Oxford 2 Argyle Ladies 1
THIS was just one of those days for Argyle Ladies, who suffered a catalogue of injuries before the match and more during the game to end a frustrating week after also losing narrowly to Watford in the previous game.
Argyle suffered a huge blow before the match when it was revealed that Welsh international Helen Bleazard and tireless midfielder Becky Dandridge pulled out of the game having not recovered from injuries.
To make matters worse, experienced central defender Bow Jackson was injured in the warm up. This meant a complete rethink for manager Dave Leonard, who had to re shuffle the pack and it almost worked as only a late, late goal robbed them of a deserved point.
Argyle started with Katie Middleton in goal, with a back four of Leah Burridge, Lydia Huntley, Ebony Dover and Mollie Taylor, with Steph Beck in front and Jessie Jones and Kayley Lane in midfield. Amber Pollock and Zoe Cunningham started out wide with Natasha Knapman up front. Faye Ivall and Beth Everson were on the bench.
It was no surprise that Argyle needed time to settle into the new formation, as Oxford started the game pressing high and after two minutes Emily Allen failed to get on to a Daisey McLachlan cross. The Pilgrims responded through Amber Pollock setting up Kayley Lane who shot wide. It was then Oxford’s turn when a good run by McLachlan ended with Middleton making a good save.
The game was becoming very much a slugfest with the referee awarding a number of fouls. Kayleigh Hines then played a through ball to McLachlan but Middleton came out of her goal smartly to get to the ball first. Argyle replied when a short-corner routine ended with the ball being whipped across to Knapman, who was beaten in the air by a defender.
Argyle had a let-off when Georgia Timms went down in the penalty area but the referee ignored the Oxford protests. Lauren Haynes then shot over the Argyle crossbar. The Greens had now settled into the game and a quick Zoe Cunningham break resulted in a weak Jessie Jones shot.
Argyle were eventually rewarded when, in the 41st minute, a great attack resulted in Knapman getting on the end of the ball in a crowded penalty area and with a sublime touch fired her team in to the lead. All Argyle had to do was see out the first half but, after Middleton saved from Timms and almost on the half time whistle, Oxford drew level when Timms managed to poke the rebound past Middleton into the net.
The game continued to be physical with the limping Amber Pollock having to be replaced by Faye Ivall. Watson and Knapman once again received treatment after another clash. Argyle kept pushing forward and Oxford defender Cat Beaver had to be alert to give away a corner.
Argyle troubles increased with Jessie Jones going off injured – fortunately she was able to resume. Oxford then had Allen's shot well saved by Middleton, while Argyle kept pushing for the winner but numerous crosses into the penalty area came to nothing.
With nine minutes remaining, Argyle almost snatched a winner but Gemma Sim's outstretched foot from a great cross denied Knapman what looked like a simple tap-in. With five minutes remaining Argyle brought on Beth Everson for Steph Beck.
Late heartbreak came after Cunningham had been sin-binned and Oxford were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Kayleigh Hines had the whole of the goal to aim at, which she did when firing into the top corner of the net. Undaunted, Argyle pushed for an equaliser but even Middleton coming up for a corner produced nothing as Oxford held on for the three points.
A dejected Argyle manager Dave Leonard said: “We are in a bit of a rut with bad injuries to Becky Dandridge and Helen Bleazard and we were just a little hungover from last week as well.
“Ill discipline and decisions cost us the game. Oxford are a good team and organised but we didn't perform. To be honest, I would have taken a point with the players we had available and what we went through but I have learnt more in these last two weeks about this team than I have in the last twelve.
“You get to know characters, you get to know people. We’ve got a couple of weeks off now where the girls will continue training. We can recover from the injuries, although my main concern is Amber Pollock who suffered a bad knee injury but we will see over the Christmas period before we travel away again in the New Year.”
Argyle squad: Katie Middleton, Lydia Huntley, Mollie Taylor, Leah Burridge, Ebony Dover, Jessie Jones, Kayley Lane, Zoe Cunningham, Amber Pollock, Natasha Knapman, Faye Ivall, Steph Beck. Bethany Everson.