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Maidstone Utd 1 Crystal Palace 2
Two unbeaten teams went head to head in the London & South East Regional League Premier Division when Crystal Palace visited Maidstone United's Gallagher Stadium.
After a contest of great intensity on the 4G surface it was Palace who emerged with the three points from a 2-1 win, their eighth successive League win since relegation from the South East Combination. After dominating the opening half, Palace were pushed to the limit by a stirring performance by the Stones and were the beneficiaries of a couple of marginal decisions which might have changed the outcome.
A tight opening had both teams' defences in control with the first effort on target coming in the 12th minute from Stones' Aimee Churchill. Emma Whitter rounded home keeper Emma Hogben but was denied by an outstanding defensive block from Abigail Spragg.
It was Rochelle Shakes who opened the scoring for the visitors on 24 minutes, finishing coolly after being sent clear by a Francesca Ferrari pass.
Keeper Hogben kept Palace from adding to their lead with a series of fine saves denying both Whitter twice and Shakes once in one on one situations as the South Londoners dominated as the half time whistle approached.
Maidstone needed to raise their game to match the pace and power of the Palace front runners but, more importantly, they needed to find some attacking momentum of their own Churchill and Claire Williams started to threaten the Palace goal and the match became a thrilling end to end contest for the last third. A goal line scramble just before the hour caused some controversy. Palace keeper Sam Sharp pushed a Charlotte Abbott free kick against the underside of the bar, scooped the ball away and bravely blocked a follow up effort as Maidstone appealed in vain that the ball had initially crossed the line.
On 62 minutes, a deep Palace corner was headed back into the danger zone for Jenny Kikomeko to sweep home the second from close range. Maidstone responded immediately. Sharp was out quickly to save from Churchill but was unlucky a minute later when another brave block fell kindly for Churchill to shoot home from ten yards.
Kikomeko almost restored Palace's two goal advantage within thirty seconds but hit the bar with a first time effort from Whitter's cross.
Williams was denied by another fine save from the Palace keeper, then Churchill was clearly fouled as she made her way past the last defender but stayed on her feet to attempt a shot. Much to Maidstone's dismay, the infringement was not sanctioned with a spot kick. Whitter was denied by another goal saving tackle by Spragg as the Stones risked being caught on the break whilst pushing for the equaliser.
Eight minutes of additional time saw Williams go close from distance but Maidstone were unable to find the leveller as Palace claimed a crucial win.
The contest was a great advert for the League with both teams moving the ball fluently and several outstanding individual displays. Maidstone remain top of the table but Palace, eight points behind, have five matches in hand. It will be very interesting to see which club will be able to sustain their title challenge better in the New Year, with London Corinthians also involved in the contest for promotion.
Maidstone United: Emma Hogben, Charlotte Abbott, Sam Lester, Abigail Spragg, Colleen McCullagh, Rebekka Gray, Laura Lepetzidis, Chelsea Wallace, Nichola Morris, Aimee Churchill, Claire Williams. Subs: Danielle Ford, Gemma Relph, Emma Harrington, Rachel Brewer, Addy Kemp.
Crystal Palace: Sam Sharp, Charlotte Cavanagh, Amy Wright, Katy Morris, Dionne Lennon, Kirsty Mitchell, Jenny Kikomeko, Roschelle Shakes, Francesca Ferrari, Jade McPhun, Emma Whitter. Subs: Jade Davenport, Sophie Kemp, Samantha Burton, Sarah Prentice, Grace Beegan.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Emma Whitter and Colleen McCullagh battle for the ball with goalkeeper Emma Hogben grounded
(middle) Rebekka Gray in pursuit of Jade McPhun
(bottom) Katy Morris can't prevent Aimee Churchill scoring Maidstone's goal
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