by Adam Tarasewicz
Unfulfilled potential seemed an apt way of describing Cambridge’s start to the season after 5 games. Even that feels a bit harsh as, given the fixture list, results have hardly been dire – nonetheless, I overheard my first “got to win this really” of the season from someone in the stand ahead of Sunday’s visit by Chesham United. In spite of some really positive performances, the U’s sat on just the one win, denied by QPR in their last home league match, and beaten by a strong Gillingham team last weekend in the cup. Chesham, who now boast Taskmaster’s Alex Horne on their board of directors, were a little harder to quantify, due to a quirk of the league, whilst this was United’s sixth game of the season, it was only their third.
The central defensive pairing of Rachel Kosky and Abbie Jackson was a point of levity in the cup loss to Gillingham last weekend and, despite a worrying head injury last week, Bennett joined Davies at fullback. Webb played behind them in goal, Otten, Edgar, and Stojko-Down played central midfield, flanked by Partridge and Fox, then Wiltshire up top. Another influence of the experimentation against Gillingham, United played a more defined 4-2-3-1 this week, allowing Stojko-Down to drive forward backed up by a functional Otten-Edgar double pivot.
Looking to start on the front foot, United spent much of the opening few minutes camped in opposition territory. After just 4 minutes, Wiltshire won a freekick midway inside Chesham’s half. Taking it herself, she hit the bar with a looping freekick, which Gisela Otten nodded home with the keeper on the floor.
Having just fallen behind, Chesham mounted their strongest period of the game. Making the most of an exciting tempo to the game, they had two dangerous chances. First, after a misplaced goal kick, Chesham attackers buzzed around the box, and Webb was called into action, saving well low to her right to make up for her error. Then on a swift counter, their no. 9 pulled a good save out of Webb, it looked for everything like the ball would be tapped in for an equaliser, but a great recovering tackle saved the U’s as the team put their bodies on the line.
Once again, Cambridge’s pressing was working nicely. After the ball was won back from an opposition goal kick, Sarah Wiltshire toyed with the defence and was brought down for a penalty – Partridge stepped up and beat the keeper with a low strike.
Whilst it was harsh on Chesham to be 2-0 down in 22 minutes, United kept their foot to the floor winning a rather soft free kick three minutes later. From roughly the same area, Wiltshire repeated her effort from the fourth minute, instead of hitting the bar though, she lobbed the keeper and made it 3-0.
As the half wound down, Cambridge found a fourth. Alysha Stojko-Down won the ball on the halfway line and played a beautiful pass on the turn to find Wiltshire – she took on her defender and laid it right to Ruth Fox who slotted home across goal. Chesham had threatened but had little answer to Cambridge’s attacking play in the first half. Many times, Cambridge won the ball high up the pitch (surprise surprise often through Sammy Edgar’s terrier-like closing down of the ball carrier) leading to great chances before the opposition defence could organise. Edgar was unlucky not to score herself – at one point driving at the defence and taking on a rare shot herself, stinging the palms of Chesham’s Amber Taylor, and nearly seeing the ball creep over the line if not for the keeper’s timely recovery.
Not content to have taken four minutes to score in the first half, United made it 5-0 just three minutes after the restart. A sweeping counter-attack started and finished by Francesca Partridge who began by collecting a ball played down the left flank and laying it inside to Stojko-Down – she switched wide right to Fox who promptly cut inside and sliced open the defence to find Partridge’s run at the far post, allowing her to slide home.
Continually end-to-end, game-state perhaps caused Cambridge to allow Chesham more time to create chances. Abi Davies had to be on hand to deny the away side an easy finish on the penalty spot after good play down the right-hand side.
Cambridge made it 6 with just under 15 to play. Another ball won high up the pitch, Fox and Wiltshire combined to overwhelm the last defender, and the latter’s classy strike from outside the area flew over the Chesham keeper.
87 minutes in, Cambridge completed their rout. Alysha Stojko-Down found an advancing Rachel Kosky who pulled a strong save out of Chesham’s keeper. Stojko-Down’s persistence was rewarded as she headed home from the penalty spot from the resulting corner.
Mission accomplished for Darren Marjoram’s team, who looked every bit as good as the final score suggested. The positives seen across the early season combined for a truly excellent performance, as well as the alterations from last weekend. Truth be told, there could have been endless highlights. Chesham played a good game and threatened at times with some tidy players. It was certainly not for a lack of quality on their part that Cambridge won by such a score.
Tactically, the change of formation really worked for United as Stojko-Down constantly threatened with the security of Otten and Edgar behind her, she deserved her goal at the end with a second header scored in two weeks. Edgar’s influence was unquestionable yet again as she appeared to be everywhere at once, whilst Wiltshire’s quality shone through and caused the Chesham defence no end of problems – her confidence and sheer shot volume will seemingly always give Cambridge a chance this season.
Partridge was at her most effective this season in a wide role, breaking late into the box as was seen in her second goal, whilst her hold up play allowed for switches to Fox on the right. Kosky’s versatility to play both centre back and wide right wing should also be praised.
Player of the Match: Ruth Fox. Hard to choose among the plethora of goals and frankly ridiculous number of shots taken by Cambridge in this one. However, Fox’s game was quietly among the best on the pitch. Whether searching for space created by overloads on the left-hand side, or combining with right-back Abi Davies, she provided a constant threat. Since I’m going for the more niche choice, Sarah Wiltshire’s two magnificent lobs also deserve plenty of praise too.