By Chris Smith
While there was success at Letchworth for the U23s in the County Cup final, Watford couldn’t make it a Sunday double as the Golden Girls fell to a 4-2 defeat at home to Oxford United Women.
The visitors took a two-goal lead into the break. Both goals came from set-pieces - Emily Allen with the first, and Gemma Sims with the second.
Watford got back into it when Kat Huggins pulled one back early in the second half, but the visitors responded well, as Lauren Haynes ensured they were two goals to the good once more.
An unfortunate own goal then made it four and while Danielle Scanlon gave the Hornets a glimmer of hope late on, the U’s deservedly took the three points.
Armand Kavaja made four changes to the side that beat Loughborough Foxes three weeks previously.
With Weronika Baranowska unavailable, Robyn Levett was handed her debut in goal. Also coming into the side were Huggins, Leanne Bell and Andrea Carid.
With hail coming down, the conditions were far from perfect in the opening stages. Despite this, there was some good play from both sides.
Watford had the first shot of the game in the second minute, as Helen Ward forced Lucy Thomas to make a save early on.
Oxford’s opening attempt saw Allen let fly with a powerful strike that went just off target. The next effort just after the quarter of an hour mark was on target, her clever finish from close range beating Levett.
The Golden Girls’ keeper was called upon to make a decent save at her near post shortly after to keep it at one. At the other end some good defending from Stephanie Mobbs and Sims prevented Watford from finishing a quick counter attack.
While there wasn’t a glut of clear-cut opportunities, there were slight openings for both sides. Alysha Stojko-Down couldn’t keep her shot down after some good work in the build-up, while Haynes headed wide for the visitors.
In a similar vein to Stojko-Down, Ward also showed some lovely footwork to get away from the opposition defender but couldn’t trouble Thomas in the U’s goal.
Oxford were causing problems with their deliveries into the box and were rewarded with a second goal just before the break, as Sims doubled the advantage. It could have been even more but for another good save from Levett to deny Haynes in the final minute of the half.
With 50 minutes on the clock, Watford pulled a goal back. There was maybe a little bit of fortune to it as Huggins’ effort from near the touchline managed to find a way in.
This could have changed the momentum of the game, but to their credit, Oxford responded. It was their captain who got the third, Haynes beating Levett with a fine effort from distance.
The Hornets could have also then responded immediately. Ward was picked out in the box, but her header was deflected just wide.
With the game entering the final 20 minutes, Watford were starting to exert a bit more pressure on the opposition goal. Katie O’Leary’s strike was well saved by Thomas and when the opposition keeper was out of position, Bell couldn’t get a difficult chance on target.
Oxford helped settle any nerves with a fourth in the 78th minute. A ball played across goal wasn’t cleared and Richards, who wasn’t expecting it to reach her at the far post, accidentally put it in her own net.
Only two minutes after coming on as a substitute, Scanlon gave Watford hope of a dramatic comeback as her ball in managed to find the bottom corner.
It wasn’t to be though, as Watford’s recent run was ended by an Oxford outfit that won for a sixth consecutive time. Kavaja’s side will have a chance to respond on March 24, as league leaders Coventry United visit Kings Langley.
GOLDEN GIRLS | Levett, Hallsworth (O’Leary, HT), Edwards, Kettle, Huggins (Richards, 74), Kikomeko, Stojko-Down (Scanlon, 82), Fatuga-Dada, Carid, Bell, Ward ©
Goals | Huggins (50), Scanlon (84)
U’S | Thomas, Baker, Mobbs, Sims, Gane, Fyfe (Bent), Haynes © (Lancaster), Beaver, Allen, Noble, Timms (Williams)
Goals | Allen (16), Sims (43), Haynes (57), Richards OG (78)
Attendance | 70