By Chris Smith
Watford FC Ladies went top of the FA WNL South after a sensational second half performance against Gillingham. The Golden Girls came out on top 6-2 at Kings Langley, extending their current winning streak to five games.
There was little sign of what was to come in a first half where neither side created much, though Ellie Manning did convert from the penalty spot to give Gillingham a 1-0 lead at the break.
But, Watford’s response was emphatic. Within six minutes of the restart, the Hornets were ahead and the situation would improve further from there.
There were six different goalscorers for Watford; Kat Huggins, Katie O’Leary, Laura Baker, Katie Akerman, Helen Ward and Leanne Bell. Maddison Farrand managed to get another for the away side, but the second half was all about a terrific Watford display.
Head Coach, Armand Kavaja, made two changes to the team that won 4-2 at Portsmouth last time out.
Anaisa Harney earned herself a start after her two-goal cameo off the bench in that fixture, while Huggins also returned to the side.
Watford were fortunate not to concede in the opening 60 seconds. Sammy Booker had plenty of time in the penalty box but Weronika Baranowska managed to get something on her shot to prevent it from going in.
The visitors were awarded a penalty just after the quarter of an hour mark. Sharna Giordani was brought down and Manning stepped up, placing it into the bottom corner.
Gillingham’s keeper Courtney Shanly dealt well with a dangerous corner delivery and a goalmouth scramble in the Watford penalty box was eventually cleared.
The first clear chance from open play fell to Harney in first-half stoppage-time, but her effort was off target.
While that was it for the first half, this was to be match that epitomised the cliché, ‘a game of two halves.’
Shortly after the interval, a free-kick resulted in the equaliser. Huggins took aim from a wide angle and perfectly found the opposite corner.
With momentum with Watford, it didn’t take long for the game to be turned on its head. A quick counter ended up with Leanne Bell having a shot on goal, her effort was parried away and O’Leary –showing great desire to get to the rebound – was presented with an easy finish.
As half an hour remaining on the clock approached, Watford made it 3-1. With what would be her last touch of the game, Baker beat Shanly with a great strike from the edge of the area.
Akerman, on as her replacement, then got in on the act. It was a fantastic hit from the youngster as she beat Shanly from a good 35-yards and put the Golden Girls in a commanding position.
It looked like a comfortable win was on the cards, but the game was made interesting again when Gillingham pulled one back with ten minutes to go. It was again from the penalty spot, with Farrand taking over the duties and beating Baranowska.
The three-goal advantage was restored in a matter of minutes. Ward went through two defenders and then placed a shot into the bottom right corner, a 7th goal in six matches for the Watford captain.
While it was a tough afternoon for Shanly in goal, the Gillingham keeper did excel on several occasions. She used her feet well to deny both Andrea Carid and Ward.
There was no let up from Armand Kavaja’s side and a sixth rounded off a stunning display. It was Bell who added further gloss to the scoreline, beating her marker in the air and heading home.
It was a remarkable result and one that sent Watford top of the FA WNL South. Their form in front of goal is a big part of it, with the Hornets having already notched up a staggering 20 goals in just six league matches this campaign.
GOLDEN GIRLS | Baranowska, Peck, O’Halloran, Hill, Huggins, Baker (Akerman, ‘60), Scanlon (Hallsworth, ‘66), Bell, Ward, O’Leary, Harney (Carid, ‘46)
Subs not used } Bolland, Afuakwah
Goals | Huggins (‘48), O’Leary (‘51), Baker (‘59), Akerman (‘65), Ward (‘81), Bell (‘83)
GILLS | Shanly, Manning, Ashton-Jones, Monaghan, Waud, Booker, Giordani, Kmita, Huntly, Grant, Bussey.
Subs not used | Farrand, Manktelow, Clark.
Goals | Manning (Pen, ‘19), Farrand (Pen, ‘79)
Attendance | 93