The route to the final for both sides was describe din last week's It's A Sunday Thing blog (March 13 - The Big One) but, in brief, the Final was to be played between the competitions top scorers (Caversham United - 29 goals) and the meanest defence (Penn & Tylers Green - 0 conceded). Neither side had won the competition before so, whatever the result, a new name was going to be etched on the trophy.
Normally I write match blogs from the perspective of a neutral, which is exactly what I am at 99% of games. However, as I have said before, I have had some involvement with Caversham United, both men and women's teams, for a while now so this blog is written from the viewpoint of a supporter.
Penn, playing in the change kit of red and black stripes, took the early initiative in the game signalling their intention right from the off and coming close from a second minute corner. Caversham tried to respond to the initial Penn onslaught. A deflected Holly Swan effort could have dropped in under the bar but Penn's keeper Rebecca Tobin was well positioned to make the save. In all fairness, that was as close as The Goats got to the Penn goal as they were increasingly pushed backwards. The pace of Sasha Smith and Ellie Ludgate-Williams was causing all sorts of problems for the Caversham defence. They couldn't push up too far for fear of the ball over the top, but by sitting back a little, they were inviting pressure. In the tenth minute Penn came very close again but an excellent last ditch effort from Sophie Wicks got the ball off the line.
Penn were first to every ball at this time, with Caversham were really struggling to cope with their attacking strength. Clearly aware of Caversham's goal-scoring record, Penn had decided that keeping the ball in the Goats half was their best form of defence, and it was working.
With a quarter of an hour gone, Penn found a way past the Goats defence. A superb through ball found Ellie Ludgate-Williams who shrugged off a challenge form Katie Dearling before crashing a shot off the underside of the bar, leaving Nina Merritt with no chance at all. 1-0 and no more than Penn deserved.
When the Goats backline did miss a challenge Merritt was always on hand to keep out the Penn strikers. Once again, after 39 minutes, Caversham had their keeper to thank and the Merritt v Smith battle continued. Again Sasha Smith was in on goal but again Merritt pulled off a great stop to keep it out. Penn could easily have been three or four to the good if not for the Caversham keeper.
The introduction of Sumayah Zayadi towards the end of the half gave Caversham a different dimension. The quick feet of the Goats striker certainly gave the Penn defenders something to think about and then, with a couple of minutes to go before the break, Caitlin Levy let fly. The shot was over the bar but it did, at least, remind Penn that they were in a game.
HT Penn & Tylers Green Ladies 1 Caversham United Women 0. No doubt that Goats Coach Georgia Laine will be relieved to get them back into the changing room just the one goal down. Penn were relentless in their pressure for much of the half. Goats need a plan to take the load of Nina Merritt's shoulders.
After 54 minutes it was Penn stopper Rebecca Tobin's turn to demonstrate the art of goalkeeping. Molly McKeever broke through for Caversham but a slightly heavy touch allowed Tobin to dash from her goal and throw herself at the feet of the Caversham striker, smothering the attempt and getting a knock on the head for her troubles. Tremendous bravery from the keeper.
Caversham were starting to make a little more of an impression on the game now but still had to be aware of the threat that Penn posed. Their number 10 turned sharply and shot just over after 56 minutes, just to keep the Goats mind's focussed.
Then came a couple of minutes that completely floored the Goats. With 68 minutes on the clock and the score still 1-0, Sasha Smith burst through the Goats defence and this time Merritt could not perform miracles as the striker finished really well. 2-0
Caversham hardly had time to acclimatise to be 2-0 down when Penn hit them again. Once again it was Sasha Smith, played in beautifully and this time lifting a perfect lob over the onrushing Merritt. 3-0
To be honest, after the third goal went in the game went a little flat. There was still time for Merritt to make a fingertip save to prevent a dipping Henna Hussain shot from going in, but both sides knew the game was up once Penn got their third.
Caversham continued their efforts until the very last seconds but Penn continued to demonstrate how they had got to the final without conceding a single goal.
FT Penn & Tylers Green Ladies 3 Caversham United 0. No lack of effort from the Goats, every player put in a shift. However, on the day, they were well beaten by a very good Penn & Tylers Green team. The Goat's day will come, I've no doubt about that. They are a talented and honest bunch who work hard and deserve success. As for Penn & Tylers Green, they were impressive across the whole pitch. Their path to the Final showed that they could defend but they are also a serious threat going forward. Smith, Hussain and Ludgate-Williams gave the Goats defenders no respite. I suppose this should not have come as too much of a surprise given that Penn are the second highest scorers in the league. Only leaders Badshot Lea have more goals.
While writing the blog it occurred to me that I was mentioning Nina Merritt's name almost every sentence. What that showed was a) the amount of pressure that Penn put on Caversham and b) the superb display of goalkeeping put on by the Caversham stopper (hence the blog title).
If you would like to catch either of these teams back in league action, and I heartily recommend it, they are both away from home this coming Sunday (20th March). Penn & Tylers Green travel to second from bottom Stonesfield Strikers, whilst Caversham look to pick themselves up with a visit to bottom side Mortimer Ladies. Both games are 2pm kick-offs.
Penn & Tyler Green Ladies: Tobin, Gates, Harnby, McRae, Wyncoll, O'Grady, Roberts, Whitaker, Smith, Hussain, Ludgate-Williams. Subs: Harrigan, Penny, Stopforth
Caversham United: Merritt, Dearling, Clarke, Hobson, Wicks, Levy, Jenkins, Butler, Swan, McKeever, Hopkins. Subs: Thoreau, Zayadi, Baxter
Ground Number: Re-visit