Despite the drizzle and rain of a cold Sunday afternoon, Villa Ladies and Millwall Lionesses were both determined to take some points away today. Within the first minute, Beth Merrick swung the ball in from an early corner to deflect off almost every player after Maddy Cusack’s strike in the 6 yard box. Elisha N’Dow finally found it at her feet in the goal mouth scramble and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner, securing the lead for the home side 35 seconds into the match.
Millwall struggled to recover after the early goal for most of the first half. Villa keeper Chloe Beattie didn’t have to make too many saves while N’Dow’s and Richards’ strength and determination were able to see off any of the away side’s efforts to get back in it.
Although there were a few corners awarded to Millwall as they pressed for an equaliser they amounted to nothing. Breaks from both Alys Hinchcliffe and Alice Hassall looked promising in the minutes that followed, but Villa failed to further their lead as the rain poured on.
Kempson ran down the left and put in what looked like a good cross for Millwall. The effects of the 3G pitch however proved challenging as the ball bounced higher than the forwards expected and continued to travel wide for a throw in. Millwall remained persistent but they were unable to finish the chances they created. The Villa supporters could be heard loud and clear as Beattie pushed the ball wide after a long range shot from Millwall’s Amber Gaylor.
The bad weather conditions were unrelenting as both sides struggled to stay on their feet in the fast wind and pouring rain. However, the defence remained tight as N’Dow and Richards proved difficult to surpass at the back, clearing almost every ball that came their way.
In the last few minutes of the half Katy Moran required medical treatment after she was clipped on the head by the boot of a Millwall midfielder which allowed the home team to quickly revise their game plan before the whistle blew. The ladies maintained a fairly defensive strategy as the first half came to an end.
The sun came out to greet the second half of the game as Villa made the first substitution of the match. Lucy Porter came on in the place of Hannah George and Villa were soon awarded a corner in the 47th minute. N’Dow looked menacing in front of the goal mouth but could only head the curling ball over the top for a goal kick.
Shortly after, forward Natasha Baptiste took a powerful shot towards goal from a tight angle which was pushed wide by goalkeeper Quantrill.
The 58th minute saw another change for Villa as Chloe Dale was brought on to replace Amy West in midfield. The Lionesses also made a substitution as Leigh Nicol came off for Beth Harford.
More corners were awarded to Millwall, all of which came excruciatingly close to the goal but with no luck for the away side. The away team were becoming visibly frustrated as they began to appeal for fouls and handballs yet none were given.
Villa’s final change came about in the 62nd minute with Ashlee Brown replacing Alys Hinchcliffe.
A few minutes later Baptiste had a strike on goal from the six yard box but an outstanding point blank save from Quantrill was able to keep Millwall in the game. This gave the home side the energy they needed and Merrick sprang into action down the left side as the game progressed. Despite the well drilled opposition defence, Merrick linked up well with Cusack and showed promise as she took a few shots on goal and delivered impressive crosses.
Credit should also be given to substitute Chloe Dale who made every effort to make a quick break for the home team down the right side. She delivered a ball into the box which was met with a header from Baptiste but was deemed narrowly offside.
Both sides looked evenly matched as the game progressed with Villa having that slight edge to keep themselves in the lead. The final substitution was made for Millwall as Ellie Mason came on for Amber Gaylor in the 80th minute.
Only a minute later, Mason made a sprint into the box and took a close shot at goal after a through ball was supplied by the midfield. The shot was initially blocked by Chloe Beattie who hadn’t had much to do until the dying moments of the game, but the rebound came back off Mason to drift into the bottom right corner.
The Villa Ladies looked deflated but Beth Merrick instinctively responded as the game got back underway. A free kick was given to the home side after a handball by Millwall’s defence. Merrick curled the shot towards goal but it was punched away by the goalkeeper.
Long shots from Villa’s forwards and midfielders were quite ambitious as they attempted to regain the lead. Mason continued to look a threat as she sent a shot just wide of the goal at the other end of the field.
In the final minutes, Dale hurtled a fantastic shot towards the goal from 35 yards, hammering off the crossbar. Villa made a last push as Jade Richards came forwards from defence in a desperate attempt to take all the points. Penalty appeals came from both the players and the supporters in the stands as she was taken down in the box, but nothing was given by the referee.
The teams walked away with a point each which most would consider a fair result after a competitive and energetic second half.
This result means Aston Villa Ladies are now third in the league table and three points off the top with a game in hand. Millwall Lionesses are now placed at seventh in the league as this is the first point they have gained since the series began.
Aston Villa Ladies’ next league game is away at Oxford United on Sunday 12th March (14:00 kick-off). On the same day, Millwall Lionesses will face Brighton & Hove Albion in the league at home.