Katie Holtham found herself with a shooting chance from the edge of the box but could not keep her effort down.

Holtham was an influential figure as Leeds dominated the first ten minutes and soon had a better opportunity. Sophie Perry did well to read the danger as the home side threatened to break through but having moved across to clear she saw her intended clearance charged down and the ball broke nicely for Holtham inside the box to the right of goal.

Holtham's shot was fierce but only found the side netting at Siobhan Chamberlain's near post.

Leeds were handed another good attacking situation when Edwards was harshly adjudged to have fouled Emmanuel near the angle of the penalty area but Smith's low ball into the near post was cleared at the expense of a corner by the Chelsea defence.

Leeds were first to everything at this stage and badly needed a goal to show for their positive start. As Chelsea played themselves into trouble again they got their best chance yet to take the lead.

Chamberlain threw a rash ball out to Susi midway inside her own half and Alex Culvin, ignoring her managers' advice to "stand up", went sailing into the challenge to gain possession for her side.

There was immediate danger for Chelsea as the ball was played through to Holtham breaking into the box and the powerful midfielder cut back onto her right foot to send in a stinging drive that Chamberlain could only parry. The ball rebounded towards Clarke in a central position but, under pressure from a defender, she could not keep her shot down and the visitors survived once again.

It was impossible that Leeds could maintain such a frantic pace and gradually glimpses were seen of the Chelsea attack.

Edwards won a tussle in midfield before sending Eni Aluko away but the flag was up immediately to halt the break and Emma Whitter produced two long dribbles upfield which ultimately came to nothing.

The visitors also managed two decent centres, one from either flank, but on both occasions there was nobody in the middle to take advantage.

There was no question that Chelsea's passing and composure was increasing with each passing minute, however, and the home side were now only able to unsettle them sporadically.

Aluko and the increasingly impressive Lizzie Edwards combined neatly to send Sian Larkin overlapping down the right wing and her centre was decent enough but again nobody had filled the box.

Another measure of Chelsea'a improvement was the fact that Dunia Susi was now generally giving Culvin the slip when the full back came flying in to try and rob her.

Another good move involving Aluko ended with Susi whipping in a centre that would have been dangerous but once again nobody from Chelsea had backed up the attack.

This was not the case when Leeds managed their next attack. Holtham found Smith who produced a smart turn and an even better low centre that fizzed across the face of goal to Jade Moore arriving at the far post but, stretching, she could only poke the ball narrowly wide.

Culvin, perhaps the most aggressive player in the womens' game, had set the tone for a feisty encounter with some dodgy challenges and she was not alone. Two or three others put in some dubious tackles with Jess Smith producing possibly the worst when she took Jess Clarke out in resounding fashion as the Leeds winger broke at top speed.

Clarke was up in a flash and her prompt handshake for the offender showed that there were no hard feelings. The referee was therefore able to satisfy himself with a word of warning to Smith and everyone was happy enough to get on with the game.

Excellent.

It was becoming more difficult to predict which side might open the scoring but the deadlock was suddenly broken in magnificent style on 37 minutes.

The move, a really fine one, began in the Chelsea right back area and the ball ended up in the Leeds net with bewildering speed.

Given the position that the move started in it might have been Sian Larkin who played the initial pass forward but I couldn't swear to this.

The ball in question was intended for Aluko, in a central position on halfway, and was crisply struck and perfectly accurate. There was no intimation that Aluko was going to do anything other than collect the pass until, at the very last moment, she stepped away and allowed the ball to travel on into the path of Edwards, bursting forward from midfield.

The dummy had taken a couple of Leeds defenders out of the game and the instant, delicious through ball that Edwards then delivered took out the rest to leave Emma Whitter racing through on goal.

From the edge of the box Whitter gave the move the finish it deserved with a crisp low drive into the bottom corner that gave Carly Telford no chance whatsoever.

Leeds were stunned and almost conceded a second shortly afterwards. Susi robbed Culvin in a tight spot and fed Aluko who was too quick for Gemma Bonner but sent her low shot narrowly wide of the far post.

Emmanuel offered Leeds encouragement with another speedy break from defence followed by a good ball out to Sophie Walton but the resulting centre was poor and Chelsea cleared easily.

When Holtham then supplied Sue Smith, however, the England winger put in a wicked low cross and although Kylie Davies managed a brilliant clearance from underneath her own bar the ball fell for Holtham to drive goalwards but another Chelsea defender threw herself at the ball and averted the danger.

The half ended with Chamberlain producing a magnificent point blank save to deny Sue Smith's close range header but the offside flag was up in any case so the action was irrelevent.

Although neither keeper had been given too much to do in the first half the action had been gripping with the pace, commitment and quality much to be admired.

Half Time: Leeds United Ladies 0 Chelsea Ladies 1

Chelsea made an interesting change at half time as they withdrew the goalscorer Whitter and brought on Danielle Buet in her place.

Whitter had produced a couple of thrilling surges from inside her own half and taken her goal superbly but she had also shown a real difficulty in knowing which positions to take up both in attacking and defensive situations when not directly involved in the game.

Sophie Perry, in particular, had had reason to curse Whitter's lack of positional sense on several occasions.

There is obviously talent there to nurture but plenty of work for the Chelsea coaches to do on Whitter's awareness of the game.

Within seconds of the restart the change had almost paid off as Chelsea produced another top class move. Buet found Edwards who in turn found Dunia Susi with a great ball that left the forward face to face with the Leeds' keeper Telford.

Susi shot low for the corner but Telford managed to stick out a foot and deflect the ball behind for a corner.

This move signalled a truly inspired second half performance from Lizzie Edwards who had grown in stature during the first half and basically took over proceedings in the second.

Leeds quickly countered this fine move, however, and were within inches of drawing level.

Sue Smith flitted past two challengers and although her centre was blocked at the near post the ball fell for Moore and the midfielder was desperately unlucky to see her effort clip the outside of the post.

Hitting the ball falling backwards as it bounced to an awkward height Moore had executed a difficult skill superbly but still had nothing to show for it.

There was a major worry for Chelsea as Edwards pulled up in real discomfort as she looked to take advantage of a slick move between Aluko and Buet near the byeline and it looked unlikely that she would be able to continue.

Fortunately for Chelsea and the game she returned a couple of minutes later showing no apparent ill effects.

The initiative did now return to Leeds for a spell as they strove to get on terms. Katie Holtham's influence had waned since the opening exchanges but Jade Moore was presenting Edwards with a challenge in the battle for midfield supremacy.

Holtham combined with Amanda Barr, generally peripheral, and Chelsea were grateful to the linesman's flag as Sue Smith was put through on goal and then Casey Stoney picked up a booking after pulling Holtham back after losing possession as she tried to be too clever deep in her own half.

There was danger from the free kick and after Smith had forced a corner from it the Chelsea defence was called upon to throw bodies in the way on two occasions to protect their slender lead.

Leeds sent on Olivia Thackray to replace Culvin who may have been suffering from some of her own medicine after being caught high and late by Dani Buet who was making an impact in more ways than one since coming on at the interval.

The Chelsea sub was then able to set up a couple of chances for her team, both times after being brilliantly fed by sweeping passes from Edwards.

In the second instance Aluko was able to tee up Laura Cooper for a shot from the edge of the box but her effort was too high.

Cooper and Jess Smith were becoming more influential as Edwards really began to get a grip of the midfield but somehow the threat now seemed to disappear from the Chelsea attack.

Neat, intelligent approach play only seemed to go so far with Susi anonymous since moving to the left wing and both Aluko and Buet becoming quieter.

Leeds now had less possession but still had their chances. Stoney presented them with another after giving the ball straight to Barr whose lob through the middle offered Smith a real opportunity but her stabbed effort bounced wide of the far post to the relief of the visitors.

Then Moore managed to win the ball back having been stopped at the end of a driving run and fed Clarke on the right wing. Her centre to the far post found Barr in a promising position but the striker dragged her shot badly wide of the upright.

It was a surprise to see Chelsea take off the impressive Kylie Davies and move Laura Cooper back into central defence but the subsequent move to bring Buet into the midfield helped the visitors take an even greater grip on the central areas.

Still Leeds managed to force chances, however, and when the referee adjudged that Sophie Perry had fouled Clarke inside the area they had the best of the lot.

The decision was one of those that looked somewhat harsh but was nevertheless hard to argue against. Perry had come in from the side and, probably, slightly behind and although she had got plenty of the ball she had probably taken some of the player too.

The responsiblity for the spot kick fell on Amanda Barr. The striker got power on her shot but the height was a good one for the goalkeeper and, having gone the right way, Siobhan Chamberlain parried the ball to safety quite comfortably.

With Edwards slipping tackles consistently in midfield and spraying passes around expertly Cheslea proceeded to take the sting out of much of the final ten minutes.

Edwards was also able to test Telford with a decent left footed effort from the edge of the box but the keeper was always in charge of the situation.

With time ticking away there was one last, big scare for Chelsea. Barr sent in a centre from the left which Cooper misjudged and could only help on towards Clarke at the far post. With the ball sitting up and begging the Leeds' forward lashed in a tremendous drive that flew past Chamberlain only to rebound to safety from the crossbar.

There was plenty of injury time to play after a sniper had taken out the super sized linesman with around fifteen minutes left to play but most of the added on time was spent by Chelsea expertly keeping possession deep in Leeds territory.

The conductor in chief of this keep ball was, inevitably, Lizzie Edwards and the visitors suddenly broke clear to threaten on a couple of occasions having tormented their hosts with their possession play.

When Aluko suddenly darted to the goalline to send in a centre which found Edwards up supporting the attack it looked as though the games' star player was about to get the goal her performance had merited but Sophie Bradley appeared on the line to deny her and keep Leeds in the hunt for a point.

The home side were unable to muster another serious attack on the Chelsea goal, however, and the visitors ended the game delighted with three very hard earned points.

Both sides have the right to feel happy with their contribution to an excellent game which was a first class advert for the womens' game, however, and I for one thoroughly enjoyed my day out in Yorkshire.

Full Time: Leeds United Ladies 0 Chelsea Ladies 1

Star Player: Lizzie Edwards

One of the things I was hoping to see during this season was some midfield players with true England potential and I am pretty sure Edwards fits the bill on this display.
In what was a fiercely competitive game this slightly built player showed she could stand up to the physical side of the game before showing true class in her control, dribbling and passing ability.
Time and again she took the ball in tight spots and emerged from the crowd with the ball at her feet after a drop of the shoulder or a classy body swerve.
Having found space she was quick to see a pass and almost always spot on in executing it. The two balls she sprayed out to the right wing for Danielle Buet in quick succession were little short of magnificent.
At 18 Edwards appears to have outstanding natural talent and a real appreciation of the game. If she continues to develop England could have a real star on their hands.

The following match report was submitted to Football England by "BJ". If anyone else wishes to send in their reports or views on womens football we would be happy to publish them.

Womens National Premier League; Sunday November 11, 2007

Everton Ladies V Watford Ladies

To begin my first ever match report on Football England I would first like to point out that when it comes to watching Everton Ladies I am cursed. I have been to watch four games prior to this one. I have seen one full game, the last 15 minutes of one, missed one altogether and can barely remember much of the other one due to some excellent Belgian hospitality. So it won't come as much surprise when I tell you I missed the first 40 minutes of this one due to the kick off time being 1pm…not 2pm as I had been informed.

All I can really tell you about the first 40 minutes is that I followed the directions to the ground pretty well and only had to ask a passer by where Marine FC was when I was just around the corner from it. It cost £2 to get in, 50p for a programme and the gentleman I handed my money over to informed me Everton were one nil up. A goal that I have just discovered was scored by Michelle Evans, I'm sure it was a good finish but I'll just never know for sure.

The final five minutes of the first half passed without much action, Fara Williams hitting two long range shots which never looked like troubling the Watford keeper.

The second half began with Everton dominating possession and Watford looking to soak up the pressure and hit on the break.

In the 50th minute Everton's domination got them a second goal. Natasha Dowie received the ball to feet on the edge of the box, turned her marker and hit a low shot under the keeper who should have done better. At two nil the result was really never in doubt.

The second goal drove Watford forward a bit more and a few mistakes at the back started to creep in from Everton. Lyndsay Johnson on more than one occasion over complicated things and presented possession to the Watford forwards.

In the 55th minute a Watford centre was volleyed over the bar by Ashlee Hinks, a half chance at best but still a first sign of intent from Watford. Soon after Watford won a right wing corner which was hit to the back post and Emma Beckett had a powerful header well saved by England keeper Rachel Brown.

Keeping up the pressure Watford again brought Brown into the action with a low drive from Ashlee Hincks, again well saved.

Everton seemed to start playing again at this point and put some lovely passing football together. Jill Scott released Jody Handley down the right and her cross was just slightly behind the unmarked Natasha Dowie. Minutes later Fara Williams again released Handley down the right. Cutting in she was clean in on goal but chose to pull the ball back for Dowie rather than taking the shot on herself. Watford were able to get a challenge in and clear.

Everton were now attempting to pass the ball around and keep possession. Again this led to a Watford opportunity as Lindsay Johnson presented the ball to Helen Lander, clean through on goal she placed her shot wide of the far post. This was to be Watford's best chance of the day.

In the last fifteen minutes Everton replaced Amy Kane, Natasha Dowie and skipper Jody Handley with Fern Whelan, Toni Duggan and Michelle Hinnigan. This moved Emily Westwood further up the field.

With around eight minutes remaining Westwood burst onto a pass from Fara Williams, brushed past the last defender and hit a low shot into the bottom left hand corner of the goal. A great finish from someone who had been playing at centre half for 80 minutes.

At three nil the game was over and the remaining few minutes were played out without further chances.

In summary Everton generally dominated the game though at times over passed the ball in defensive areas and on more than one occasion presented the ball to Watford forwards in dangerous positions. Against the likes of Arsenal they will be severely punished for these types of basic errors.

Mo Marley has had her tactics questioned on Football England in the past but with Dowie providing extra strength in the lone forward role the formation worked very well. Both wide players, Michelle Evans and especially Jody Handley, finding lots of space and providing dangerous crosses into the area.

A solid Everton performance and a good three points.

Man of the Match has to go to Football England favourite Fara Williams who looked look a class above her team mates and the opposition.

Tuesday, November 13
Round Up

Charlton Athletic Ladies gave their most promising display since the upheaval suffered in the summer last week when they travelled to Arsenal Ladies and held the champions to a goalless first half.

The Gunners weren't at full strength but still had a formidable side out and some gutsy defending and inspired goalkeeping from Becky Musial allowed the young Addicks side to go in at half time level.

Nobody seriously expected a shock despite this valiant effort and Arsenal struck quickly after the break through Lianne Sanderson and went on to put five past tiring opponents.

Charlton will be hoping that this effort can be reproduced against lesser opposition. If they can do so they might be able to avoid the prospect of failing to gain a point all season.

Arsenal returned to full strength for the visit of Cardiff City on Sunday and slammed nine unanswered goals past the Welsh side.

Sanderson followed up her brace against Charlton with a hat trick in this one and Faye White also chipped in with a couple having found the net once against Charlton.

There are match reports below on the games between Leeds and Chelsea and Everton against Watford in which Chelsea won a cracking contest by the only goal while Everton cruised to victory over Watford.

Doncaster Belles will feel a lot better for their resounding 3-0 win at Liverpool having been held by struggling Cardiff at home the week before.

All the goals came in a five minute spell shortly before half time with Liz Hansen, Precious Hamilton and Carla Cantrell all producing assured finishes.

In the Northern section of the Premier League Nottingham Forest now hold a seven point advantage after thrashing Sheffield Wednesday while Preston North End were winning a thriller at home to Lincoln City.

Both Catherine Lawson and Natalie Clarke scored twice as Forest romped to a 5-1 win away to Wednesday, Lawson scoring direct from a corner and then from the penalty spot.

Lincoln responded to an early Sarah McCrea goal at Preston by taking the lead with goals from their dynamic duo Jodie Snelson and Stacey Aisthorpe but were unable to hold on to this lead as quick fire second half goals from McCrea and Sam Cadwallader gave Preston the points.

In the South WFC Fulham hold a three point lead after being held at home by Millwall Lionesses. Fulham led twice but a second half penalty by Harley Bennett ensured that honours finished even.

Portsmouth remain handily placed after overpowering AFC Team Bath 5-0, a victory involving five different scorers.

The draw for the 3rd round of the FA Cup has been made and the tie of the round is probably Milwall's home game with Crystal Palace.

The ties will be played on December 2nd with the National Premier League teams entering the competition after that.

Monday, November 19
Arsenal Showing Signs Of Being Human

While it would be a brave person who wagered a bet against Arsenal retaining the three domestic trophies they collected last season the Gunners are not looking quite so invincible as during the last campaign and they will undoubtedly have to step up another gear if they are to triumph in Europe again.

In the first leg of their UEFA Cup tie last week they could only manage a goalless draw in France against Lyon. This is by no means a bad result and Arsenal will be confident of seeing the job through at home on Wednesday but there is still plenty of work left to do.

In front of a healthy crowd Arsenal enjoyed a degree of control during the first half and came close when Jayne Ludlow's effort was cleared off the line and also through a long range Kelly Smith effort that was narrowly over.

After half time, however, the game was far more even with the home team creating the better chances.

Smith did see a cracking free kick clip the outside of a post but Emma Byrne was called into action on a regular basis in the Arsenal goal. Byrne coped well under pressure but was helpless in injury time when Hoda Lattaf was presented with the chance of the night inside the six yard box only to spoon her shot woefully over the crossbar.

The team who look most likely to cause problems for Arsenal on a domestic level are Everton who enjoyed two excellent wins during the past week.

Firstly they travelled to Leeds United and came from behind to win 2-1 and then overcame Chelsea by the same scoreline on Sunday, again away from home.

Everton remain incapable of brushing teams aside in the manner of Arsenal but they are a strong, well organised side who should certainly be able to push the Gunners when they come head to head.

The first time that will happen this season is when they meet in the league at the start of December and with Everton holding home advantage it has to be hoped that this turns out to be a well contested game.

In their victory at Leeds it was goals from Michelle Evans and Natasha Dowie that cancelled out Jade Moore's opener while at Chelsea it was a goal from Jody Handley that brought the three points after Dunia Susi had cancelled out Fara Williams' opener.

It was a busy week in the National Premier League as teams look to catch up on the fixture backlog caused by the World Cup.

The happiest team will probably be Liverpool who secured six priceless points from their two fixtures and look increasingly secure in the table.

Victory at Blackburn last midweek provided a real boost. Rovers were looking for revenge after losing in the League Cup to the Reds and took an early lead through Levi Penny.

Liverpool came back to equalise with a speculative effort from Fay McCoy and then went ahead through Gayle Formston.

Rovers levelled the scores again through a rasping drive by Nicky Harding but McCoy ensured the points went back to Merseyside with a late winner.

The Reds backed this victory up with a 2-0 win over Charlton at the weekend. The Addicks are showing signs of increased durability and again kept the scoreline blank until into the second half but goals from Gill Hart and McCoy then sealed their fate.

Things are beginning to look bleak for Cardiff who continue to struggle for points despite frequently running teams close. The latest body blow for the Welsh side came in the shape of an injury time defeat at Birmingham City.

Cardiff found themselves ahead early on following a Terri Beddows goal from a corner. They held this lead until just past the hour when Danni Bird scored with a long range free kick.

The last half hour saw incessant pressure on Cardiff who had Rhian Nokes to thank for a string of excellent saves to keep them level.

Right at the death Nokes' resistance was finally ended when Sally Lacey bulleted home a header from Heather Scheuber's inviting cross, however.

Bristol Academy continue to go well and will be satisfied with four points from their two games. The Gas Girls opened the scoring against Chelsea through Nicki Watts but then found themselves behind after goals from Eni Aluko and Dunia Susi.

They came back to grab their point through a Shelly Cox goal eight minutes from time and then enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 victory on their visit to Doncaster Belles on Sunday with goals from Gwennan Harries, Emma Jones and a Kerry Bartlett penalty.

Watford continue to guarantee goals as they thumped Charlton 4-0 before losing at home to Leeds United 2-4.

Helen Lander hit a hat trick against Charlton to take her tally in league and cup to 19 this season.

Leeds proved much tougher opponents on the Sunday, however, and led at half time through an Amanda Barr goal that Watford were convinced was offside.

The Hornets then collapsed completely, however, to concede three further goals in quick succession just after the break. Sophie Bradley, Sue Smith and Barr were all on target to put the game out of sight and goals from Dominique Sinclair-Chambers and Cori Daniels, who also scored against Charlton, only served to make the final scoreline respectable.

Outside the Premier League Nottingham Forest now hold a ten point lead in the North after securing a 5-2 win over Crewe Alexandra thanks to five different goalscorers.

WFC Fulham also look in a strong position in the South after their 2-1 win at Crystal Palace saw them move six points clear. This win was down to a last minute Ann-Marie Heatherson goal, not the first time this player has secured vital late points for her side this season.

Friday, November 23
Arsenal Honoured Then Defeated

It's been a roller coaster week for the Arsenal Ladies. On Monday I suggested that they were not looking quite so invincible as last season, on Tuesday they were chosen as The Times' Team of the Year and on Wednesday they were sent crashing out of the UEFA Cup by Lyon of France.

I suggested on Monday that Arsenal would have to up their game to repeat their European success of last season and, unfortunately, they were unable to do that against Lyon in the 2nd leg of their quarter final tie.

Having come back from France with a goalless draw, always a dodgy result, Arsenal ended a roller coaster game beaten by three goals to two at Borehamwood.

The game was heavily influenced by the difficult conditions. Pouring rain meant there was lying water on the pitch and made quick, short passing difficult.

This is Arsenal's preferred style of play but when conditions change then a team must adapt. Vic Akers opted for Julie Fleeting on this occasion which gave the Arsenal attack something of a heavyweight look. On a treacherous surface Karen Carney's nimble feet and impish dribbling skills might have been better suited.

Having said that Arsenal did score twice and also had goals disallowed in each half for offside.

Against a lively, confident French outfit, however, they were unusually tentative in their defending and paid the ultimate price.

Arsenal started in forceful fashion and had the ball in the net through Katie Chapman only for the effort to be ruled offside but on 16 minutes Lyon shocked the home side by forging ahead through the Brazilian Katia's header.

With away goals counting double Arsenal now had a serious task on their hands but were ahead within twenty minutes.

Kelly Smith equalised from a Fleeting pass and then Rachel Yankey scored with an inswinging cross cum shot from the right wing.

Arsenal were unable to subdue their opponents, however, and the pendulum swung back towards the visitors before half time as Lyon equalised on the night to lead on away goals overall.

The second half saw Arsenal's attacking play becoming increasingly ragged as the pitch got heavier and the situation increasingly desperate. Jayne Ludlow did have the ball in the net only to be ruled offside but the better chances were now coming at the other end and it was hardly a surprise when Lyon sealed their passage to the last four with the winning goal five minutes from time.

Obviously this was a hugely disappointing way for Arsenal to surrender the crown they had waited so long for and worked so hard to capture in the first place. It may also be bad news for any potential domestic challengers.

Without the distraction of European competition it will be doubly difficult for anyone from these shores to spring a shock on the Gunners.

Finally I must give a mention to Vic Akers for his morbid reaction to defeat. Taking defeat might be more difficult for people not accustomed to it but the almost endless list of moaning excuses after this game was something we could have done without.

Okay, the World Cup was staged at a strange time but there's nothing anybody could do about that and the consequence of being successful is that you will always suffer from fixture congestion.

One unhappy postscript to this game was the news that Katie Chapman requires an operation on a niggling injury and will be out of action for around a couple of months.

The immediate consequence of this is that she has pulled out of the England squad to face Spain at Shrewsbury this Sunday and been replaced by Birmingham City's Laura Bassett.

This is hardly a like for like exchange, Chapman being a midfield player and Bassett a defender, but there are players like Alex Scott and Anita Asante in the squad as defenders who could be used in midfield if needed.

Personally I would much prefer to see an out and out midfield player called up in such a situation. Bassett cannot have any real hope of playing given the number of defenders already in the squad and it showed in the World Cup that moving players out of their primary position does not really work against strong opposition.

Midfield is an area where England need some proper back up and bringing a younger specialist into the squad can only be of benefit in the longer term whether that player actually plays any part against Spain or not.

Hopefully our ladies team can give us all a much needed boost on Sunday as they tackle the first difficult qualifying fixture in their European Championship campaign.

At the end of the week when our multi-millionaire men flopped so badly in their campaign it would be nice to think that the women can take another step towards a successful group stage.

After all, if they do qualify for the finals they will then get the chance to lose some more money while representing their country during the summer of 2009.

It's a strange world, isn't it?

Oh, and a final question to the FA who droned on about all the money they plough into grassroots football when the women brought attention to the fact they had suffered from lost earnings representing England at the World Cup, what do you think does more for grassroots football, the money you put in or television coverage of Kelly Smith mincing opposition defences in those finals?

You have some first rate ambassadors for the game and yourselves under your wing here and it is about time you ensured that they receive some tangible recognition for their services and sacrifices.

These are real people, not just a collection of egos, and they should be treated with the proper respect and attention.

Sunday November 25, 2007; European Championship Qualifier

England 1 Spain 0

England: R.Brown, A.Scott, F.White, A.Asante, C.Stoney, J.Scott, K.Smith, F.Williams, K.Carney, E.Aluko (L.Sanderson 54), R.Yankey.

England did just about enough to secure three vital points in this qualifying fixture against a neat, well organised Spanish side that came to contain and did so effectively.

There was a bright, positive start from England but once this initial surge passed without bringing a reward the home side struggled to really penetrate the opposition defence.

One of England's best moves of the game came early on when Eni Aluko and Kelly Smith combined to feed Karen Carney whose early centre was narrowly missed by Jill Scott getting forward from midfield.

There was a succession of centres and corners to test the Spanish defence from either flank but somehow the visitors held out. One Rachel Yankey corner caused mayhem and when Jill Scott's instinctive effort was parried a goal looked certain but Carney and Faye White seemed to get in each others way and when Carney did shoot from point blank range the effort was blocked and scrambled clear.

Then a typical surging run from Kelly Smith saw her cut a swathe through the Spanish defence but when she sent over an inviting cross to Aluko the strikers' touch was poor and the chance lost.

Just past the quarter hour mark Yankey sent in a bouncing shot from just outside the box that was comfortably saved but then the England pressure became more intermittent as Spain began to enjoy more possession.

Jill Scott saw a header loop onto the top of the net after a Carney corner and Yankey wasted a great position by blazing high over the bar from the left hand side of the box after walking round her full back.

Carney was looking England's brightest attacker and won a free kick in a dangerous position but Fara Williams sent in a poor effort that was never testing the keeper.

Rachel Brown saw her first action ten minutes before half time when she had to field an effort from Laura Del Rio whose shot did not match her fine forty yard dribble.

England looked to up the tempo again as half time approached with Aluko coming close from the edge of the box and Carney producing another telling cross that Jill Scott put over the target but the interval came with the game still deadlocked.

Half Time: England Ladies 0 Spain Ladies 0

England made a change early in the second half with Lianne Sanderson replacing Aluko up front and the home side assumed command but still found the breakthrough elusive.

Jill Scott, Carney and Smith linked well in a sweeping move which ended with Williams scraping the post with a 25 yard drive and then Smith should have done better than shoot over after a clever flick by Carney gave her a sight of goal.

England continued to probe and finally got their reward on 65 minutes. Having defended so resolutely it was a basic error from the visitors that handed England the lead.

Sanderson, Smith and Jill Scott were involved in a patient England build up but when Yankey crossed from the right there looked to be little danger until a weak headed clearance across the face of goal was seized upon by Carney whose shot was not powerful but highly accurate and sneaked inside the far post.

The goal was just reward to Carney for a lively performance and her gymnastic goal celebration was an added bonus for the healthy crowd.

Spain were now forced to come out and play and the game became far more stretched. Eight minutes after falling behind the visitors came perilously close to getting back on terms.

Del Rio held off flimsy challenges from Carney and Alex Scott before cutting back onto her right foot to drive a curling effort against the crossbar with Brown beaten all ends up.

This was as close as Spain would come to denying England victory and the home side might have made the game safe in the closing stages.

Kelly Smith brought a fingertip save out of the Spanish keeper while Carney was close to her second from a Yankey cut back.

The last chance of the night came from a Yankey corner but Faye White's header cleared the bar and England had to settle for their one goal.

Leaving England with maximum points from their first three qualifying games this was more than satisfactory, however.

Full Time: England Ladies 1 Spain Ladies 0

England: R.Brown 6, A.Scott 6, F.White 6, A.Asante 7, C.Stoney 7, J.Scott 7, K.Smith 7, F.Williams 7, K.Carney 8, E.Aluko 5 (L.Sanderson 6), R.Yankey 6.

Star Player: Karen Carney

Carney was a handful throughout with her wing play and popped up with the crucial goal at just the right time.

Thursday, November 29
Cardiff City Staring Down Barrel

This season was always going to be a struggle for Cardiff City Ladies as they looked to preserve their National Premier League status for the second time.

The Welsh team survived their first campaign in the top flight thanks to the trauma suffered by Fulham WFC and the fact that they edged out Sunderland WFC with a late win at Doncaster Belles.

Now an independently run club, Cardiff did superbly well to reach the top flight in the first place and performed with credit to muster more points than Sunderland last season.

Although somewhat ragged at times the clubs' spirit and endeavour could not be doubted and it was impossible to begrudge them their survival by the end of the season.

This season was made doubly difficult when two of their star players, Gwennan Harries and Jess Fishlock, left to join Bristol Academy in the summer. With a depleted and very inexperienced squad the task ahead looked monumental from the start and so it has proved.

Once more the team has performed with credit but have remained largely unable to turn committed displays into a significant points haul.

The season started dreadfully with a 6-0 drubbing at Blackburn but since then only Arsenal have inflicted a real hiding.

Cardiff would have probably been disappointed to only manage draws with the newly promoted clubs, Liverpool and Watford, early on in the season but the form of these two sides since has shown these to be two decent results.

The Welsh side also managed to beat this seasons' whipping girls, Charlton, but their only other point came at Doncaster after another promising display.

Particularly disappointing have been the two narrow defeats suffered at the hands of Birmingham City and the task now facing them, if they are to avoid the drop, is massive.

Not only have Cardiff struggled for points but everyone else has been taking points off each other in a most unpredictable manner.

The past week has been typical even though only a few games have taken place.

Last midweek saw Birmingham City defeat Blackburn 1-0 through a Sally Lacey goal and then on Sunday Doncaster Belles, another team Cardiff might have thought were in their sights, travelled to Bristol Academy and recorded a superb 1-0 win.

Amy Turner got the only goal of this game with an early header from a Vicky Exley free kick and the Belles held on with some assurance to claim a vital three points.

Even though Doncaster then had the disappointment of losing at home 3-2 to Leeds this week they look pretty safe already having gathered 11 points without having played Charlton yet.

Cardiff have one more game against Charlton, Liverpool and Doncaster and will have to win all three of those if they are to have any chance of surviving. They will also have to target the return game with Watford as a potentially winnable fixture.

Beyond that they have the return with Arsenal and two games each against Everton, Leeds and Chelsea from which they would do well to get anything.

Having several other quality prospects still at the club following in the footsteps of Harries and Fishlock it would be nice to see Cardiff survive and move forwards but it will take a monumental effort on the pitch to retain top flight status over the coming months.

If Cardiff do drop back into the southern section, however, it must be hoped that they can retain their better players and come back stronger in a couple of years time.

Looking forward to this weekend one of the biggest domestic games of the season is in prospect.

Arsenal travel to Everton to take on the side that has finished runners up to them in the two previous seasons and if there is to be any sort of title race this time around then this is a game that Everton surely have to win.

Without being rash enough to predict such an outcome Everton do look to be coming into this fixture in better shape than at any time during the past two seasons.

Arsenal no longer look an improving side, a comment that needs classifying.

To say they no longer look an improving side does not mean they are not as good as last year or the year before. Experienced players like Smith, Yankey, Ludlow and White still look class performers and younger players such as Asante, Scott, Sanderson and Carney have established themselves as stars in their own right.

As a team, however, Arsenal look to have reached a dizzy height that they might struggle to surpass. While this means they are still head and shoulders the best side in England and undoubtedly one of the top sides in Europe they possibly don't have the natural momentum that was with them as they swept forward towards the summit of the womens' game.

It is the toughest thing in any sport to stay ahead of the competition once you have got in front and this is the position Arsenal now find themselves in.

The Gunners did not strengthen during the summer, unlike last year when they brought in Carney and Katie Chapman, and while there was no obvious reason to draft in new players this has perhaps allowed a team such as Everton to narrow the gap.

Everton brought in Natasha Dowie and, apparently, Jo Potter from the carnage at Charlton and as a club they probably feel a positive energy building up and have the confidence that this brings.

This has been added to by the improvement in their own youngsters such as Michelle Evans and Fern Whelan while Emily Westwood's return from a lengthy injury is also a fillip.

I would like to think they can give Arsenal a real run for their money on Sunday although I would have to say that if they can manage even a draw then it will still class as something of a shock.

The game will be played at Marine FC's ground in Crosby with a 1pm kick off and will be well worth catching for anyone within striking distance of the ground.

After all, almost 9,000 people turned out to watch England Ladies last weekend when nine of the starting team were supplied by these two clubs while other squad members and stars from the rest of Britain will also be on show this Sunday.

And it's always worthwhile watching Kelly Smith and Fara Williams in opposition.

Personally I can't wait.