Brown and Bennett late-show sinks Spitfires

Late goals from Nicole Brown and Hannah Bennett were enough for Ascot United Women to break Eastleigh-in-the-Community’s resolve as they lifted the Southern Region Women’s Football League Cup at Rivermoor on Sunday afternoon. After visiting ‘keeper Leah Etheridge had denied The Yellawomen with a string of fine saves, it was top scorer Brown who popped up four minutes from the end of normal time to set her side on their way, before Bennett made it 2-0 at the end of ten minutes of stoppage time.

Ascot and Eastleigh had finished 2nd and 5th respectively in the eight-team Premier Division, and whilst the Yellawomen were favourites on paper by virtue of those final standings, they were equally wary of a Hampshire side that had inflicted one of their two league defeats earlier in the campaign.

It was a credit to both sides that they tried to pass around on a dry, bobbly pitch, and it was Ascot ‘keeper Lucie White who was out of her penalty area early-on to make a smart double block – firstly with her midriff and then with her feet – to snuff out an early Eastleigh attack.

At the other end, impressive visiting ‘keeper Etheridge did well to save from Philippa Holden when clean through after running onto Hayley Cruickshank’s knock-on, Etheridge getting just enough on the ball to turn it around the right hand post.

The Spitfires’ Grace Laidlaw, Sophia Keenan and Molly Metcalfe then linked up to fashion a chance for Sarah Bradshaw in a decent 14th minute move, but the latter was offside as she shot.

Nicole Brown replaced Tiff Skinner in Ascot’s first rolling substitution, but they had a let-off ten minutes before the break when the unmarked Keenan glanced a header narrowly over at the near post from Catherine Browning’s left-wing cross.

But the best chances came in first half stoppage time when Holden’s long-range shot cannoned back off the Eastleigh crossbar and although Brown reacted first in the aftermath it was Etheridge who somehow got across to claw Brown’s header around the post when it looked for all the world as if The Yellawomen would take a 1-0 lead in the interval.

Early in the second half, White made a good save to keep out Mizuki Ikeda’s attempted lob as Eastleigh threatened first, but Ascot came within a whisker to scoring at the other end when Cruickshank’s ricochet from Etheridge’s clearance almost rolled into the net.

Cruickshank then turned provider for Brown who stung Etheridge’s palms – this time electing to shoot early with her left foot – before Georgia Luckhurst-McCord’s effort from Davern’s corner to the far post went wide as Ascot cranked up the pressure.

The game was then held up for five minutes after an injury to Davern that ended her afternoon – Claire Couzens the replacement – before Eastleigh threatened again only for White to deny substitute Maya Gibbons with a well-timed interception with her feet.

But Ascot looked the more likely to score; Holden might have kept her volley down on the turn after latching onto Bennett’s deep cross in the 85th minute, but they finally found a way through a minute later when Brown did well to control Laura Spark’s ball over the top before rifling home – despite the best efforts of Etheridge.

Gibbons’ mazy run at the other end teed up Keenan for another shot that White got down well to push away, but as time ticked past the 100-minute mark due to Davern’s earlier injury delay, Bennett’s inswinging free-kick deceived everyone, including the unfortunate Etheridge, to make it 2-0 to The Yellawomen; no time for any further meaningful action.

Ascot manager Darrel Evans cut an emotional figure during the post-match awards ceremony; a testament to how much it means to the much-admired Women’s team supremo who – alongside player-coach Alix Todd – oversaw a fitting end to what was already his team’s most successful season.

Ascot United: White, Connor, Luckhurst-McCord, Bennett, Spark, Todd, Carrington, Holden, Skinner (Brown 33’), Cruickshank, Davern (Couzens 67’). Subs unused: Phillips, Killick-Bird, Kimble




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