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Thomas Nets Late Winner as Tractor Girls Extend Lead at Top of Table
Sunday, 24th Oct 2021 18:54 by Richard Woodward

Ipswich Town Women sent out a real message of intent in their battle for promotion with Southampton, securing a dogged but deserved 1-0 win against Bridgwater United at the Goldstar Ground via Natasha Thomas’s injury-time header.

The third-placed West Country side were an imposing opponent for the Tractor Girls, representing the first stern test of their table-topping credentials at this level.

Late drama, in similar fashion to their male counterparts, was needed though to secure a deserved victory.

Manager Joe Sheehan made four changes from the side that earned a 3-0 victory over MK Dons a fortnight ago. Olivia Smith was drafted into defence, with Anna Grey and Summer Hughes taking up positions in midfield. Maddie Biggs got the nod up front over Thomas, who was on the bench.

The away side sought to take the game to their hosts from the off – and whilst they had large spells of possession in ITFC territory they never really tested Sarah Quantrill in the Town goal. A sixth-minute palm away from a corner was her first and only real call into action in the first half.

A substitution was required on 11 minutes with Grey going down with a serious injury. Kyra Robertson took her place and went on to put in a really determined performance in midfield.

With Bridgwater continuing to see much of the ball, a lengthy stoppage on 25 minutes presented Sheehan an opportunity to regroup.

Shortly afterwards, Town began to start asserting themselves. An excellent move down the Town right between Bonnie Horwood and Maria Boswell nearly opened up the Robins defence for the first time.

On 42 minutes Paige Peake’s pinpoint long pass found Biggs in space but she could only hit her shot over the bar with the Town forward perhaps having more time to take her chance than expected.

Returning from the interval, the Blues continued where they left off, gaining advantage by trying to get in behind the away side’s midfield.

Despite Bridgwater’s physical advantage, they were struggling to deal with the direct running of Robertson, Zoe Barratt and Abbie Lafayette from deep. Meanwhile Robertson, Eloise King, and Horwood worked exceptionally hard to try and recycle the ball when Bridgwater did venture forward.

After some half chances from set pieces early on in the second period, another direct ball over the top would spring Biggs on 50, but her lob over opposition keeper Beth Howard sadly sailed the wrong side of the cross bar.

The chances for counter-attacking Town were racking up. Biggs was involved again on 57, unselfishly playing in Hughes down the left whose effort flew over the bar.

With his side in the ascendency, a double-change from Sheehan on the hour mark increased the threat to Bridgwater. Tricky winger Lucy O’Brien, who caused so much damage to MK Dons a fortnight ago, was introduced alongside powerful striker Thomas, who immediately sought to make her presence felt against her towering defensive counterparts.

Lafayette’s surging run on 68 drew a foul and taking the free-kick herself, the Town number eight could only find keeper Howard from another curling dead ball.

After another stoppage, Lafayette’s dangerous set pieces again nearly created the opener, but Smith was unable to keep her header down from close in.

Town continued to create presentable opportunities and Peake’s measured passing again was causing Bridgwater issues.

O’Brien collected the long ball and forced her way through into a promising situation down the Town right. Perhaps caught in two minds whether to square to Thomas or go for goal, in the end her shot was too close to keeper Howard.

But Town were not to be denied. As injury time started ticking down, Horwood’s ideal corner found Thomas, fending off Bridgwater’s towering defensive line, to power in a header off the far post and into the net, sending the 395 home supporters into the same levels of delirium experienced at Portman Road on Saturday.

O’Brien again got in behind minutes later to try and make the win more certain, but sadly couldn’t find a finish to match her excellently timed run.

A late tester from range was the first meaningful save the visitors forced out of Town stopper Quantrill and shortly afterwards the game was done.

For Sheehan’s young side this win will be massive and was well-earned against a very difficult opponent just behind the Blues and Southampton in the National League Southern Premier Division table.

With a chill wind in the air in the Blues’ favour second half, the searching passing of Peake and the set pieces of player of the match Lafeyette were a real threat.

Having perhaps been caught out by Bridgwater’s physicality early on, the efforts of Horwood, King and Robertson in midfield were crucial in swinging the momentum towards the home side.

And having watched the men’s side secure all three points at Portman Road with a late winner on Saturday – seated adjacent to visiting Three Lion Brett Johnson in the directors’ box - it was fitting that it was Thomas who scored the winning goal.

Town now have a six-point lead in top spot, albeit with Southampton behind them in second with two games in hand.

Next up is the second half of a Plymouth Argyle-v-Ipswich double header at Home Park with the men’s team next weekend with the odds very much more in favour of the women’s side continuing their winning form.

Town: Quantrill, Boswell, Peake, Smith, Hughes (O’Brien 60), Lafayette, Horwood (c), Barratt, King, Grey (Robertson 13 (Egan 88)), Biggs (Thomas 60). Unused: L Jackson. Att: 395.

Photos: Ross Halls

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dirtydingusmagee added 20:04 - Oct 24
great stuff girls ,keep it up .

DifferentGravy added 20:29 - Oct 24
Yes! Well done ladies. That is a fantastic picture....shows exactly how much it means. COYB

dangerous30 added 05:30 - Oct 25
Well done ladies

BlueandTruesince82 added 09:19 - Oct 25
Go on girls.... steamrolling the league

baldman added 12:05 - Oct 25
Liking these injury time winners keep going ladies

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