The last game of 2019 for Watford FC Ladies saw them travel away to one of their title rivals, Plymouth Argyle, who were hosting the game at Home Park to test out the new Mayflower Grandstand for the first time.
The game itself was a whirlwind, much like the weather. A hailstorm threatened to interrupt the warm-up, but by the time the two teams took to the field, the sun had come out just in time for kick-off.
The hosts started the game as expected – fast and confident. They almost went ahead inside the first minute as a mix-up at the back allowed Zoe Cunningham the opportunity from just inside the area. Thankfully for Watford, she missed the target and hit it high and wide.
The reprieve didn’t last long, however, and when Plymouth were awarded a free-kick in the 21st minute, set-piece specialist Helen Bleazard stepped up and hit a drive into the roof of the net much to the 800-strong, home crowd’s delight.
Just two minutes later, the Plymouth number two made it two! The ball fell to Bow Jackson quite a way out and she hit a good, low drive that found the bottom corner of Nina Wilson’s net.
Watford were up against it but this team never knows when it’s beaten and they knew a quick response was needed and that’s exactly what they did. In the 26th minute, Ryah Vyse and Adekite Fatuga-Dada did well to win the ball back in the corner, the ball came to Helen Ward who played it across the edge of the box to wing-back Ocean Rolandsen. She took a touch and slammed the ball home to halve the deficit.
Three minutes later and the scores were all level. Kat Huggins took a corner from the right-hand side which found Ward. The captain got a run on her marker and volleyed home the fourth goal of a breathless first half an hour.
Unbelievably, there was still time for more as the game headed towards half-time.
Again, it was Plymouth who took the lead after 39 minutes. It was another goal from outside the area as Cunningham made up for her earlier effort to give them a 3-2 lead.
Not to be outdone, in the 43rd minute, Watford capitalised once again from a corner. The delivery was from Fatuga-Dada on the left-hand side and Emma Beckett, who was outstanding throughout, rose highest to head the ball home.
3-3 at half-time and all to play for in the second half.
It took just six minutes of the second period for the first goal to arrive. Some good buildup play saw Rolandsen out on the left-wing. After holding the ball up well, she drew a foul and Watford had a free-kick in a promising position. Up stepped Beckett to whip the ball into the top corner. No-one was expecting a shot at goal from that angle or distance, but as we all know, Beckett likes to do the unpredictable. It was a stunning goal and Watford led for the first time in the game.
Ten minutes later, and, you guessed it, another goal and an equaliser for Plymouth. Becky Dandridge was afforded too much space on the edge of the Watford penalty area and fired a shot into the back of the net to make it an incredible 4-4 with almost half an hour still to go.
To add to the drama, Watford temporarily went down to 10 players in the 70th minute as Vyse was sent to the sin bin for dissent and would spend the next 10 minutes watching her team-mates dig in and try to halt the green tide that was gathering some pace.
A shuffle in shape was needed and to the players’ credit, they dug deep and threw everything at it, winning headers, blocking shots and keeping the ball out of the danger area.
In fact, they dug so deep that in the 76th minute, still down to 10, Andrea Carid scored the goal of the game. Some patient build-up play ended with Fatuga-Dada whipping a brilliant cross to the back-post where Carid, who was now being deployed as a left wing-back, flew through the air and scored one of the best diving headers you’ll ever see. The ball arrowed over the goalkeeper and into the far, top corner.
It was a goal fit to win any game and that is exactly what it did.
Vyse came back on for the final 10 minutes and Watford managed it perfectly. They worked as a unit, relieved pressure when they needed to and won the ball back time and time again.
GOLDEN GIRLS: Wilson (GK), Vyse, Huggins, Hill, Rolandsen, Ward (c), Fatuga-Dada, Beckett, Carid, Chandler, Kikomeko.