By Charlotte Richardson
Gillingham Ladies were knocked out of the FA WPL Cup after falling to a 4-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre on Sunday afternoon.
The significance of the game was made even more poignant as both teams paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the Shoreham Airshow disaster.
Joint manager Jack Wheeler made two changes to his starting eleven, introducing Gills Academy players Madison North and Georgia Reece into the line-up.
Gillingham started the game brightly, enjoying a good share of possession but failing to create any clear chances to trouble Faye Baker in the Brighton goal.
Gills had skipper Lauren Williams to thank as the best opening opportunity of the game fell to the hosts. Williams, positioned well, made an important goal line clearance to deny Brighton an early lead.
Brighton’s next best chance came through a set piece delivery by Charlotte Gurr whose in-swinging free-kick found Deanna Cooper inside the box. Put under pressure by the Gills’ defence, Cooper’s header sailed comfortably wide.
Gills showed great endeavour to try and break down an organised and compact Brighton team. Shannon Redhouse looked a threat and managed to skip through the host’s defence before winning Gills a corner but the visitors were unable to make the most of the opportunity.
Gills keeper Courtney Shanley put in an impressive performance in goal for Gills and had to be alert to parry a Kim Stenning shot on the edge of the box. Gurr delivered a dangerous ball from the subsequent free kick but Gillingham Ladies cleared their lines efficiently
Gills were punished for failing to do the same later as Albion took the lead through Kirsty Barton, the midfielder skilfully picking her spot from the edge of the box to fire past an out-stretched Shanley.
Gillingham FC Centre of Excellence graduate Fiona Constable made a great run through midfield towards goal as Gills tried to summon an equaliser, but was prevented from taking a shot by a well-executed challenge from Vicky Ashton-Jones.
It was Gillingham centre back Charlie Thurston who then made an equally impressive last minute tackle towards the very end of the first half to ensure the hosts only took a 1-0 lead at the break.
HALF TIME 1-0
Albion piled on the pressure in the opening period of the second half, with centre back Cooper breaking forward on occasions to test Gills’ organisation at the back.
The visitors battled for every ball to try and grab Gills an equaliser but it was Albion who scored the game’s next goal through Stenning. The Brighton forward was in the right place to slot the ball past Shanley within the six-yard box.
Emma Tune and Katie Hardaker worked hard in midfield alongside North to initiate Gills attacking movements and it was Hardaker who launched an audacious effort 25 yards out, but the effort went wide.
Kate Natkiel scored Brighton’s third goal of the game, capitalising on a loose ball on the edge of the box to ruthlessly punish Gills.
Wheeler then made a number of substitutions, refreshing his midfield with the introduction of Megan Maslak and Jade Keogh. 17 year old Lydia Wills was also brought on to make her first senior appearance of the season, replacing Kallie Balfour who had led the line for Gills.
The Gills youngster made a positive impression on the game and was able to weave her way through Brighton centre backs to charge at goal but Albion had strength in numbers to suppress the danger.
Shanley pulled off another impressive left handed save to deny Brighton but could not do the same moments later as Gurr wrapped up an accomplished display from Albion with a fourth and final goal.
The hosts turned up the attacking intensity in the final period but Shanley and the Gills defence were equal to the pressure and the cup tie concluded.
After the game, Wheeler praised his squad for their application and work-rate.
“I’m really pleased with how the girls applied themselves this afternoon. Following last week’s win it was good to get more minutes under their belt.”
“There were some really good periods for us in the game and plenty of positives for us to reflect on and take forward and into our league performances. We’ve got a busy week coming up and I know everyone at the club is excited to see how we can keep developing and pushing forward.”
Wheeler added; “The result was never going to be too important given the fact we were playing in tribute to those who lost their lives in the Shoreham Airshow disaster. I’m pleased all of us at Gillingham Football Club were able to play a small part in that tribute.”
“I must also say a huge thank you on behalf of the club to the Gills fans who travelled to support us today. It’s a long way to come on a bank holiday but the players all commented on how nice it was to hear encouragement on the side-lines and to speak to those fans after the game and see them going home with a smile made me and my staff very proud.”
Gillingham Ladies now look ahead to Wednesday night’s trip to Crystal Palace Ladies at Bromley FC. Kick off is at 7:45pm and entry is free for all fans. So why not come down and #RoarUsOn in the league?