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Crawley Wasps 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
Crawley Wasps booked an FAWNL League Cup Final place against Blackburn Rovers with a single goal victory over Bolton Wanderers, becoming the first club from Division One to reach the showpiece match since the league's re-organisation.
In dreadful weather, with a gusty wind blowing across the pitch and driving rain, both teams played remarkably good football in an enthralling contest.
Wasps attacked incessantly but were well contained by a resolute Wanderers defence and excellent goalkeeping. The visiting Lancastrians came more and more into the match as an attacking force, especially after falling behind to an unfortunate own goal and Crawley were made to fight hard right to the final whistle.
Playing with the wind and down the slope, Wasps dominated the first half but were unable to get an early breakthrough. Faye Rabson and Megan Stow often threatened in good positions down the wings but it was not until the 25th minute when Stow fired in a dangerous cross from the right that Bolton were in difficulties. From the resulting corner Darcey James went close with a header.
Stow tested Bolton keeper Grace Burke from distance shortly after but generally the visiting defence were well organised, centre backs Danielle Bailey and skipper Hayley Langford both mobile and strong in the tackle.
After the break, Burke made the first of a series of fine saves to deny Rabson as she closed in on goal. The same player again got free on 50 minutes, this time evading the keeper before seeing her shot blocked and Rachel Palmer firing the rebound over.
It was Palmer's free kick delivery which led to the crucial goal on 55 minutes. The near post ball took a deflection off Langford as she went to clear, wrongfooting Burke and the ball trickled over the line, just evading the keeper's attempt to recover.
Bolton's response was immediate and spectacular, Kelly Halligan, who had an outstanding second half, firing a 30-yard effort against the bar. Nicole Johnston got clear down the left and sent in a cross which Halligan turned just wide of Frankie Gibbs' far post just after the hour.
Wasps looked for the second goal with Charlotte Young powering in a low shot which Burke turned away at full stretch. Skipper Naomi Cole was the next to threaten with low shot just wide on 68 minutes.
Bolton had their best spell of the match as the final quarter began, Niamh Stephenson making a vital clearance for Wasps as the visitors pressed.
On 74 minutes, a fine Bolton move ended with Ruby Howard sending a half volley just wide, then the same player was unlucky two minutes later as she poked a loose ball past Gibbs only for Young to race back and clear off the line.
Burke kept the visitors in the match with good saves from Rabson and Stow and Bolton threatened right to the end, Langford having an effort saved by Gibbs and keeper Burke going forward for the resulting corner but to no avail.
Both teams had given their all in a highly competitive encounter in difficult conditions but it was Crawley Wasps who were celebrating at the final whistle after a good match well officiated and contested.
Frankie Gibbs, Niamh Stephenson, Rachel Palmer, Darcey James, Charlotte Young, Naomi Cole, Jenny Drury, Faye Rabson, Megan Stow, Amy Green, Ariana Flieschman. Subs: Abbie Measures, Michelle Ward, Lauren Graves.
Grace Burke, Nicole Johnston, Dannielle Bailey, Hayley Langford, Lily Weston, Nicola Worthington, Kelly Halligan, Caitlin Knowles, Safron Newhouse, Ruby Howard, Rosie Havelin. Sub: Katie Miller.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Niamh Stephenson closes down Safron Newhouse
(middle) Grace Burke comes out to challenge Faye Rabson
(bottom) Kelly Halligan takes on Jenny Drury
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