Gillingham Ladies ensured their impressive run of form in the FA Women’s Premier League would run into December after a dominant display against Cambridge WFC saw them return to Kent with an important point.
Jack Wheeler’s side continued their journeying on the road with another long-distance trip but the opening exchanges with their hosts set the tempo for an impressive 90 minutes.
The game started off in competitive style, with a battle in midfield determining attacking moves as both sides looked to gain an early advantage.
Kallie Balfour was causing the Cambridge defence problems early on but an organised back four were able to get bodies and blocks in the way to protect their goal.
Down the other end, Cambridge’s searching balls down the wing were proving a productive means of penetrating the Gills defensive third. Laura Mills’ pace and delivery into the box was threatening but failed to cause Gills keeper Sarah Quantrill too much concern.
Neither team was content to allow their opposition much time on the ball, however it was the Gills who began to show more composure and direct play as the half wore on.
April Bowers, who performed her duties in midfield flawlessly throughout the game, played a dissecting pass into the path of Balfour. Balfour’s first touch beat the defender and as she appeared to have escaped her marker, was clipped at the feet of goalkeeper Verity Crook.
Gills’ appeal for a penalty seemed valid but the referee decided otherwise and Cambridge were able to capitalise in the most ruthless manner on the counter attack.
Mills brought the ball through midfield lofting a delivery to Sarah Wiltshire who managed to lob the out-rushing Quantrill with composure.
After taking the goal advantage, Cambridge set up defence, putting players behind the ball to test Gills attacking depth.
Emma Tune was pulling strings in midfield for the visitors and was able to drive through the Cambridge midfield with ease, before sliding the ball through to Balfour. Crook showing bravery to smother the ball at her opposition’s feet.
As the half wore on, Gillingham Ladies began to dominate possession with centre backs Charlotte Thurston and Rachel Ahern bringing the ball forward to support Gills’ attacking movements.
Cambridge’s Crook was called into action to deny Tune before Balfour took an attempt on target. The clearance fell to Baker-Carroll but Cambridge breathed a sigh of relief as their keeper gathered.
The Gills defence were occasionally called upon to do some tidying up before restoring possession. Ahern going shoulder to shoulder with Mills who was unable to find a way past the Gills defender.
Gills were next denied by the crossbar after a succession of corners were admirably defended by their hosts. Balfour placed in the area, hit a tremendous volley which was just inches away from giving the visitors a deserved equaliser.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with the visitors upping the tempo to continue a great battle.
Shannon Redhouse proved to be a threat for Gills, her pace on the right wing opening up opportunities to get some testing balls into the area.
Wiltshire held up play well when Cambridge were able to clear their lines but Thurston and Ahern combined ensuring the striker didn’t have too much time to craft any shots on target in the second period.
The game began to open up, providing end to end action which proved to be a great advert for the league. Competitive, aggressive and compact, the match continued in this vein for the rest of the half.
Balfour led the line effectively for Gills, linking up with Bowers whose goal bound effort was cleared by another brave block by the Cambridge back line.
Tune made another good run from midfield supported by Baker-Carroll whose initial effort was cleared back into the path of her teammate. Tune made the drive forward, controlling the ball with a clever flick before volleying wide.
Tune and Keogh continued to get involved with Gillingham Ladies attacking drives. Katie Hardaker was introduced into play, giving the visitors another dimension to their play in the midfield battle.
Cambridge were proving to be tough opposition to break down, united and resolute in their defence and looking a danger on the counter attack.
Despite enjoying the bulk of possession in the second period, Gillingham Ladies were still without an equaliser, Baker-Carroll with an ambitious effort from 35 yards.
This was followed up by another run by Redhouse who drove from midfield into the Cambridge box, getting a shot away from a tight angle which went agonisingly over the crossbar.
As time appeared to be slipping away, Gills Ladies got their deserved equaliser when North brought the ball from defence before passing to Bowers who showed great vision to find the run of Balfour.
Balfour’s run enticed the Cambridge keeper away from her line and as the Gills striker got her shot away and towards the back of the net; Baker-Carroll was there to crucially slide the ball past the defender tracking back.
As both teams sought a winner, Wiltshire crafted the hosts an opportunity with her back to goal but her effort went wide of the mark.
Hardaker and Redhouse combined well as Gills made another opportunity down the right, feeding the ball to Baker-Carroll who teed up Bowers. The Gills midfielder unleashing an effort off target.
It was a battle right till the end but the visitors were unable to get a crucial opening to score a second against a hard working Cambridge defence.
An important point for Gills Ladies, who find themselves in and out of FA WPL action. With two cup games this week, there is little rest bite for Wheeler and his side, who demonstrated both their quality and determination in what proved to be a gritty affair in Bury St Edmonds.