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Hashtag United Manager, Jason Stephens, claimed his side “should be proud” of themselves following a hard-earned BBC Essex Women’s Cup Final victory against Billericay Town.
Sasha Adamson put Hashtag in front and Georgie Morton levelled for Billericay, but Gemma Baker’s strike enabled United to lift the cup. “When securing any silverware, players, coaches, fans and committee members should be proud,” Stephens reacted.
“We have historical success in this competition under previous names and now, under Hashtag, we managed to reclaim the cup back from Billericay. In addition, winning trophies cements and rewards the hard work we have all put in during the season.”
It was a relatively quiet opening 30 minutes of the game, with the first chance coming in the 32nd minute as Hashtag managed to get through on goal, but she was denied by Alex Baker in the Billericay goal. Baker was called back into action a minute later as she saved a long-range effort in what was a very quiet first half.
Stephens felt some alterations would enhance his side’s prospects, explaining: “For the first 20 minutes, Billericay were the strongest side. They pinned us back deep and created a couple of moments, which we defended well. We then placed an extra person in midfield and that enabled us to get a foothold for the remainder of the half, creating several half-openings ourselves.”
Ten minutes into the second half, however, Hashtag took the lead when Adamson’s cross-shot found its way into the far corner. Billericay retaliated with a chance of their own seven minutes later as Amber Gaylor brought a strong save from United’s goalkeeper, Imogen Riches.
Billericay maintained their pressure, Zoe Rushen stinging the gloves of Riches after a long-range shot. And their pressure eventually resulted in a goal in the 74th minute. Morton found a yard in the area and half-volleyed the ball home, levelling the match.
Hashtag replied shortly afterwards with a chance of their own, hitting the post after some brilliant skill by Eva Carvalho. But Hashtag did get back ahead in fine fashion as Baker smashed a long-range effort in off the underside of the crossbar.
Stephens felt his side would be able to preserve this lead: “A quality this team have is that they battle to the end, play for each other and find a way to carve out results. Plus our on-field game management is improving all time, enabling us to close out the final minutes in matches.”
The last chance of the game came from Billericay through Logan O’Shea, who saw her low shot well held by Riches. But it wasn’t enough to salvage the match. “At the break, we changed our midfield formation, which enabled us to gain possession where we took the lead through a well-placed shot by Sasha,” Stephens summarised.
“Billericay have shown fighting qualities all season and we knew they would come back at us, which they did. Their goal brought a change in momentum, fatigue started to kick-in and we needed someone to win the 50-50s in the middle of the park.”
“We tried something new - moving Hayley [West] from left-back to central defensive midfield - and it paid off. She produced a series of strong tackles, one of which led to us breaking down the left where our match-winning goal came from.”
He was also delighted with the occasion as a whole, continuing: “Games between top sides are decided on moments. We took our moments and, ultimately, that was the difference. This club has a tradition with the County Cup, and it's important we continue that trend. But, likewise, winning trophies is a good habit which will help set goals for the following season.”
“The real winner was women’s football. Both clubs are leading examples for the county of Essex in developing women's and girls' football and both should be applauded for what was a quality game, and a showcase for Essex.”
Billericay Town: Alex Baker, Jay Blackie, Edita Dobreva, Danica Dougal, Shannon Drewe, Amber Gaylor, Casey Iron, Ellie Jeffkins, Lucy Jones, Courtney Lumley, Rebecca May, Georgie Morton, Charlotte O’Shea, Logan O’Shea, Sam Pittuck, Maddie Reynolds, Karissa Doo, Zoe Rushen, Ruby Sealey, Kerry Stimson.
Hashtag United: Imogen Riches, Maddie Thomas, Katharine Nutman, Grace Gillard, Hayley West, Sophie Kelly, Gemma Baker, Sasha Adamson, Cerys Adams, Emma Samways, Kelly Wealthall, Malika Apindia, Nikita Whinnett, Amy Leigh Abrehart, Abbey Davies, Eva Carvalho, Kelsey Smith.
Referee: Lee Markwick.
Assistant Referees: Billy Stevens and Graham Pavitt.
Fourth Official: Anthony Abbs.