Following their mid-week derby win over Cambridge City, the U’s returned to St Neots for the visit of QPR. After their opening home game at the Abbey, matchday four was the first to be played at their regular home this season.
United fielded an unchanged line-up from Wednesday. Lauren Webb started in goal, and Griffin and Davies flanked Rouse and Waygood in defence. Edgar sat in front of the backline with Otten and Stojko-Down joining her in midfield. Wiltshire, who scored her first two United goals against City, joined Fox and Partridge in a front three, with a chance to continue her goalscoring momentum.
Cambridge looked to start quickly, and Partridge will have been disappointed not to put them ahead in the third minute as she capitalised on a sliced back pass, only to put the ball over the bar from close-range. Nonetheless, their early pressing proved a danger for the QPR defence, who also struggled to deal with quick forward passing from Cambridge – Fox and Wiltshire both had promising early chances that lacked end-product.
It was such pressing and aggressive running from Fox which won Cambridge a corner a quarter of an hour in. Whist Stojko-Down’s header was pushed away by Katie McLean in the QPR goal, Sammy Edgar was first to pounce and score her first U’s goal.
United continued to apply pressure but just could not find a second. After Wiltshire forced a poor clearance from the goalkeeper, leaving her out of position, Fox tried a shot from distance which could have doubled the lead but narrowly missed the target. Wiltshire herself had the ball in the net later in the first half, only to be foiled by the offside flag – an occurrence which became equally expected and loathed as the game went on.
Meanwhile, QPR created their own chances, establishing themselves as the half went on. Largely advancing down the left-hand side, their attacks led only to a string of corners and, most dangerously, a ball chested down, and put narrowly over Webb’s goal by an onrushing attacker. 1-0 it remained at half time.
Beginning the second half as they finished the first, United pressed well for a period, barely allowing QPR out of their half, but drawing just as many offsides – Partridge, then Fox, joined in on that bit of fun.
The missed chances began to look worrying for United, as QPR continued to look for a way back into the game. Cambridge’s defensive concentration began to run low as the toll of a Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday schedule perhaps crept in. Sammy Edgar continued to be excellent at mopping up danger though – her defensive positioning and energy make her look like a real asset in front of the defence. In an attacking sense, United also suffered a lull – Francesca Partridge had been brought off, replaced by the debuting Harley Simpson, but balls forward looked rushed with no real target, a criticism even befalling Edgar.
Suddenly, the match jumped into gear with fifteen to go. Had McLean not brilliantly saved Wiltshire’s effort, resulting first from good pressing by Otten and Simpson to win the ball in QPR’s half, then a deep cross from Griffin, the game may have been put out of QPR’s reach. So might it, had Fox’s header from the resulting corner not been saved. Moments later, the visitors went from back to front – a ball put over the top was not properly cleared, and this time United’s defensive error was punished to make the score 1-1.
The sudden frantic shift in the game almost gave QPR a second. Luckily for United, a ball cut back from the by-line ran right across the goalmouth, with the QPR no. 17 unable to catch up to poke it over the line.
Down the other end, Wiltshire generated two wonderful late chances for United. First, her free-kick from wide right was so nearly forced home by Fox at the far post – then, having taken the ball down skilfully, she played in substitute Rachel Kosky, whose shot agonisingly fizzed just wide.
Will the initial feeling be one of disappointment? Yes. QPR should not have had the opportunity to get themselves level given the confidence and chances enjoyed by Cambridge in the first half. But are there positives to be taken? Absolutely. United looked the better side for most of the first half, and the beginning of the second, before they appeared to tire. Cambridge’s transition game was full of excitement when they were winning the ball high up in the opponent’s half. When starting from the back, though, the out ball from defence is something to be worked on.
United have scored first in all four of their matches so far but have conceded the next goal in three of them. Hopefully, early spells of dominance can be turned into more goals going forward and that will no doubt be something Darren Marjoram asks from his side.
Player of the match – Sammy Edgar. A relentless presence in defensive midfield who looked switched on even in some of Cambridge’s less-convincing moments. She won the ball repeatedly in the opposing half as well as her own and impressed with her passing range – not to mention chipping in with a goal.