Walsall Ladies suffered a defeat on home soil last Sunday losing 2-5 to Sutton Rangers,ending their run of five consecutive wins on the bounce.
The Saddlers went into the game on the back of a hard-fought 3-2 win against Stafford Town to put themselves joint top of the table with Sutton Rangers, with the visitors at the summit on goal difference.
Prior to the game, Walsall Ladies manager Jason Barrowclough tipped the game to be the toughest in the season so far and one that had all the ingredients to be an entertaining affair for the fans. This was certainly the case as both teams made a lively start to the game with the visitors crashing the woodwork with 8 minutes on the clock not once, but twice as it bounced behind for a goal-kick.
In a bright opening 10 minutes the Saddlers then started to create some chances, Kelly Fowell driving down the right to cross and after multiple deflections the final shot flew over the bar. The Ladies striker was causing havoc yet again in the opening stages as she looked to be the key to breaking the deadlock for the Saddlers alongside captain Sophie Ball.
After an end-to-end opening 10 minutes, Sutton Rangers made their early opportunities count with a half-volley which looped over stand in goalkeeper Olivia Hayward and into the net to give the visitors the lead.
10 minutes later after this, Rangers doubled their lead. After hitting the post just a few minutes prior, a through ball was played through a gap in the Saddlers defence and the Sutton attacker calmly dispatched to give the visitors a two-goal cushion.
The Saddlers didn’t let this dampen their confidence as they showed a great sense of desire to get back into the game, Fowell looking the most likely to half the deficit as she created a number of opportunities for herself. The first came as she took the ball past a couple of Sutton defenders before unleashing a close-range shot on her weaker foot, leaving the goalkeeper stranded but her effort was cleared off the line.
Shortly before half-time, Fowell had another chance on goal in the best move of the game. A great interchange in the Sutton half resulted in Fowell being through on goal. The goalkeeper rushed out and Fowell took it round her, only to see her shot hit the post from a tight angle.
Fowell’s luck eventually changed on the brink of half-time as she raced down the right and unleashed a swirling shot which caught the keeper off guard and looped over into the far corner to give the Saddlers a route back into the contest. The hosts were now buoyed going into the second half.
The interval halted the momentum of Barrowclough’s side as in the opening minutes of the restart Sutton Rangers restored their two-goal cushion. It could have been more as from the restart the visitors found themselves through on goal again but Hayward rescued the Saddlers with a brilliant double save to keep the Ladies in the game and give them a sense of hope.
The heroics of Hayward proved to be crucial as the Saddlers managed to find the net once again just a few minutes later with Rachel Watkins scoring her first goal of the season. From a corner, Fowell played the ball back to Watkins who decided to hit one from range and her effort sailed into the roof of the net, leaving the Sutton goalkeeper with no chance.
Rejuvenated and in search of an equaliser, the Saddlers began to pile the pressure on the Sutton backline and midway through the half they missed a huge chance on goal. Fowell rounded the goalkeeper yet again, but the angle was too tight and she laid it off to captain Ball whose effort from six yards out was blocked and cleared by the visitors.
This was a huge let off for Sutton who made the Saddlers rue their missed opportunity with 20 minutes to go. With a few tired legs out there, the visitors took advantage with a passage of play which left them with space in the box and they dispatched their fourth goal of the game despite the best efforts of Hayward to make it 2-4.
In the dying embers of the game, the Saddlers pushed bodies forward in hope of a lifeline but this benefited Sutton as they intercepted and scored a fifth on the counter attack to all but seal a valuable three points.
That was the last of the action as the Saddlers suffered their second defeat of the season at the hands of Sutton Rangers.
Photos courtesy of Jenny Merrett and Kevin Grice