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Vital Draw keeps U's Safe at the Top

Krista Hultquist  Monday, March 11, 2002  11:28 GMT

Above:Keeper, Louise Murphy, Player of the Match

U's 1 - Rushden & Diamonds 1

The U's made the long journey this weekend to Nene Park Stadium to face their nearest rivals challenging for the league title, Rushden and Diamonds. Diamonds were sitting third in the league on 29 points with a game in hand while the U's were seven points clear of them in 1st place on 36 points. Second place Cambridge City on 30 points are two games ahead of Rushden and one ahead on the the U's, therefore, at this stage they do not represent a serious challenge to either team, although both the U's and Diamonds must go to play them again.

It was apparent to the assembled crowd that both teams were fired up for what could, in the end, be the league title decider. Atrocious weather conditions saw the teams playing in gale force winds and at times slicing rain. The U's unlucky in the toss started with the wind in their faces and Diamonds didn't hesitate to use their advantage, immediately playing long balls down either flank and whipping in wind assisted crosses. The U's had to dig in faced with the prospect of an entire 45 mins of football in their half and found it extremely difficult to move the ball out. However, using their heads, the U's mustered up a couple of attacks by keeping the ball on the ground and playing around the Diamonds but were unable to create any goal scoring chances. Possession remained almost exclusively with the Diamonds, and they gave the U's a lot of scares with several long range shots. Twice, they crossed the ball to their central striker, and twice she was able to get past two defenders to the ball, forcing two spectacular saves from U's keeper Louise Murphy.

The U's did well to keep the scoreline level, Jane Lofthouse and Karen Dredge clearing a lot of balls, however, a Diamonds corner which went behind the goal was retaken when the referee deemed the ball to have been moving when taken. The second chance saw a curling wind assisted corner blown straight into the back of the net leaving the U's one nil down at half time.

The U's were clearly lifted with the prospect of the wind now working to their advantage and started the second half very brightly, using the strength and skill of midfielders Nicky Bryan and Debbie Aylward, who between them played some lovely balls down either flank to try to release the wingers and create chances. There were several opportunities, Lauren Richardson made some piercing runs to cross the ball into the box, hitting the post once and the keeper fumbling a save on another occasion, however, there were no U's in the box to take advantage of the rebounds. The U's, like Rushden in the first half, were now enjoying a higher percentage of possession, with the Diamonds keeper finding it difficult to even reach the half way line with her kicks. Finally, the U's got their just reward when Louise Gaskin picked up the ball on the wing and laid it back to Krista Hultquist, who put in an accurate first time cross which was expertly met by the head of Cara McCulloch putting the U's on level terms again.

After this goal, the Diamonds proved why they were such worthy opposition and immediately began putting together a string of attacks which the U's defence did their best to soak up, however, such pressure inevitably forces mistakes and this gave keeper, Murphy the opportunity to show everybody just why she is the best keeper in the league. She more than earned her player of the match status, and effectively kept the U's in the game. In at least three one on one situations she came out winner with some very brave saves, a carelessly given free kick saw her tip the ball around the post, an almost unstoppable 18 yrd shot saw her lift the ball over the crossbar and from the resultant corner she again covered her whole goal and dived to tip another scorching shot around the post. This clearly frustrated the opposition with some obvious verbal infighting on the pitch, the U's remained fairly composed and by the full time whistle both teams had given their all on the day, some very upset Diamonds players were reduced to tears at the whistle which clearly demonstrates the significance of today's game to both teams.

Todays Squad: Murphy,Guernari,Dredge,Lofthouse,Crombie,Rowlands,Richardson(sub78mins),Aylward,Bryan,Hultquist,Gaskin(Sub50mins),McCulloch,Jackson,(Subs Not Used) Halls,Trigg,Willis.

The U's are still top, four ahead of Cambridge City with a game in hand, and seven points ahead of Diamonds who have a game in hand on the U's.

They travel to Royston next weekend to play Royston Town who currently lie second from bottom, no less than three points will be satisfactory from this game.

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