Ascot triumph 2-0 as rivals Bournemouth slip-up

Goals in each half from Nicole Brown and Hayley Cruickshanks were enough for Ascot United Women to beat Badshot Lead 2-0 on Sunday as the title race took a seismic shift. The Yellawomen were in total control despite an unforgiving playing surface, and their result, coupled with a shock 3-0 defeat for 2nd-placed Bournemouth at Oxford City, moved Darrel Evans’s side nine points clear at the top ahead of a crunch clash between the title contenders.

Ascot strike early in scrappy first half

The Yellawomen were ahead with their first meaningful chance of the game when Nicole Brown picked the ball up outside the area and unleashed a fine left-footed effort from twenty yards that sailed into the top left-hand corner; five minutes on the clock.

Moments later, home ‘keeper Jodie Gray-Piazza helped another effort from Brown around her left-hand post, and only a brilliant block from Ashleigh Cotter denied Brown again in the 19th minute.

But the home side had their moments as Alyssa Hall dragged a free kick wide just before Brown’s effort, before Deanna Taylor, Annabel Giles and Rebecca Munro linked up for the latter, who stabbed well wide at the near post. Erin Huntley then got enough on Munro’s cross-shot to divert it away from danger for a corner, but Ascot survived and should have doubled their lead five minutes before the break only for Amelia Kimble to blaze over from a central position after Phil Holden had picked her out; 1-0 it remained.

Yellawomen impress but made to work hard

After the break, the visitors failed to trouble Roz Markham until she survived a stoppage-time scare, but the game was already won courtesy of Cruickshanks’ goal on the hour mark.

Before that, she already had a golden chance to put her side two ahead when Holden won possession with a gritty tackle before releasing Kimble, who dug out a sublime, hanging cross for Cruickshanks, but she mis-timed her header from a matter of yards.

But six minutes later she made her mark – this time it was Kimble’s stinging shot that Gray-Piazza could only block after she had raced onto Brown’s lay-off – and Cruickshanks was on hand to slot into the bottom right to make it 2-0.

Kimble and substitute Kayleigh Richardson-Taylor then both fired wide of opposite posts – Georgia Luckhurst-McCord and Tiff Skinner the respective providers – before hugely impressive  Jess Drage’s ball over the top picked out Skinner, who held off her marker before stinging Piazza-Gray’s palms with a rising thunderbolt.

Piazza-Gray had a good day between the posts for The Baggies and her best save came late-on when Luckhurst-McCord and Katie Vince combined for Alix Todd, who got her shot away from a tight angle only for Piazza-Gray to make a fine block after racing from her line to further shrink the player-coach’s target.

There was late drama when Claire Couzens was unfairly penalized for a solid late interception two minutes into added time. Hall saw her resultant free-kick pushed away by Markham, who was relieved to see her clean sheet saved by the crossbar in the ensuing melee and the three points were Berkshire-bound.

Young talent seek to get Ascot over the line

Assuming that Bournemouth Sports beat Badshot Lea next weekend, they will cut the gap to six points with a game in hand. However, the simple maths is that Ascot will win the title if they beat Bournemouth in Dorset one week later. A draw would still keep the title destiny in Ascot’s hands with one game remaining after that, and defeat but set up a nail-biting finale where goal difference – which is currently in Sports’ favour – might come into play.

But there is still plenty of football to play and in the absence of key senior players, youngsters Erin Huntley and Kate Fox epitomised the talent stepping in and up just 24 hours after both featured in the U18’s county cup win over Wantage Town, the former with a player-of-the match display.

Entertainment: 3

Reporter’s Star Player: Jess Drage (Ascot United). A mature display at left-back and got forward to good effect, stepping up in the aftermath of experienced defender Laura Moss’s season-ending injury two weeks ago.

Ascot United: Markham, Luckhurst-McCord, Drage, Huntley, Vince, Todd, Holden, Robertson, Cruickshanks, Kimble, Brown. Subs (rolling): Barrett, Richardson-Taylor, Skinner, Couzens, Fox

Attendance (est): 30 (15 away)

Scorers: AUFC: Brown 5’, Cruickshanks 60’




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