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Thomas Claims Golden Boot as Tractor Girls Win Final Fixture
Sunday, 5th May 2024 17:13 by Matt Makin

Ipswich Town Women ended their 2023/24 league campaign with a fourth straight win, Natasha Thomas’s first-half goal sealing a 1-0 home victory over 10-woman Billericay Town in front of a bumper crowd at the AGL Arena.

Town manager Joe Sheehan made two changes from the side that had come from behind to beat Cardiff City 4-2 last time out with Laura Hartley replacing Nina Meollo between the sticks and Summer Hughes taking the place of Maisy Barker. Former Town forward Maddie Biggs started for the visitors.

As has been the case for the last few games, Ipswich, in front of 873 fans, started the game on the front foot and fashioned their first chance after only two minutes, Ruby Doe finding Lucy O’Brien on the edge of the box and the midfielder’s shot being well held by Billericay goalkeeper Georgia Jenkins.

Two minutes later, Town were on the attack again, Kyra Robertson playing through Hughes, who then drove from the left-hand side only to shoot straight at Jenkins.

On 12, Leah Mitchell burst forward from the Town half and looked to play in Lenna Gunning-Williams, but her final ball was just out of reach for the on-loan forward.

Shortly after, the Blues had their first corner of the game and striker Thomas was able to connect with Maria Boswell’s low ball, but her overhead kick went over the bar.

In the 18th minute, Town’s pressure paid dividends following a great team goal. Robertson won the ball just inside the Ipswich half and played a slide rule pass to Gunning-Williams on the right, who was able to fizz the ball across the box and find Thomas at the back post to tap in her 25th goal of the season.

Town almost doubled their lead after the restart, O’Brien’s long-range effort tipped over the bar by Jenkins.

After that, the game settled into a rhythm with the home side keeping the ball and dictating the play.

On 35 Gunning-Williams darted in from the right again and shot just over with Billericay then making their first real foray forward only to see Hughes eventually snuff out the threat.

Seven minutes later, Ruby Sealey was able to break through Town’s defensive lines only to shoot wide.

As the first half ended, Town were almost able to replicate their first goal but Mitchell couldn’t quite find Thomas on the back post.

The second half continued much as the first half had ended with Town very much the team on top.

On 49 Gunning-Williams was able to latch on to a long ball and dink the ball into the box for Doe, but the Arsenal youngster’s overhead kick was wide of the goal.

Four minutes later, Sophie Peskett almost broke through the centre of the box but the ball was forced off for a corner, which was taken short to the winger, who curled the ball just wide.

A few minutes later, a neat passage of play from the Blues led to Doe having another attempt on goal, which was again forced out for a corner.

On 61, Thomas thundered the ball off the bottom of the crossbar, but was flagged offside before being able to follow up.

Four minutes later, Evie Williams was able to lace the ball through to Hughes, who forced a corner. The subsequent set piece found Boswell, who shot well over.

In the 67th minute, Town had yet another corner which Thomas headed towards goal, only to see her effort tipped over the bar by Jenkins, who had impressed as the game went on.

Billericay were reduced to 10 players on 73 after Kayleigh Stead received a second yellow card having been booked for a foul earlier in the half. Stead was booked for re-entering the field of play without consent after going off for treatment with the visiting player strenuously claiming that the assistant referee had waved her back on.

A minute later, Town almost doubled her lead, Jenkins again being equal to Town’s effort and holding O’Brien’s shot from distance.

On 78 O’Brien turned creator and played through Thomas, who saw the ball cleared from her toes as she was about to pull the trigger inside the Billericay box.

Town continued to pile on the pressure with Jenkins called into action on multiple occasions to hold dangerous balls into the box. On 87 Thomas went close again, heading over from close range.

Sheehan made a triple substitution with Hughes, Peskett and Doe being replaced by Barker, Issy Bryant and Eloise King. Bryant almost made an immediate impact, picking up a Gunning-Williams ball into the box and seeing her shot deflected out for a corner. Town held the ball for the remaining few minutes before the referee ended the game.

The result sees the Tractor Girls finish their third campaign in the FAWNL Southern Premier Division in fourth place, level on 44 points with Oxford United but with a much superior goal difference.

All-time top scorer Thomas’s 25th goal of the season saw her claim the FAWNL Southern Premier Division Golden Boot and took her overall total with the Blues to 151.

Although the season has not ended as Sheehan and his team would have liked, with league rivals Portsmouth romping to the title with 58 points, there have been some positive signs in this strong end to the season that can be built on over the summer before the team takes another tilt at promotion to the Championship.

Starting XI: Hartley, Mitchell, Boswell, Williams, Hughes (Barker 87), Robertson, O’Brien, Peskett (Bryant 87), Doe (King 87), Gunning-Williams, Thomas. Unused: Meollo. Attendance: 873.

Photo: Ross Halls

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dangerous30 added 20:10 - May 5
Well done ladies

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