Gillingham Ladies enjoyed their third tough test in seven days with a trip to FA WPL Southern side Lewes Ladies in the FA WPL Plate on Sunday afternoon.
Jack Wheeler’s side were keen to put on another battling display following their 5-3 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur Ladies in the Ryman League Cup quarter final on Wednesday evening.
The Gillingham Ladies Manager made seven changes to his starting line-up, a re-shuffle which demonstrated the quality and depth of the squad at his disposal.
The conditions indicated it was going to be a tough battle for both sides and it was Lewes Ladies who adapted the quicker, attacking the Gills goal and looking to test Courtney Shanley early on.
The Gillingham Ladies goalkeeper and defence stood firm to the early attacking play and the visitors soon gained composure on the ball and were able to dictate periods of play.
Emma Tune and Skipper Lauren Williams combined well in the Lewes box, Williams teeing up a great ball for Lydia Wills to launch a shot on the volley. The effort, hit with great power, fired over the Lewes goal.
Wills was involved in the action again moments later. After winning possession for her side, the Gillingham Girls Academy student made a galloping run down the wing before getting another shot away. The on-target effort was gathered by the Lewes keeper on her inside post.
Gillingham Ladies took the lead through Paige Baker-Carroll who demonstrated her threat to snatch upon a loose ball to calm slot home.
The goal boosted the visitors who enjoyed a dominant period of possession, playing good passing football defying the conditions which made it difficult for both sides.
The visitors got a second when a positive run by Wills was unfairly ended and the referee awarded Gillingham a free kick. Madison North stepped up to whip the ball in and Katie Hardaker rose highest at the back post to nod the ball home.
Hardaker’s first goal for the club was greeted by a huge round of applause from the travelling supporters who saw Gills Ladies establish a strong two-goal cushion with 30 minutes played.
Lewes Ladies showed their FA WPL quality battling back and winning a free-kick in a similar position to the second goal they had conceded.
Gillingham Ladies were the ones to concede on this occasion. A crushing melee of bodies and the ball escaped to go beyond Shanly who took a brusing for her efforts.
The Gills took a 2-1 in advantage in at the break but it was Lewes Ladies who came out stronger to start the second half.
The Gills defence were called upon to soak up a period of relentless pressure. The partnership of Ashleigh Loosemore of Rachel Ahern in central defence proved hard to break down.
Lewes kept pressuring Gillingham and got an equaliser after a looped effort found the back of the net.
Gillingham found their stride as the half wore on and were beginning to orchestrate good attacking play which asked sterner questions of the Lewes Ladies defence.
Jade Keogh, who covered every blade of grass alongside midfield partner Emma Tune, was able to snatch a loose pass to get a shot on target but the keeper was able to gather easily.
In a game where the momentum swung both side’s way, it was Lewes who should have gone ahead when a threatening run down the left resulted in a inch perfect pass across goal.
The Lewes defender, with the goal at her mercy, was suitably put off by Shanly and her shot managed to go wide from six yards out.
Gillingham Ladies had Shanly to thank as she pulled off the save of the game. A great reactive save to parry the ball away and ensure the game went into extra time.
F/T: Lewes Ladies 2-2 Gillingham Ladies
A fantastic advert for the FA WPL was set to continue as Lewes Ladies and Gillingham’s battle for a place in the next round continued for another entertaining 30 minutes.
Both team’s were fighting hard to seek an advantage, the intensity and competitive nature of the game making it an enthralling encounter.
North turned provider again with a great run and cross which found Baker-Carroll whose clinical finish gave Gills the advantage.
Lewes Ladies responded well and were able to take advantage on another set piece making it all square at the break of extra time.
For the final 15 minutes of extra time, Gillingham Ladies showed their battling qualities as a squad. Georgia Reece and Fiona Constable helping add impetuous.
It was Reece who popped up to get Gills a crucial lead as well as her first senior goal in women’s football. The Ladies youngster bravely getting a crucial touch to a North set piece to nod Gills ahead.
As Gillingham Ladies pushed ahead, Hardaker’s clever chip over the Lewes defence was ruthlessly dispatched by Baker-Carroll on the half-volley. A deserved hat-trick for the Gillingham Ladies front runner who had worked tirelessly leading the line for the visitors.
Lewes didn’t give up as it looked like time had escaped them for another come-back. Gills Ladies showed great maturity to see the game out and secured a place in the next round of the Plate.
A performance full of endeavor and heart, Gillingham Ladies continue cup action next Sunday with a trip to London Corinthians in the FA Cup.