Gillingham Ladies produced a mature and professional performance on a difficult pitch to beat Nottingham Ladies 1-0 courtesy of a Charlotte Gurr penalty on Sunday afternoon.
Looking to avenge last season’s knock out in the FA Cup competition, the Gills set up strongly to contain Forest throughout the 90 minutes, limiting the home side to very few clear cut chances.
Playing just their second competitive game of 2014, the Gills looked to set the tempo during the opening 10 minutes, attempting to pass the ball around the pitch despite a testing, bobbly surface.
Gills created an opening early on with Captain Jay Blackie picking out Fliss Gibbons with a slick ball dividing the Forest defence in two. Gibbons used her pace to run on to the pass, eventually enforcing Forest to concede the throw in.
Whilst nothing came of that particular Gills attack, the Kent side continued to search for ways to test the Nottingham Forest defence early on, making use in particular of the Nikita Whinnett and Danielle Carlton on the left who worked effectively together.
The home side could have taken advantage of a slip up in the Gills defence with a loose pass intercepted sharply by the Forest attacker. Blocking her path however, Gills centre-back Deanna Cooper and goalkeeper Faye Baker, who combined and reacted quickly to ensure Gills were left unpunished.
Forest posed a threat moments later, with one attacker driving forward before going inside an launching a shot which dragged wide of Baker’s goal.
Gurr and Gibbons troubled Forest down the other end, linking up well and applying pressure to Forest’s defence when they had possession to win the ball back and make the home side’s afternoon difficult.
Blackie almost put the Gills one up after an inswinging corner from Gurr found the Captain’s charge into the box, but she was just inches away from poking the ball into the back of the net.
Gills next attack came from Whinnett who picked the ball up on the left from a Carlton pass, the Gills winger drove towards goal before smartly cutting in and shooting from the edge of the box. Forest’s keeper was well positioned to collect the shot.
The deadlock was broken minutes later however. After a slick interchange of passes on the edge of the box, a ball was threaded through to Gibbons, who hauled over by the keeper’s scooping of her boots, was brought down.
A clear penalty was coolly dispatched by Gurr, who stepped up to put the Gills in front.
Whinnett continued to cause a threat for Gills with pace and trickery Nottingham Forest struggled to deal with. The Gills winger turned her defender on the edge of the box, creating space to release a shot on target. Forest’s keeper was equal to the challenge and denied the away side a chance to increase their lead.
It was Gills who had the next golden opportunity as a Whinnett pass unlocked the Forest defence, finding Gibbons in the six yard area with the ball at her mercy. The condition of the pitch took its tool and the Gills striker was unable to make contact to slot the ball into the back of the net.
Next, Whinnett fed Gurr a square pass, teeing the Gills goalscorer to unleash a right footed effort that flew wide.
Forest pressed the Gills defence, winning a free kick in an advantageous position 20 yards out. The free kick was curled towards goal but covered by Baker, went comfortably wide.
Lauren Davis continually helped support Gills attack from right back and made a strong run down the wing before crossing to find Whinnett who drew the ball back to Carlton, whose powerful shot would have left the keeper with no chance but blasted wide.
HT Nottingham Forest 0 – Gillingham Ladies 1
Gillingham sought to apply pressure on Nottingham Forest from the off in the second half, launching a tricky ball over the top towards the corner for Whinnett to chase.
The Gills winger did well, collecting the ball and finding Gurr in the box, with the ball at her feet and just yards from goal, Gurr was denied a chance on goal as the Forest keeper smothered the ball at her feet.
Davis whipped in a good delivery screaming for a simple finish but Gills struggled to get through an organised sea of Forest bodies who cleared the ball effectively.
The game continued to be end to end with both teams pressing trying to exploit their pace on a very difficult playing surface.
Gills centre back Rachel Ahern nearly pulled off a stunning second goal for Gillingham Ladies, striking from distance with an effort that narrowly missed the target.
Nottingham Forest freshened up their line up with substitutions to test the Gills defensive stamina. Gills stood up to the test with centre back pairing Ahern and Cooper in particular demonstrating composure and skill to ensure several determined Forest runs failed to materialise into anything to trouble Baker.
Gills looked to be patient and pass the ball well with both sides making crunching tackles to break up play.
Gills battled fearlessly throughout the 90 marshalled by Blackie, Emma Tune and Charlotte Long in midfield who made it difficult for Forest to induce any fluid, attacking play.
Gillingham could have drawn further ahead with Gibbons beating the offside trap to go one on one with the keeper, who responded well with a great save. The rebound was chased by Forest who got their first to clear.
As the game headed towards a nervy final 10 minutes, Forest continued to fight for a way back into the FA Cup tie, winning a corner and the chance to test the Gills.
The corner came in from the left to find Forest’s centre back whose header made strong contact but flew over the crossbar, causing little concern to Baker.
Gills substitute Lisa Fulgence provided fresh ammunition up front, working hard to chase down and pressurise Forest when they had possession, making the final stages a frustrating affair for the home side.
A pass from the back unleashed Davis down the right and the young Gills player galloped towards goal before finding Whinnett who feed a through ball to Gibbons, the pass proved to be a touch too heavy however and Gills were unable to capitalise.
A good contested FA Cup tie drew to a close with a tense final minutes with Gills defending well as a unit to ensure they progressed through to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The final whistle blew as Gills Ladies celebrated a fantastic result to top a brilliant away trip. A mature performance in difficult conditions, the Gills will now welcome either Preston North End Ladies or Yeovil Town to Chatham in March.
Gillingham Ladies: Faye Baker, Danielle Carlton, Rachel Ahern, Deanna Cooper, Lauren Davis, Emma Tune (Lisa Fulgence), Jay Blackie (c), Charlotte Long, Charlotte Gurr, Nikitta Whinnett, Fliss Gibbons
Subs: Catherine Cooper, Emma Wood, Lauren Phillips, Lauren Williams, Jade Keogh