Gillingham Ladies endured a tough day at the office as they suffered a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Plymouth Arygle on Sunday afternoon.
Simon Ratcliffe made several changes to his starting eleven with new signing Rachel Ahern welcomed to the side and Gills youngsters Kayleigh Galvin,Emily Lyons and Bonnie Long featuring in what was to prove a very testing 90 minutes.
The opening period of the match was unsettled, with both teams looking to gain the upper hand. Plymouth tested Gillingham’s defence to see if they were on their toes following the five hour trip and delivered several long, searching passes towards Courtney Shanly’s goal.
Ashlee Hincks put great pressure on the Argyle keeper and centre back, causing the ball to fall centrally to Sophie Brown, who in a dangerous position, could get her head to the ball but only directing it comfortably to the goalie.
Plymouth began to control possession and thus the tempo of the game, with Gillingham struggling to replicate their strong display against Copsewood the Sunday before.
Whilst Plymouth were enjoying the majority of play they were failing to convert their time on the ball into any clear cut chances with Shanly largely untested.
Jade Keogh offered some restbite for Gills Ladies with a galloping run down the right. After cutting in, the Gills winger hooked a dangerous ball into the area which Galvin managed to get on the end of but Argyle’s keeper reacted quickly to snatch the ball away from danger.
Argyle could have been reduced to ten players when Hincks managed to find herself between the two centre backs with a clear run on goal. Hincks’ goal scoring opportunity was only stopped by a handball which the referee punished with a yellow card.
Hincks stepped up to take the subsequent free kick on the edge of the box and her effort whistled over the crossbar, signalling the game’s best opportunity so far.
The match took a very different turn after 26 minutes, as Gills were beginning to get the ball down and enjoy more sustained periods of pressure. Keogh went in for a 50/50 tackle to win the ball back for Gills and after receiving a nudge in the air feel awkwardly.
Play was suspended for over an hour as an ambulance was called to aid Keogh. Keogh’s bravery and sense of humour throughout the ordeal gave her team-mates all the motivation they needed to put on a good performance and they were close to delivering a brilliant comeback.
When play resumed, the visitors were understandably withdrawn and Plymouth managed to take advantage as a loose ball across midfield was swallowed up and the home side charged towards goal. A fine finish gave Plymouth the lead and the game fizzled out for half time.
HT – 1-0
Gillingham Ladies took advantage of the chance to properly re-group and focus on the second half with manager Simon Ratcliffe rallying his side.
And the players responded with a lively and determined opening passage of play. Tune almost got the Gills an equaliser after a tenacious run was finished with a right footed shot that licked the top of the crossbar.
Gills had the wind knocked out of their sails however after a strong 15 minutes was dramatically upstaged as Argyle caught Gills on the counter attack. Exploiting space between Michelmore and Ahern, the Plymouth striker used her pace to withdraw from her markers and produced a fantastic curling effort to go beyond the outstretched Shanly.
Galvin was a productive outlet for Gills on the right and her direct run at Argyle led to a Gills corner. A whipped ball into the box was ineffectively dealt with and after several poor clearances, Tune managed to exploit. The tireless Gills midfielder picked the ball on the edge of the box and her shot towards goal was deflected into the back of the net.
With a way back into the game now carved out, Gillingham Ladies began to push more and more bodies forward. Lyons and Tune were working to break up play and pass the ball out wide tp Brown and Galvin. Arygle were stubborn in their defence and posed their own threat on the break.
Tune nearly grabbed a brace when she charged in on some hesitation on the ball, driving forward and unleashing a shot which the Argyle keeper managed to collect.
Gills youngster Bonnie Long, in place of the injured Keogh, made a fantastic impression in defence, battling alongside her team-mates to put her body on the line in the battle to secure FA WPL points.
Long picked up the ball in defence and charged through the middle of the park before lashing the ball over the top of Plymouth’s defence into the path of Hincks. Hincks took the ball down well and headed towards goal before being brought down by the Argyle centre-back but no call was given in Gills favour and the work towards an equaliser continued.
Plymouth extended their lead with a ruthless finish which could have disheartened the visitors, but after a long journey and injury to their team-mate, Gills Ladies players were not content to let the game pass without a stalwart response.
Consolation was provided when Hincks produced the goal of the match with a quality right footed finish 25 yards out.
Plymouth were savvy and mature seeing the game out and securing three valuable points. It proved to be a difficult afternoon for the Gills who looked to be building momentum in the game, but with a serious injury to Jade Keogh, the game was put into perspective and ultimately the Gills travelled back to Kent empty handed.
Gillingham Ladies will look to bounce back on Thursday evening as they welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to Priestfield Stadium. 7:45PM kick off. £3 entry.
Gillingham Ladies: Courtney Shanly, Lauren Williams (c), Rachel Ahern, Emma Michelmore, Lauren Phillips, Emma Tune, Sophie Brown, Emily Lyons, Jade Keogh (B.Long), Ashlee Hincks, Kayleigh Galvin
Unused sub: Manning