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Luton Town 1 Fylde Ladies 2
Fylde Ladies will play West Ham United in the FAWPL Plate final after two late goals defeated Luton Town, who had led for nearly an hour against higher league opposition with a display full of hard work and discipline.
The Coasters kept up the pressure and eventually found a way to unlock the Luton defence and turn the tie in their favour. Not that Luton's display was purely defensive; they had chances to extend their lead through the threat of Natasha Fensome before Fylde's late show.
Fensome went close twice early on, forcing a save from Alex Brooks on three minutes before volleying just wide on 19 minutes. Fylde also had their chances, Laura Merrin testing Kezia Hassall from distance and Leah Foster firing wide after a flowing move.
Luton were tigerish in closing down and tackling all over the pitch and took the lead from a corner won in this manner. The setpiece was swung to the far post where Nicola Henman headed the ball home on 28 minutes.
The visitors stepped up the pace, impressing with their approach play, but shots from Merrin, Sophie Charlton and Emily Hollinshead flew wide or into Hassall's gloves.
Luton started the second half well, forcing two good defensive clearances from Olivia Fuller. Fensome then broke clear on the left and fired a cross shot inches past Brooks' far post. Fylde continued to play out from the back with Olivia Wilkes on the left often setting up attacks but Luton stood firm with the back four protecting Hassall so well that she was rarely troubled.
It was Olivia Wild who played a key part in the Fylde comeback. First. excellent control and passing under pressure from Brooks' clearance helped set up a chance put wide by substitute Alys Hinchcliffe on 75 minutes. Within seconds, however, Fensome raced clear of the Fylde defence and seemed certain to score Luton's second goal, only to be denied by Brooks, who somehow deflected her low shot over the bar for a crucial save.
Wild got the equaliser on 78 minutes, striking home a low shot via a post after a corner clearance reached her at the edge of the area.
Suddenly Fylde were in command and found a super move on 82 minutes for the winner. Quick passing through the middle found Hinchcliffe running clear, rounding Hassall and tucking the ball away.
Luton kept fighting hard and managed to put pressure on the visiting defence. A final Luton corner struck the outside of the near post and Fylde were able to celebrate their first final in a national competition. With a number of former WSL players in their ranks, Fylde will provide strong opposition for the Hammers next month.
Luton will rightly be disappointed but can be very proud of going so close; as in the SSE Women's FA Cup at Chichester, they matched higher league opposition with great commitment and good organisation before falling to late goals.
Kezia Hassall, Rachel Kosky, Erica Byron, Jess McKay, Rachel Carter, Amy Summerfield, Nicola Henman, Lisa Nixon, Zara Carroll, Natasha Fensome, Dionne Manning. Subs: Lucy Webster, Funmi Babalola, Joanne Rutherford.
Alex Brooks, Olivia Wild, Olivia Wilkes, Olivia Fuller, Emily Hollinshead, Jenna Carroll, Leah Foster, Laura Merrin, Sophie Charlton, Lauren Davies, Hollie Kelsh. Subs: Becky Abbott, Alys Hinchcliffe, Charlotte Farrell, Rachel Derbyshire, Danielle Young.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Erica Byron slides in to tackle Emily Hollinshead
(middle) Olivia Fuller and Jess McKay in a chase for the ball
(bottom) Alys Hinchcliffe scores the winning goal
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