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Manager Nick Stagg described Billericay Town lifting the Essex Under 16s Girls Cup as “an amazing achievement” as two Elise Jennings strikes helped them on their way to the silverware in an exciting clash with a talented Canvey Island Under 15s side.
Canvey had built a two-goal lead through Kasey Keen and Natalie Barber, which they maintained until the 49th minute when Town fought back. Scarlett Cofie reduced the arrears prior to Jennings’ double then a late Keen equaliser threatened to earn extra time for Canvey until an Isabelle Doman header clinched the title for Stagg’s squad.
“It’s an amazing achievement,” he reacted. “It really culminates in all the hard work the girls have put in through the season. They’re a great group of girls, always training and with an amazing attitude to the game. They really take on board instruction, and they executed it during the final.”
Despite the one-year age gap on paper, the teams were very well-matched. Town were second in the Essex County Girls’ League ‘A’ Division, with Lee Burns’ Canvey side top of the same level in the age group below, having won all their games in all competitions so far this season.
“Canvey are a really great side and, to get to the final the way they did, against some really tough opposition, we knew we were going to be in for a tough game,” Stagg recalled. “Interestingly, through the season, we’ve had games where we have gone behind but, with the character of the girls, I just had a bit of a belief that they were going to carry on fighting.”
The first game of Essex County FA #GirlsFinalsDay at Aveley FC started with both teams sharing possession and creating several chances, coming close to scoring on various occasions. After about 20 minutes, the tie swung towards Billericay, who created a few more opportunities, but it was Canvey who got the first goal of the game in the 36th minute.
A long ball was played forward, finding Keen, who managed to slot past National Schools Cup-winning goalkeeper, Abbie Harding. Canvey went into half time with a one-goal lead, in a well-contested first half. Then, just two minutes after the interval, they extended their lead with a corner towards the front post which Barber deflected in through a melee of players.
Winners 8-5 against Leigh Ramblers (Blues) in the First Round, Stagg knew Billericay were no strangers to a high-scoring contest: “Were we going to win or not when we’re 2-0 down? Who knows? But I knew they wouldn’t throw the towel in. And that was the case.”
“The two goals that we conceded were really sloppy goals, if you like, but well executed by Canvey. We were still creating chances, even at 2-0 down, so I think we still had belief. At 2-0, for me, the next goal was going to be the deciding goal. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to get it.”
In the 49th minute, Billericay managed to turn the tide of the game as the ball was played from midfield to top scorer Scarlett Cofie, who ran onto it and calmly slotted past Canvey ‘keeper Daisy Murdoch. Just three minutes later, Billericay grabbed a dramatic equaliser. A Jennings corner from the right-hand side beat all players and bounced into the net at the far post.
After a further three minutes, the ball was pinged to Billericay’s Jennings, who controlled and smashed it home, putting her side into a sensational lead with 25 minutes to go. Canvey came close to equalising on 59 minutes, but a great tackle by Lexxie Blythe led to the ball finding Keen again. The scorer of some brilliant and vital goals this season, this time her strike was saved.
However, Keen did eventually draw Canvey level once more, with the potential growing for extra time. The last goal of a frantic match saw Billericay take the lead in the second minute of additional time when a corner found the head of Doman, ultimately claiming a well-fought win. Stagg believed his side showed real character to eventually come out on top.
“For me, it’s all about developing the girls in a way they can move up the levels to ladies’ football,” he summarised. “We play out from the back, we make sure the girls are technically strong so they can handle the ball in tight areas and they have a picture before they receive the ball to try and pass. Through the season, to a girl, they’ve improved no end, and I’m really proud of them.”
Billericay Town: Abbie Harding, Lucy Pitt, Jessica Stagg, Ruby Gillman, Isabelle Doman, Grace Sullivan, Mia Robbins, Chloe Diss, Scarlett Cofie, Elise Jennings, Alexandra Wade. Substitutes (repeated): Lois Goldsworthy, Susannah Dyson, Olivia Mitchell, Hayley Sadler, Maisie Lewis.
Canvey Island Under 15s (Blues): Daisy Murdoch, Sophie Rayner, Stevie Roberts, Andrea Hall-Balina, Charlotte Bishop, Michaela Hardy, Ella Cahill, Natalie Barber, Holly Appleton, Mia Bowers, Sally Houghton. Substitutes (repeated): Lexie Burns, Kasey Keen, Lexxie Blythe, Isobel Cartwright.
Referee: Steven Martin.
Assistant Referees: Michael Kedge and Evie Doherty.
Fourth Official: Garry Simpson.