Essex Ladies qualified for the final of the Southern Counties Cup for the first time as Kim Coster’s side defeated Middlesex 3-2 to top the North Group with three wins out of three.
Victories over the Royal Air Force, the Army and, now, Middlesex completed the clean sweep and paved Essex’s path into the final, which will be played at home against the South Group winners, who are likely to be Kent or Sussex.
This win over competition holders Middlesex was especially pleasing as goals from Zoe Rushen, debutant Robyn Moody and a late Kelly Wealthall penalty earned the win despite Middlesex twice equalising at Aveley FC’s Parkside home.
The first chance of night fell to the visitors. A quick break saw Kasha Petit find Lavana Neufville, who chipped just wide of the far post. Essex then came close when Rushen first dragged a shot just wide before crashing an effort against the bar from 20 yards.
Essex’s Poppy Binding made a good run and found the gloves of Middlesex goalkeeper Kinga Golebiowski with her shot from range. But the deadlock was broken three minutes before the break as Moody’s shot across goal was pushed out by Golebiowski and Rushen was on-hand to tap home.
Rushen then fired just wide from the edge of the area shortly after the re-start but, with 58 minutes played, Middlesex found their first leveller. Ashley Cheatley fired in a low, deflected finish. With Essex looking to edge back ahead, the ball flashed across the face of the Middlesex goal, but Gemma Abela couldn’t quite connect at the far post.
Essex were back in front with 72 minutes played. A mistake from Golebiowski was punished by Moody, who fired an emphatic finish inside the right-hand post. The home side needed just a draw and a point to secure final qualification, but a Middlesex leveller a minute from time would’ve brought some nerves.
Neufville smashed a finish in off the underside of the bar after Petit and Cheatley had both seen shots blocked. However, the top spot was put beyond doubt as Essex won the game two minutes into added time, Wealthall firing home an excellent penalty to seal the 3-2 success following a foul by Golebiowski.
Essex: Alex Baker (Billericay Town), Courtney Lumley (Billericay Town), Lucy Jones (Billericay Town), Hannah Porter (Billericay Town), Abigail Fry (Hutton), Poppy Binding (AFC Basildon), Cerys Adams (AFC Basildon), Holly Turner (AFC Basildon), Courtney Clarke (AFC Basildon), Zoe Rushen (Billericay Town), Robyn Moody (Billericay Town). Substitutes (repeated): Kelly Wealthall (AFC Basildon), Gemma Abela (AFC Basildon), Mollie De Bell (AFC Basildon), Sade Walters (Bowers & Pitsea), Emily Mackler (Leigh Ramblers).
Middlesex: Kinga Golebiowski (Actonians), Sheryce Slater (Enfield Town), Merle Redhead-Ling (Queens Park Rangers), Anya Kinnane (Milton Keynes Dons), Danielle Maloney (University Campus of Football Business), Rachel Keightley (Denham United), Alessandra Barreca (Actonians), Sue Kummaning (Hounslow), Sam Gambin (Enfield Town), Melia D’Santos (Actonians), Lavana Neufville (Ashford Town). Substitutes (repeated): Alissa Down (Ashford Town), Kasha Petit (Queens Park Rangers), Charlotte Baker (Ashford Town), Ashley Cheatley (Ashford Town).
Referee: Samuel Laidler.
Assistant Referees: Lee Markwick and Matthew Bacon.
Photos: Nicky Hayes.