On Sunday Newbury Ladies’ First Team squad travelled to compete in the Final of the Jubilee Cup competition, organised by the Southern Region Women’s Football League. Their opposition for the Final were the Reserves of Oxford United’s Academy, who had beaten Newbury convincingly in their two previous league meetings before the end of November. The Final was played at the neutral venue of Aldershot Town’s EBB Stadium, which boasts one of the largest pitches in the country. So it was to be a fast, open and expansive match, fitting of any Cup Final stage.
From the kick off, it was clear that Newbury were not at all overawed by the occasion or the setting, with midfielder Anna Risdale winning her side a corner in the opening 4 minutes. Although Oxford were able to clear that threat, they continued to be pegged back in the opening stages, under intense Newbury pressure, as they refused to allow the Oxford defenders or midfield any room or time on the ball.
With just 7 minutes on the clock, Newbury opened the scoring and it came when Ellie Reed played a lovely cross-field ball from just inside the Oxford half. Her cross floated over the heads of the Oxford back line and invitingly for striker, Lily Chubb to run onto in the right hand channel. Chubb had evaded her marker for a split second and although the defender made every effort to get back and get a challenge in, Chubb was too nimble, seeing her first time shot from the edge of the area slip past the despairing dive of the keeper and it trickled over the line for an early one nil lead for the Berkshire side.
Unfortunately for Newbury, the shock of conceding sparked Oxford’s players into life and they scored an equaliser straight from the restart. As the ball was played out to the left wing, Newbury were slow to react, with Oxford’s Charlotte Comley not closed down and she was able to cut in and fire a low shot that nestled into the left hand corner of the Newbury goal. 1-1 now the score line, with not even 10 minutes on the clock. This was to be no cagey affair.
In the next 10 minute period it was now Oxford’s turn to pile on the pressure, with two corners forced in quick succession. With a good set piece delivery, coupled with a misunderstanding in the Newbury defence, Oxford made it 2-1 with a headed conversion by midfielder Claire Bates. Newbury could have found themselves dead and buried shortly after when an Oxford striker was through on goal. Thankfully for Newbury, their goalkeeper, Chloe Hunt had come out to narrow the angle and she foiled the one on one chance, producing a good save to her right. That chance could have put the game out of sight, but Newbury steeled themselves and withstood some more good Oxford attacking play, to keep within touching distance and maintain just the 2-1 score lined approaching the half hour mark.
After good link up play between Reed and Oliver, they found Caroline Harkness in a central position, 28 yards out and as she turned, she was fouled by the Oxford centre half, causing the Referee to blow up. Oliver stepped up to take the direct free kick, but her effort, although clear of the Oxford wall, it also narrowly evaded the right hand upright and crossbar.
At 2-1 Newbury were still in the game and they began to edge a bit more of the possession stats as half time approached. Reed latched onto one Newbury cross from the right, but her shot was blocked by the Oxford defence and cleared for a corner. Newbury centre half, Gemma Povey, was sent upfield and she connected well with the cross with her head, but unfortunately her effort travelled straight to the keeper, who saved at a comfortable height.
The first half was to end with another flurry of goal mouth excitement, as Newbury conceded a corner on the left. As the shot came in, Newbury captain Leanne Creese was positioned on the back post and was able to clear off the line. A further two Oxford corners followed however and it was from one of these set plays, when the back post run from Oxford’s number 9 Laura Allsop meant she was clear to head in from 8 yards, to give her team a 3-1 advantage at the break.
After going the previous half an hour without conceding, it was a bitter pill for Newbury to swallow right on the stroke of half time. It would mean they were now chasing the game in the second half and vulnerable to Oxford’s counter attacks.
The second half opened as a repeat of the first, with the Oxford defence under the most pressure, at least in the first 5 minutes. Both Chubb and Reed had shots blocked and saved respectively, but Newbury were unable to force a way back into the match. Oxford still carried their own threat going forwards and created real panic in the Newbury 6 yard area, from one telling cross on 55 minutes. Both Povey and Creese for Newbury were called upon to block two quick fire shots, however the ball was still bobbling around the Newbury box. Then, in a style reminiscent of John Terry, Povey, whilst still led full length on the goal line, flung herself at the feet of the Oxford striker, to head the ball clear from no more than 2 yards off the ground. Newbury had escaped again from further Oxford punishment.
In an attempt to stem the flow, Newbury’s Lorna Parr was withdrawn on 65 minutes, for full back Sam Atkins to come on. This tactical switch, meant skipper, Creese, could move further forward into her more natural right wing position, with Oliver also pushed further up front in support of Chubb. Unfortunately, just 3 minutes had passed, when Newbury found themselves 4-1 behind following a long range effort from Oxford’s Claire Bates, that clipped the inside of the far post and nestled into the net.
Newbury goalkeeper, Hunt, was able to show her worth just a few minutes later, when she pushed an Oxford free kick onto her cross bar and over for a corner. Without Hunt’s many interventions, Oxford would surely have scored far more. One positive that pleased the Newbury bench, was that their players never gave up, never let their heads drop. Chubb could so easily have helped herself to a second goal following a Newbury corner, but her shot was deflected just wide.
Then with only 15 minutes remaining, Newbury did find a second goal and what a spectacular effort it was too! The Oxford goalkeeper had kicked upfield, but the ball was chested down by Creese near the right sideline and in the same movement, she immediately sent back a volleyed shot from more than 35 yards. The goalkeeper, who had not yet regained her position on the goal line, was helpless. The thunderous shot sailed over her head and into the empty net. It was quite simply the goal of the match, but sadly for Newbury it wasn’t enough, as the deficit was only halved to 4-2 and with not much time left to play.
As in the first half, Newbury again showed some frailty by conceding straight after scoring themselves. It was almost as if the mental effort needed from Newbury’s team to get on the score sheet again, meant that they were then mentally shattered in the immediate minutes that followed. This time, Oxford scored two very quick goals following large amounts of space in behind Newbury’s tiring defence. This gave the Academy side a 6-2 lead and wrapped up the scoring for the day.
Newbury made their two final substitutions with Sam McConnon and Lauren Sheldon coming on for Naomi Purvis and Ellie Reed respectively on 75 minutes, as the large Aldershot pitch, as well as Oxford’s superior passing and movement, began to sap Newbury’s energy levels.
Although disappointed with the final result, every Newbury player could hold their head high for sheer determination and commitment right to the end. On the day, they were beaten by a better team, but it had certainly been a competitive match and an exciting final for the many spectators inside the EBB Stadium. It had been a great run in the second half of the season to take Newbury into the Jubilee Cup Final and they collected their Runners-Up medals with pride for how they had performed on the day and in the previous rounds.