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Harlow Town boss Grant Palmer hopes his team's Essex Women's Trophy Final victory against Wickford Town will represent a springboard to further success following a 5-1 triumph at Saffron Walden Town FC's The Meadow.
A previous incarnation of the club claimed the Essex Women's Cup 20 years ago, but the current version of the Hawks have only been running since the summer of 2015, and Palmer's charges had to fight back from an early deficit to lift the trophy. "I'm ecstatic," he remarked. "It's our first trophy as Harlow Town Ladies for 20 years.
"We're still in two other cups and still in the league, so hopefully it's the first of many. It's our first year as Harlow Town Ladies so, in terms of generating interest in women's football and promoting Harlow Town Football Club as a base for women, it was really important and will be well received in the town."
Harlow have won all twelve of their league fixtures this term and have only been beaten once competitively - by FA Women's Premier League outfit Charlton Athletic - since their inception, and they began the match firmly on the front foot.
Within 60 seconds, Philippa Stephens had struck the woodwork from an Abbie Bensted cross, and they soon rattled the frame of the goal for a second time. Another Bensted delivery was diverted against the crossbar by Christie Seakens.
However, Wickford's Danielle Dickens hinted at a threat for her side in the 8th minute as she snatched at a chance to shoot goalwards when meeting a dipping ball on the edge of the penalty area. And they moved ahead four minutes later through Louise Balding as she sweetly met a Dickens corner and Sarah Walker could only push the shot into the top corner of the net.
The advantage was short lived. In the 14th minute Stephens broke clear down the left hand side before cutting the ball back for Bensted to lash home from ten yards out. Bensted could have added a second within four minutes, but she drilled a shot at goalkeeper Julia Tween from just inside the penalty area.
Bensted turned provider in the 27th minute, setting up Catherine Kelly for a wayward strike on the run, and Victoria Hill also could have scored on the half hour mark, only to flash a shot wide of the right hand post. Instead, Bensted bagged her brace in the 41st minute, expertly lobbing Tween after controlling a goal kick.
"I think our reaction was good," reported Palmer. "I think we needed them to score; we hit the post and the bar early doors and didn't take our chances, so it probably woke us up and we did what we needed to do. Their goal was the turning point. Until then we played within ourselves, but then we realised that we had to work harder. Our second goal was also a superb goal and gave us confidence going into half time."
Another defining moment arrived two minutes into the second period. At one end Harley Brueton volleyed over for Wickford and, when play immediately switched to the opposite penalty area, Stephens embarked on a superb solo run that eventually saw her round Tween to slot into an empty net.
Tween made a superb stop in the 56th minute to prevent Hill from driving home a Bensted centre, but the right sided midfielder did get onto the scoresheet midway through the second period after robbing Carly Willis of possession and sidefooting beyond Tween.
Wickford continued to trouble the Harlow defence, with Walker called upon to save from a Claire Campbell effort and Kerry Newby racing forwards after grabbing the ball from Eliza Weeks, only to angle her shot wide of the right hand upright.
Harlow's goalscoring was completed four minutes from the end of the game. Hill made progress down the right hand side and squared the ball to Stephens, who contributed her second goal of the game from close range. Bensted could have registered a hat-trick during stoppage time, but her superb attempt was tipped away by Tween, leaving Harlow to celebrate a 5-1 success.
Harlow Town: Sarah Walker, Victoria Hill, Megan Sende, Abbie Bensted, Eliza Weeks, Imogen Palmer, Phoebe McMurray, Riley Bennett, Christie Seakens, Catherine Kelly, Philippa Stephens. Substitutes (repeated): Rosalia Bivona, Chloe Ring.
Wickford Town: Julia Tween, Michelle Reynolds, Cheryl Popple, Victoria Jenkins, Autumn Ranger, Carly Willis, Kerry Newby, Harley Brueton, Claire Campbell, Danielle Dickens, Louise Balding. Substitutes (repeated): Freya Barnard, Melissa King, Rachael Dipper, Charlee Twigg, Kattie Stone.
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