UEA Women’s first team footballers battled hard to an unfortunate 4-3 loss at home to Oxford Brookes in their first game of 2019. The teams were evenly matched on paper, both with victories in their last games before the Christmas break, UEA overcoming Warwick 3-0 and Brookes beating Lincoln 2-0.
The hosts came out of the blocks with intent and largely dictated proceedings in the opening phase of the match. They saw their efforts rewarded as they took the lead nine minutes in; Holly Connell persistent with the ball at her feet as she saw off the somewhat meek hassle of the Brookes’ centre-halves. It didn’t take long after that for the Norfolk side to outwit their opponents, learning that their pace was too much for their opponents’ defence. A testament to that, UEA doubled their lead with a quarter of an hour played through a Maddy Pitt strike; a sublime display of perseverance and calmness under pressure exploiting the shapeless Brookes back line. Unfortunately, the second goal would mark the beginning of a tipping in the balance of power in the match. The visitors came alive in response, clawing one back just before the half-hour mark, the shot from a tight angle whipped across goal into the bottom corner. This came a mere two minutes before the equaliser, UEA were caught off guard. The game was on.
The contestants were evenly matched after half time, cancelling each other out at every turn. The first beat of drama came less than five minutes into the second half as UEA saw a shot from the hit the underside of the bar and bounce out of the goal, a shot that the UEA forwards were adamant crossed the line. The referee did not agree and waved away the protests to the dismay of the hosts.
With honours still even, the clouds began to gather over Colney Lane once more; all were in for a chilly afternoon. The Brookes defence seemed radically changed from that of the first half, the centre-backs were positionally disciplined and reacted sharply to any threat that their opponents made at goal, battling for possession and clearing well upfield deep in their half.
With an hour played, Brookes got their noses in front, a calm effort slotted past the keeper for 3-2 and the East Anglian side, once two to the good now faced the daunting prospect of mounting a comeback.
Nevertheless, the hosts continued to push on, a 65th-minute move beat the offside trap but the resulting shot flew high and wide. For the next passage of play, UEA seemed in control but time and again found themselves frustrated by a Brookes defence that was organised and consistent, a far cry from the loose confusion of the first half. A free kick in the attacking third led to a mix up in the UEA penalty area and the ball found its way into the hosts’ net once more; the game looked out of sight with the score 4-2. Or so it seemed.
Drama struck in stoppage time as Hana Adler found herself through on goal. The flag on the far side flickered momentarily but there was no whistle, the Brookes defence halted leaving the UEA forward with a clean sweep into the bottom corner. The old saying ‘play to the whistle’ is never more appropriate than in situations such as these. The hosts sprang to life, there may still be a chance. Roars of ‘get the ball’ echoed from the technical area but UEA would only have time for one more chance, blocked by the defence before the blasts of the whistle came three minutes later.
It had a cup final feeling, this match. UEA searched valiantly for the equaliser, they clawed one back at the death but it wasn’t to be this time. Despite the result, UEA did not lose their famed good attitude. Even when the cause seemed lost, they continued to push for something, never for second consigning themselves to defeat. It was a gutsy performance from a strong side and, given a few minutes of added time, one that could have resulted in some points but now they must now look forward to their next fixtures.