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C & K Basildon supremo Peter King hailed his squad's terrific team spirit as the Essex Women's Cup final underdogs stunned FA Women's Premier League South outfit Colchester United to claim the silverware in the BBC Essex-supported competition.
Charlie Dolby's 49th minute finish provided the game's defining moment but King, who has masterminded the club's ascent into the higher echelons of the Eastern Region Women's League Premier Division, was quick to pay tribute to everyone involved in the triumph.
He said: "That shows you what a team of very good footballers can do as a unit, playing 110%. They've played so well this season, and full credit to Alan [Richards, Sports Therapist] and Steve Tilson as well. The squad have reacted positively to bringing in quality people like that."
"There were some players out there who played well beyond a very good performance, particularly Charlotte [Hopwood] at left back; she's never played football at a higher level but she's been with me four years now and she had the game of her life. She wanted to win something and she wanted to show people she can play with the five Millwall girls I've got."
"Defensively it was magnificent. The back line was remarkable, particularly the two central defenders, and the midfield worked their socks off. We worked the flanks and denied them space, so it was a lovely unit of well-oiled professionalism."
C&K's opponents, Colchester, were seeking a fourth Women's Cup success in six years, and they made the brighter start. Rebecca Smith curled over from 20 yards following Paige Shorten's fourth minute corner and, on 17 minutes, U's skipper Maegan Doyle almost slipped the ball beyond Mel Kinsalla, with the goalkeeper obtaining a vital touch to send it wide.
Inbetween, Dolby's close range effort was charged down, but Colchester went much closer to taking the lead after 20 minutes. Again the cross was supplied by Shorten - this time from the left - and Doyle rose to flick a header against the left-hand upright with Kinsalla scrambling along her line. Three minutes later Shorten's viciously inswinging corner deceived Kinsalla, only for the C & K defence to bundle the ball to safety.
Greater composure from Dolby in the 34th minute could have seen the Essex Representative Team forward give her team the lead before the break but, having sprinted clear of Smith, she chipped over Nikita Runnacles' crossbar. Then, in stoppage time, Jenny Brown-Wealls floated a free kick onto the roof of the net as C & K grew in confidence.
Nonetheless, a youthful Colchester side could have been settled by taking the lead and Zoe Rushen, the former Braintree Town playmaker, drilled narrowly wide of the post in the 38th minute before heralding the beginning of the second period with a cleanly struck setpiece whipped inches over the bar.
However, the U's were rocked just seconds later when C & K edged in front. Angela Arnold released the explosive Dolby with a precise pass and the diminutive forward slammed a formidable strike past Runnacles from 22 yards out.
King quipped: "The plan was to keep it level for the first 15-20 minutes to settle the team down - because Colchester are a superior footballing side - and then to deny them space, work the flanks and see if we could pop a goal in, which basically worked out. Of course, as a manager, I always prefer to score in the 91st minute, so they made me work the whole second half!"
A rapid response was required from Colchester, and Emily Clements almost provided it on 52 minutes as another Shorten flag kick was cleared into her path. Her driven shot was deflected by a stooping Megan Jiggins, but Kinsalla was positioned in exactly the right spot for the ball to nestle in her gloves. Clements then set-up Rushen for an effort which was hoisted over before Shorten twice guided shots across the face of goal shortly after the hour mark.
The C & K defence held firm and weathered the storm, continuing to re-organise quickly and clear their lines. Colchester became increasingly frustrated in their attempts to source an equaliser, and substitute Emily Heaslip smashed off-target in the 71st minute. The U's pushed on, but they were unable to break through the Basildon back line in the closing stages, leaving King and his squad to celebrate a famous victory.
"The girls were probably getting a little bit tense as the game got towards the end, that's to be expected," claimed King. "But, again, it was part of our psychology - the inner sense to get under Colchester's skin a bit and ruffle them. I thought the first half was good, we weathered that storm, we looked solid and the break came at the right time."
"When you think I had to bring on my centre forward, Laura [Bryant], who's just come back from a cruciate ligament injury - she hasn't played for four months - and then I had to put on my Reserve Team goalkeeper outfield, this is the spirit I've got with these girls. It really is quite magnificent."
"This season our priority was the ERWFL Premier Division because we want to go up to the [South East] Combination - and we're well placed - but we've still got to win games. In a sense, to be ranked the best football team in Essex, that is up there. This is the best thing we've done so far. To get to the Premier League would be a dream, and these girls do deserve it."
C & K Basildon: Mel Kinsalla, Claire Lacey, Jenny Brown-Wealls, Angela Arnold (sub Laura Bryant 73mins), Carly Eagles, Nicole Farmer, Aimee Drane, Charlie Dolby, Lucy Wyatt, Charlotte Hopwood (sub Robyn Strauss 86mins), Daniella Cross.
Colchester Utd: Nikita Runnacles, Alice Diss, Megan Lawler (sub Paige Wakefield 84mins), Megan Jiggins, Karissa Rodney (sub Gemma Codling 61mins), Rebecca Smith, Maegan Doyle, Zoe Rushen, Amy Nash (sub Emily Heaslip 54mins), Paige Shorten, Emily Clements. Subs not used: Hannah Streetley, Sarah Gibbs.
(Report by Robert Craven)
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