Cambridge United WFC welcomed Norwich City to the Abbey to start the 2022-23 season in front of a new record crowd of 648. The two longest serving members of their league also met in one of the two games at the Abbey last season in what ended a solid 1-0 victory for the U’s.
The summer has seen exciting developments for the team. They have a dedicated shirt sponsor for the first time, a new board chaired by Jenny Horsfield, and were given the welcome news of an Emerging Talent Centre Licence meaning a wider talent pool. As for the playing staff, the summer departures include technical winger Laura Mitchell who moves up a division to play for MK Dons. Sammy Edgar arrives from Royston to strengthen defensive midfield while Sarah Wiltshire and Francesca Partridge provide reinforcements in attacking midfield and up front. Wiltshire provides a cultured touch, having scored Yeovil Town’s first ever top-flight goal, also having played for Spurs, Watford, and the Wales national team. Partridge arrives from last season’s fifth-tier champions Northampton Town.
Darren Marjoram called this a tough test prior to the game. Norwich somewhat miraculously avoided relegation last season with a strong closing run of form while the U’s went the other way – losing six of their last seven to finish on the same points tally as their Norfolk opponents.
The result of the match back in February offered little basis to expectations for this game, with Norwich starting on the front foot, trying to get the ball up to tall striker Freya Symonds. Lauren Webb stood firm in the United goal, denying a one-on-one chance to win a goal kick, and dealing with early peppered shots from long range. It took 15 minutes for United to get going – Norwich no. 9 Ellie Smith took every chance to drive at the Cambridge backline, regularly beating one or two players before linking up with the strikers with mixed success.
Once United got a foothold though, Wiltshire began to show her class with vision and attacking movement. After a Norwich chance up one end, a break from the back found her fellow newbie Partridge, whose shot from the edge of the area was caught beautifully and rocketed past the keeper for 1-0 on 18 minutes. After the goal saw United’s best period of the game, upping the tempo they looked first to every ball for a ten-minute stretch. Playing in an initial 4-3-3, Fox, Wiltshire, and Partridge looked a fluid front-line and pressed well – they gave Norwich keeper Bryony Williams no time on the ball and almost caught her out on more than one occasion. Partridge showed more fancy footwork, Cruyff-turning her marker before winning a free kick which Wiltshire put over the bar.
Just as they had got a head of steam however, Norwich broke from the back. A through ball scuffed by defender Grace Waygood only served to flick the ball on to Symonds whose shot was well saved by Webb before Natasha Snelling put the rebound into an empty net in the 32nd minute.
With the score tied, both sides had their chances to go ahead. United almost replied to the equaliser with Alysha Stojko-Down playing through Fox, only for her to shoot wide. Fox was denied again from a corner a few minutes later. Cambridge played a good offside trap, nullifying a lot of the arial attacks from Norwich, but struggled to deal with low-angled balls and good passing moves. The visitors’ best chance came from Symonds, who dwelled too long on the ball after United couldn’t clear their lines – the defence got back in time, but the ball still would have crept in the bottom corner if not for the alertness of Webb.
As a subdued crowd sat back down for the start of the second half, Cambridge threatened with a corner knocked back across the area to Edgar who headed just over from close range. They appeared to be edging the game, playing a more direct style, when Norwich took the lead – a cross from the right turned in by Snelling again on 62 minutes. Cambridge never totally recovered after falling behind, Fox appeared to drop deeper, akin to a wide right role in a 4-4-2, leaving the new signings up top alone and struggling for support when United bypassed midfield. This was typified when the two broke forward, only to see a shot from the edge of the area blocked, and then give away a foul from what started out a promising attack.
Norwich added a third on 78 minutes, Ellie Smith won the ball with a hint of a foul on right back Abbi Griffin. Another one of her driving runs saw her weave into the area, forcing a save from Webb but following up on the rebound as the United defenders were slow to react. Smith looked a real handful – a Norwich academy graduate, she learnt her trade in the US college system before returning home a couple of years ago.
United began to struggle with Norwich’s persistence as the game wore on – they started giving the ball away in dangerous areas which contrasted their first half performance. Stojko-Down, playing an 8 role in the starting 4-3-3, struggled to influence the game as she evidently can – she showed flashes of her quality as she unleashed Partridge, who was tackled as she went to shoot.
To finish off the game, the previously successful offside trap failed to deal with a long ball; substitute Albany Hodgson brought down her player and gave Norwich a penalty on 89 minutes. Looking for a hattrick, Snelling went down the middle and made it 4-1. As the game fizzled out, Edgar received a yellow card for a foul in the centre circle which had been coming – she looked increasingly frustrated as the afternoon went on.
A tough loss that ended harshly for United. In the first half they played some very nice football with combination play down both sides – two of the front three would often combine with an attacking full back, particularly left back Ella Marden before she picked up a knock and had to come off. After they went behind though, Cambridge were unable to compete with the height of Norwich in both boxes. Luckily, they are unlikely to come up against many attacking forces so tall! Towards the end, Cambridge were frustrated and resorted to long range shots. Promising signs, and a result which flattered Norwich, but Darren Marjoram will be hoping for more next week against newly promoted Ashford Town.
Player of the Match: Francesca Partridge. As the game went on, it became the Partridge
and Wiltshire show for United. For an excellent debut goal (with added badge kiss) it has to
be the former who wins this.
You can find out more about CUWFC on their Twitter Page, and they’ll be back at the Abbey again soon.