Gillingham Ladies extended their reign on top of the FA Women’s Southern Premier League with a 1-1 draw at home against West Ham Ladies.
Gills were knocked slightly off balance as manager James Marrs was forced to make an early substitution as centre-back Rachel Ahern obtained an injury. Gills youngster Lauren Davis came on as the Gills adjusted their formation to take on the Hammers.
West Ham came under considerable pressure as Gills Ladies controlled possession in the early stages. Jade Keogh was denied by a fingertip save after a fantastic lay off from Davis provided the Gills winger with time and space to launch an effort on target.
Davis was in on the action soon after pressuring the Hammers keeper into a forced error and gifting possession to the Gills. The sixteen year old weaved a ball to Fliss Gibbons but the onrushing West Ham defender managed to clear the ball to avert the danger.
West Ham were limited to few counter attacks as Gillingham effectively defended in numbers to reduce any efforts on Faye Baker’s goal.
It was down the other end of the pitch that Gillingham Ladies were beginning to struggle, as the final quality pass or touch seemed to escape the team from taking a lead in the game.
Gillingham right back Amy Taylor frequently helped support the ladies attack and made a strong break forward after a quick interchange of passes with Emma Tune. Taylor whipped a great cross into the area but there were no Gills bodies in the area to make the most of the opportunity.
Gillingham almost fell a goal behind after a pass feed through to ex- Gills captain Natalie Crinean was smartly finished by the West Ham forward. However a blatant shove on centre back Deanna Cooper – who was smartly positioned to deal with the danger – was easily spotted by the linesman who ruled the effort out.
West Ham had their keeper to thank again minutes later as Charlotte Gurr’s curling effort from 25 yards out was tipped over the top right hand corner as it look destined to hit the back of the net.
Gills continued to apply pressure on the Hammers goal. A smart set piece exposed West Ham’s defence providing Danielle Carlton with time and space to produce a sweet shot first time that drifted just wide.
Gillingham Ladies looked to have taken the lead after a lovely passage of attacking plan unlocked the West Ham defence. Davis linked up again with Keogh who planted the ball into the back of the net with a clinical right footed finish. The linesman’s flag was raised for offside and the home side were denied a lead in the match.
West Ham looked to put pressure on Gillingham but had possession pinched off them frequently in midfield with Tune and Gills skipper Jay Blackie alert to any loose passes or poor control from the Hammers.
A left footed drill from Gurr produced another good save from the West Ham keeper. The Hammers keeper dealt with a slightly easier effort minutes later as Lauren Williams chipped a clever ball over the West Ham defence to the onrushing Gibbons. Gibbons was able to produce an effort on goal but the keeper, positioned well, gathered easily.
Gillingham Ladies fans were left scratching their heads when a flurry of activity within the West Ham six-yard box didn’t result in a goal. A slick pass was fed through to Cooper, who one on one with the keeper, had the time to place the ball across the line. Her effort fell into the feet of Davis who could not find the clinical touch.
After several scuffed attempts, the ball fell to Tune who was perfectly positioned to convert but the ball blasted over the crossbar.
The teams went in at half time with no goals to separate the contest. Both sides fighting enormously hard to supress each other’s tactics.
A rallying half time team-talk seemed to galvanise the league leaders as within 45 seconds Gillingham Ladies took the lead.
Keogh’s grafted down the left hand side to produce a great cross for Tune, who rose highest, to glance into the back of the net.
West Ham responded instantly and Gills Ladies keeper Baker was forced to tip a tantalising cross over the bar.
Gills looked to get an important second, Gibbons made a galloping run past several Hammers defenders to link up with Davis who turned to find Williams in the box but the Gills failed to capitalise on their hard work with a smart finish.
Williams was involved in Gills next attack as she executed a great cross, which Gurr was able to head on goal but the West Ham keeper proved to be a robust barrier to get past.
West Ham were rewarded a free kick in the penalty area after the referee adjudged their to be a back pass played between Cooper and Baker. Gillingham Ladies stood up to the challenge effectively and West Ham were unable to exploit the opportunity presented to them.
Gillingham Ladies began to play some better passages of passing play as the weather deteriorated rapidly, making conditions increasingly difficult. The Gills began to demonstrate more patience on the ball to open up opportunities as West Ham worked tirelessly to break up play.
Gibbons played the ball out to Blackie who played a smart ball to Gurr who in turn placed the ball in anticipation of the drive from Carlton whose powerful shot went inches over the crossbar.
Gills were guilty of some poor finishing when a long range shot from Tune was tipped into the path of Lisa Fulgence. The Gills substitute was unable to make crucial contact to snatch the Gills a second as the ball bounced away from goal.
Davis drove forward in attack for Gills before crossing to Fulgence who squeezed the ball between the two West Ham centre backs to Tune whose effort was saved by the Hammers keeper.
West Ham delivered a bitter blow on the counter attack as a West Ham substitute wriggled her way around the Gills defence to float a ball over Baker into the top right hand corner to make it 1-1 with less than 10 minutes left to play.
Gills pressed West Ham as they sought the three points but lacked the final touch to do so. Fulgence managed to exploit her pace to beat the offside trap and run on the Hammers goal but failed to convert the chance.
As the rain began to pour even more, the game concluded 1-1. Having worked admirably to dominate possession, the Gills fell victim to their own poor finishing as three points escaped their reach.
Gillingham Ladies: Faye Baker, Deanna Cooper, Amy Taylor, Rachel Ahern (Lauren Davis), Jay Blackie, Danielle Carlton, Lauren Williams, Jade Keogh (Lisa Fulgence), Emma Tune, Charlotte Gurr, Fliss Gibbons,
Unused sub: Emily Lyon