A goal late into extra time from Melia La sealed the Essex Under 14s Girls Cup for West Ham United, despite last-gasp penalty drama.
La’s fine strike arrived in the final minute of the allotted 20 in extra time, however some six minutes into added time Leigh Ramblers were awarded a penalty which skipper Beth Brogan agonisingly sent just over the crossbar. That proved to be the last kick of the final.
“It was a tense game and it was end-to-end but, if I recall correctly, we hit the post four times, so it was agonising at both ends,” said Hammers Coach Stephen Opoka after the match. “I think even Leigh Ramblers hit the post against us as well.
“It was a tense game and the girls did well to dig deep and show desire to win. We spoke during the break that we were having chances, but to be careful that if we don’t score and the longer we don’t score it gives the other team a chance to get into the game.”
The young Hammers overcame that threat, grabbing a late winner of their own, but it could’ve been different following a late handball in the penalty area, not that Stephen was ever concerned: “I wasn’t worried too much that they were going to score the penalty.”
“I was confident in my ‘keeper that Lilly would’ve made a save if it was on-target. I think the goal was well-deserved. We’d hit a few long-range shots and Melia scored an excellent goal and that’s something she’s been doing week in, week out for us all season.”
It was a good day for West Ham, with their ladies’ First Team also winning the Women’s Premier League Plate, and Stephen was pleased his side could grab a piece of their own glory: “We’ve had a good season, so we said to the girls to make sure we end the season on a high because we started the season well and we’ve continued it. We’ve done that today. We’ve emulated the First Team and it filters right down to the academy.”
Despite remaining goalless for so long, the game certainly wasn’t without action and, with only four minutes on the clock, Deyarni Lionel was through on goal for the Hammers, but Leigh goalkeeper Holly Shaw blocked well.
A similar opening at the other end then saw West Ham stopper Lilly Hadrava save from Marni Harriman before the Hammers hit the post for the first time. La’s low shot was tipped onto the post by Shaw and then Charis Howell’s effort almost bounced in, but it struck the foot of the left-hand upright.
In first-half stoppage time, Ramblers could’ve taken the lead if not for two fine saves from Hadrava to deny Hannah Warner, with the second seeing the ball tipped onto the outside of the post. The woodwork was then busy once more when West Ham struck the post a third time, Nicole Beasley’s lob bouncing wide. At the other end, Ramblers’ Macie Windsor saw her own lob well saved by Hadrava.
West Ham’s Sophia Cocca then pulled an effort inches wide and Lionel got herself through on goal, but then she lobbed her strike just over the top with the last chance of regulation time. Into extra time, Hammers’ La went clean through with just the ‘keeper to beat and watched her shot pushed out to Lionel, who couldn’t quite convert.
West Ham struck the post again through Cocca from long range but, on 90 minutes, they did take the lead when La fired a low, angled shot into the bottom left-hand corner. That goal ultimately won the game, but not until Leigh squandered their penalty opportunity in the sixth minute of added time.
Ramblers had piled on late pressure with three successive corners and it was following the third of those that a handball was spotted in the box, but Brogan couldn’t take her chance as West Ham won a dramatic final.
Leigh Ramblers (Blues): Holly Shaw, Beth Brogan, Morgan Fletcher, Charlotte Rutt, Hannah Warner, Isabella Darby, Marni Harriman, Emily Gibson, Kirandeep Hundal, Macie Windsor, Scarlett Aladetoyinbo-Williams. Substitutes (repeated): Macey Woolcock, Gabriella Rockenbach, Millie Langley, Carman Hollington.
West Ham United: Lilly Hadrava, Deyarni Lionel, Daphne Gavilanes Vaca, Chloe Tambula, Melia La, Francesca Whiting, Sophia Cocca, Chloe Brand, Carlie Dinham, Nicole Beasley, Rhiana Smith. Substitutes (repeated): Grace Collins-Edwards, Charis Howell.
Referee: Xanthe Davis (Braintree).
Assistant Referees: Emilia Dingwell (Southend-on-Sea) and Harriet Kemp (Thurrock).
Fourth Official: Amy Purser (Braintree).