After a successful Cup run, Gillingham Ladies returned to FA Women’s Premier League action on Sunday afternoon with a trip to Bedford Ladies.
It proved to be a fruitful afternoon for the Gills who pulled off a dominant away display with a 9-1 victory, courtesy of a four goal haul by Kallie Balfour, a Paige Baker-Carroll hat-trick alongside goals from Ashleigh Loosemore and Emma Tune.
The Gills got off to the best of starts with their alert, sharp passing movement catching the hosts off guard. Midfielder Katie Hardaker won possession for her side before providing a perfect ball identifying the run of Balfour, whose touch enabled a clinical strike to smash into the back of the net.
It was in midfield again where Gillingham were able to make a difference, Tune picking up possession and identifying pockets of space for Balfour to apply pressure, allowing Baker-Carroll the opportunity to capitalise and fire Gills Ladies two ahead.
The visitors should have made it three when an inch perfect cross from Madison North picked out Balfour but the Gills strikers’ instinctive finish missed the target.
Bedford were handed a path back into the game when Gills failed to clear their lines, a looped shot going over Alabaster and into the back of the net.
Gillingham Ladies responded well, picking up the tempo of their play and bringing the game to their hosts, asking some tough questions of their defensive abilities.
Gills were rewarded for some nice play down the right wing when Baker-Carroll showed once more her ability to be in the right place at the right time to poke home her second of the game and Gillingham’s third.
As the half wore on, Gillingham Ladies were able to demonstrate more quality across the pitch, working hard as a unit in both defence and attack to nullify Bedford’s threat for the remainder of the game.
Defensive duo Charlie Thurston and Rachel Ahern provided composure on the ball to help Gills open up play and support attacking play whilst remaining alert to the host’s attempt to break on the counter.
Jade Keogh provided some good defensive cover for her team-mates, displaying composure on the ball to begin an eye catching counter-attack which concluded with Balfour enforcing an outstanding reaction save from the Bedford goalkeeper.
Moments later Bedford had their keeper to thank again, pulling off a low parry to deny Baker-Carroll a first half hat-trick.
Gillingham Ladies took a good 3-1 lead in at the break but there was more to come in the second period when the visitors went up a gear to ensure a professional performance was accomplished.
A hat full of chances were created through the hard working Gills midfield, supported in attack by their defence. Tune and Keogh coming agonisingly close to extending the club’s lead.
It was Balfour who got the break through with another clinical finish which was fair reward to Gillingham’s period of dominance after the re-start.
Gills boss Jack Wheeler introduced Ashleigh Loosmore and Chelsea Wallace in replace of the hard working pair of Keogh and Lydia Wills. The introduction gave the visitors further impetus and strength going forward.
The changes made an instant impact when Balfour grabbed another goal with an exquisite and instinctive touch and finish leaving the Bedford back line with no chance to defend.
Gills thought they had scored another when an inch perfect ball from Captain Lauren Williams found the run of Baker-Carroll. The Gills attacker snatched the opportunity but her effort was ruled out for offside.
There was no offside flag required for Gills next attacking move of the game. Balfour creating a fine solo goal, finishing from the tightest of angles to extend the visitors lead and receive much acclaim across the ground.
Loosemore was next on the goalscoring sheet, a positive run down the right exposing a hard-working but somewhat weary Bedford defence. The Gills Centre of Excellence graduate finished the opportunity she had crafted herself with great composure, lifting the ball over the onrushing keeper and into the back of the net.
Baker-Carroll completed her hat-trick as Gills showed no intention of letting their foot off the gas in the search for three vital FA WPL points. Williams turned provider with a technically brilliant cross field ball which fell perfectly for Baker-Carroll to hit on the volley, rattling the roof of the net.
Tune ensured Gillingham Ladies had an enjoyable trip back to Kent, rising highest to a great Hardaker cross to head a ninth home for the guests, completing a professional performance for the team.
Gillingham Ladies turn their attentions to next week’s FA WPL trip to Norwich Ladies hoping to extend a recent run of positive displays in their League endeavours.
Gillingham Ladies: Alabaster, Thurston, Ahern, Williams (c), North, Hardaker, Tune, Keogh (Wallace), Wills (Loosemore), Balfour, Baker-Carroll.