Wycombe Wanderers Women play at Burnham's 1878 Stadium, formerly known as The Gore. For anyone who has followed this blog from the early days, you will know that BotP has been to the ground before and it was not a particularly happy event. in fact, I ended the match blog by stating I would not return to the ground. Not only did my team, Stourbridge play particularly badly and lose 2-0, but on returning to my car in the car park, I found the back window smashed and much of the contents missing. However, that was just over 9 years ago, so maybe it was time to forget the past? Since my visit in December 2013 there hasn't been too much change structurally. However, they do now have a 3G pitch, hence the fact that today's game was on. There is a large car park (I managed to park much closer to the clubhouse this time, which made me feel a little better) and a reasonably large clubhouse, which is accessed from the car park. Access to the ground is through a double turnstile which brings you in at the corner of the playing area. Pretty much the whole of one side of the ground is dominated by the main stand, which is incorporated into the clubhouse building. Opposite this there is also a covered standing area just behind the dugouts. Obviously, being 3G, the pitch was in a very good condition even though the temperature hovering around the 0 degree mark at kick-off and dropped further during the game.
Abingdon were coming into the game sitting pretty at the top of the league and, with a four pint gap, safe in the knowledge that they would be top at Christmas, always a good thing. Having said that, second placed Ascot had a game in hand that could take them to within a point. Just behind Ascot were Bournemouth Sports (in FA Cup action at Cardiff today), only five points adrift and with two games in hand. So, Clearly United could not afford to rest on their laurels. Wycombe started the day second from bottom but four pint ahead of bottom side Winchester Flyers. The problem for Wanderers was that Flyers had four games in hand on them. Consequently, they really did need to get some more points on the board too. The sides only met in the reverse fixture a few weeks ago. Goals from Molly Lygo-Jackson and Lindsay Pinker saw United take all three points with a 2-0 victory. Unfortunately for Wycombe, having home advantage for today's game was probably not an actual advantage. So far this season they had failed to take a single point in four attempts at the 1878 Stadium. Last time out, however, Wanderers had come out on top of a seven goal thriller, beating Oxford City 4-3 at Marsh Lane with Katie Riddington notching a hat-trick. Abingdon, for their part, had not lost, or conceded a goal, since the 2-1 defeat at Eastleigh in early November.
Despite the freezing conditions it didn't take long for Abingdon to warm-up and get into their stride. Within 2 minutes of kick-off they earned a free-kick close to the Wanderers penalty area, way out on the left hand side. Molly Lygo sent in a cross shot that beat Strange but clipped the top of the bar and went out for a goal-kick. A warning to Wycombe. Two minutes later the visitors took the lead after their quick start to the game payed dividends. Beth Hawtin burst through on the right-hand side before sending in a deep diagonal ball towards the far post. Just as it looked as if it may have been slightly overhit, there was Amy Pipe coming in at the far post to nudge the ball home. 0-1.
It was very early to goal a goal behind but Wycombe heads did not drop at all. As was to become the theme of the game, they continued to plug away, trying to get themselves back into the game but unable to keep hold of the ball for any sustained periods. The overall athleticism of the United team was proving to be a difficult barrier to Wycombe. Sure enough, just past the quarter-hour mark, the visitors extended their lead. Once again they won a free-kick out on the left, in a very similar position to the one that hit the bar in the first minute. Once again Molly Lygo stood over it but this time drove it towards the near post where Emily Strange could only help the ball on its way into the net. 0-2
Abingdon were now well in charge and, despite Wycombe's obvious willingness to work hard, it was hard to see where they would find a goal from, let alone two. That could have been worse too. Before we had reached twenty minutes Abingdon could easily have been three up. Charlotte Deeley won the ball dep in her own half, drove forward and then played a superb, defence splitting ball for Amy Pipe to run onto. Her ball across the face of goal was just about scrambled clear before falling back to the winger, but she couldn't make the home team pay.
On the half hour mark Amy Chivers decided to show us her passing skills, producing a delightful through ball for Lygo to run onto, but the midfielder slid her effort just wide. Four minutes Beth Hawtin rattled Strange's bar with a drove from the edge of the box, as Abingdon piled on the pressure.
Wycombe, to give them their due, were still giving it a go, driven on by their excellent captain Kara Howes. On 36 minutes they manufactured their best chance so far when Katie Riddington went on a good run before setting up Sally Grimm. Her shot was well struck but equally matched by Hannah Cox in the United goal. Then, just before the break, United thought they had made it three. Lygo was once again played in on the left. She drove the ball towards the far post where Beth Hawtin was on hand to tap in. Unfortunately for Abingdon the assistant's flag had already gone up.
HT Wycombe Wanderers 0 Abingdon United 2. A quick start from Abingdon who showed why they are top of the league at times. They strung together some very good moves and produced some excellent passes to split the Wycombe defence wide open. Wanderers worked their socks off against a physically bigger team, but could not keep possession long enough to give their defence a breather.
Abingdon were still finding it difficult to make the chances that they seemed to easily create in the first half. They did get one more chance when Strange spilled an effort. It bounced loose but the the keeper was quick to recover and was able to block Lindsay Pinker's Russo-esque backheel. A minute after this, Wycombe substitute
Charlotte Potter, who had looked very lively since her introduction, was played in by Howes but couldn't quite take the opportunity.
FT Wycombe Wanderers 0 Abingdon United 2. A hard-fought victory for Abingdon which sees them remain four points clear after Ascot also won, 6-1 at home to Oxford City. Wycombe remain four points ahead of Winchester who did not play. Having not seen either of these teams play before, I can't really judge them on today's performance alone. However, in my opinion, Abingdon looked like a very good side. Strong, quick, solid at the back and capable of keeping possession for long periods. Wycombe, whilst lacking some of the athletic abilities and ball retention of Abingdon, seemed like a team full of heart. They had willing runners up front all game, worked hard across the pitch and have a captain who leads by example. Special mention for Emily Strange in goal. A few minutes after taking that knock and having the concussion check, she had to race off her line to win a 50/50 race with Abingdon forward Lauren May bearing down on her. She won the ball. That took a fair bit of bravery.
It was extremely cold by the end but an enjoyable watch nevertheless. Not only that, but my car was in one piece this time. Bonus. I'm looking forward to expanding the blog across the league next season.
Wycombe Wanderers: Strange, O'Leary, Howes(c), McCartney, Leach, Andersen, Sword, Paish, Grimm, Attfield, Riddington. Subs: Newberry, Sage, Potter, Webber, Hesketh
Abingdon United: Cox, Deeley, Hawtin, Boxall(c), Chivers, Crawford, Pipe, Chapman, May, Pinker, Lygo. Subs: Hume, Thorne, Suters, Kirby
Ground Number: Re-visit