NFA 2 (Jones 41, A Mills 73)
Mountain Rangers 1 (Bowe 37)
North Wales Women’s Football League Division Two – October 13, 2019
Just five weeks ago NFA were beaten 9-0 at home in their first-ever competitive game at the hands of mighty Amlwch Town.
The Rhyl-based side had not played together much before and it showed.
A few good players, some beginners, others very rusty and thus the sort of result which could probably have been expected.
Fast forward just 35 days and a very similar-looking NFA team hosts a Mountain Rangers side leading the table following wins of 5-3, 9-0 and 14-1.
The Rhosgadfan visitors began as strong favourites to take the three points, but at the end of 90 minutes NFA had produced a fantastic performance which delivered a fully-deserved 2-1 victory.
Since that loss to Amlwch, Andy Lloyd and Rebekah Hansen’s side had won 7-1 away to an inexperienced Caernarfon Town, lost 5-2 at Bethel in the NEWFA Cup and gone down 4-3 in a thriller at Pwllheli.
Signs of improvement, but no real indicator that they were to achieve one of the surprise results of the 2019-20 season so far today.
Yet the NFA which beat Mountain Rangers this afternoon was a team transformed.
Strong, confident, defensively magnificent and dominating the second half so clearly that they were worthy of a far larger win than 2-1.
As joint-manager Andy Lloyd said after the game: “It’s all been about practicing together; having the time to work on things. It’s made all the difference.”
On a rainy afternoon at Rhyl High School’s new pitch, Rangers threatened first when top scorer Katie Bowe’s free kick forced NFA keeper Yasmin Mills into a magnificent fingertip save.
Then the home team sprang to life.
Great passing and movement put first Rachel Lloyd and then Alicia Stretton through, but their shots lacked the power to trouble keeper Sara Lacey.
Becky Bannister hammered a fine effort just over the bar, then Emily Jones tricked her way into the box before drilling the ball across the face of goal.
The Lamas looked set to score when Bowe released Lisa Thomas in on goal, but her powerful strike hit the top of the bar.
Then on 37 minutes the deadlock was broken. Rangers were awarded a free kick 35 yards out from goal for handball and Bowe blasted a trademark free kick beyond the reach of Mills and into the top of the net for her 10th goal of the season.
NFA refused to be rattled and levelled the scores in the 41st minute.
Emily Jones received the ball around 35 yards out, saw the keeper slightly off her line and sent a beautifully judged right foot shot over Lacey and into the net.
It had been a fairly even first half, featuring the (as far as I am aware) rare appearance of a blue match-ball to replace the main one kicked over the fence into a growth-covered stream running alongside the pitch. Will it ever be found?
NFA began the second half in determined fashion, Amy Webster twice denied by good stops from Lacey, while at the other end Mills went down well to foil Thomas at her near post.
Webster was much more prominent in an attacking position in this half, and again Lacey kept out her low shot before the winner arrived on 73 minutes.
Former Rhyl player Ashleigh Mills, who on the day after her 21st birthday had looked tidy and menacing down the left since coming on as a substitute, hit a magnificent shot from 30 yards which Lacey was unable to save.
Rather than sit on their lead, NFA pushed for more goals, but their shooting was too central, Webster and Bannister both allowing Lacey to boot away their attempts.
Rangers offered very little in return, largely anonymous as an attacking force in this half.
Six minutes of added time were played, but NFA were never troubled, in fact it was the hosts who finished the game on the attack.
This was by far NFA’s best result and they deserve huge credit as a team for what they achieved.
I’ve written quite a lot about Mountain Rangers this season, and I am sure I will be writing a lot more about their successes, but on this day I’m concentrating my assessment more on the home side, who really stepped up to the plate today.
NFA team assessment
Yasmin Mills: Facing probably the best striker of a ball in the league, Yasmin was beaten just once and was decisive in everything she did. Her shot stopping, catching and kicks out were first class. She was named player of the match by the opposition.
Chloe Evans: Never stopped working, putting in some great tackles and in the second half was joining in attacks as well and firing for goal.
Sammie Jo Hyland: One of five girls in today’s NFA squad which featured in Prestatyn Girls’ 2014/15 Welsh Cup winning side. She was a little rusty on debut against Amlwch on her competitive return to the game, but today she was a different player, class on the ball and assured in defence.
Llinos Hughes: Player of the match for me. Such composure on the ball, so calm at the back, remarkable maturity for a teenager. One to watch.
Abi Bradley: Sharp and focused, always decisive in defence. Another player who really came to the fore when needed.
Jessica Mills: Put in a great stint, using the ball well when required and showing no fear against testing opposition.
Rachel Lloyd: Tremendous work all over the pitch, whether she was helping out the defence or operating in attack. Fitness and quality ball play shone through as usual.
Rebecca Bannister: Class personified in the midfield, winning lots of tackles and distributing the ball brilliantly to the forwards. Always happy to shoot at goal and went close on a few occasions.
Emily Jones: Scored a fantastic goal and was really on her game today; sharp, determined and lovely skills at times, often leaving defenders standing with her direct runs. I think this is what Syd Barrett meant when he sang See Emily Play.
Amy Webster: More of an attacking force in the second half and deserved a goal or two. Once or twice, a shot either side of the keeper would have produced a goal. Held the ball up well and inter-linked smartly with her fellow attackers.
Alicia Stretton: She only needs one goal and she’ll surely get a bucketful. Had lots of chances but often shot too straight. Her control is beautiful to watch and her passing is exceptional. Gets into all the right positions, just needs to add a few goals to her game and she’ll be a massive success in this league.
Ashleigh Mills: Never seen Ash have a bad game. Always so assured on the ball, she is constantly looking to forge openings or test the keeper. No surprise that the winner came from her deadly left foot. Ash celebrated her 21st birthday yesterday. Today was a pretty good day for the whole Mills family!
Azaria Warburton, Libby McClelland, Dominique Marshall, Stephanie Hewitt.
Sara Lacey, Kim Broadbent, Efa Jones, Heledd Evans, Siwan Williams, Sara Williams (c), Nerrisa Owen, Lisa Thomas, Danielle Barnfield, Katie Bowe, Gweno Hughes. Subs: Malan Hughes, Sioned Jones, Natalie Williams.