Billericay Town 2-7 Hashtag United

Hashtag United Secure Women's Cup Title

Billericay Town 2-7 Hashtag United, Thursday 11th April 2024, Dagenham & Redbridge FC, Kick-Off 7:45pm, BBC Essex Women’s Cup Final.

“It’s always good to win a trophy, and to win it is as convincingly as we did tonight, obviously adds a little bit more extra to it,” was the reaction of Hashtag United Manager, Jason Stephens, as his team sealed their second ever BBC Essex Women’s Cup triumph with a resounding 7-2 victory over Billericay Town.

The recently-crowned FA Women’s National League Cup winners flew out of the traps and had a four-goal lead within the first 20 minutes thanks to goals from Wiktoria Fronc, Valentine Pursey, Sammy Rowland and Malika Apindia. Billericay restored some hope of a comeback through Soraya Walsh before Hashtag asserted their dominance again thanks to two second-half goals from Fronc and Grace Gillard from the spot. Ruby Sealey pulled another one back ten minutes from time.

“I’m super pleased,” Stephens reacted. “It’s our second trophy in three weeks, so we’re in a good space. We had the National League Cup win, which was incredible and gave us a great lift. We played Billericay a couple of weeks ago in the league and we edged that one, so to turn it on tonight like we did in the first 20 minutes was everything that we’ve been putting together in training.”

The game didn’t take long to ignite as former Arsenal and West Ham United youngster Fronc put Hashtag in command with a 5th-minute opener. Macey Nicholls played a defence-splitting pass which left Fronc with plenty of time and space to slot home. They made their early pressure count further two minutes later as Pursey had the fancy footwork to match an excellent finish as she weaved past the Billericay defence and converted.

Hashtag effectively put the game beyond doubt with a third on 15 minutes. Prolific forward Rowland collected the ball on the edge of the box before rifling into the corner. Stephens will have been delighted when his side struck their fourth. Fronc’s effort from a tight angle was pushed away by long-serving goalkeeper and captain Alex Baker, but only into the path of the award-winning Apindia, who had the easiest of finishes to tap home.

Jason wasn’t surprised with the quick start: “If you actually look back at our stats, we always start fastest. We just try to prepare them in the right way. We knew that, maybe, we may have a slight advantage on the psychological front with the wins that we’ve had, so we wanted to try and capitalise on that. But they’ve still got to put it on the pitch, and passing, the movement and finishing were brilliant. There were moments of brilliance, and we had four of them in 18 minutes.”

The first half seemed to be heading towards a foregone conclusion until Billericay registered their first goal with 26 minutes on the clock. Sealey, who scored Billericay’s winner in last season’s final, managed to navigate her way past former England youth international goalkeeper Frankie Angel before crossing for Walsh, who buried the ball into the back of the net.

Hashtag should have put the game to bed with a handful of chances at the end of the opening period as former USA college footballer Pursey failed to get a clean connection on the ball and record-breaking Rowland, who had already netted on 21 occasions this term, continued to cause Billericay’s defence problems.

Heading into the second half, the danger signs were still there for James Gibson’s Billericay side as early as the 46th minute when Hashtag asserted their position in the driving seat with a fifth, Fronc calmly slotting into the corner.

And an already uphill task for Billericay got even steeper as there was no hesitation from referee Amy Purser to give a penalty for the ball hitting the hand of a Town defender. Captain Gillard, who’s made over a hundred appearances for Hashtag United, took on the responsibility and led by example as she finished into the bottom corner.

With Hashtag set to seal their second Women’s Cup triumph, they were willing to sit on their resounding five-goal cushion as Billericay struggled to break down a robust defence who had only conceded 15 league goals this season. But Town narrowed the deficit ten minutes from time as substitute Louise Davis, two-time scorer in the semi-finals, threaded the ball through to Sealey with a fine pass before the forward applied a lobbed finish over the top of Angel.

But the scoring wasn’t concluded there, as Hashtag added a seventh four minutes into additional time. Fronc expertly lifted the ball over Baker with a flick with the outside of the foot for her third of the evening. “We’ve seen it coming, and the last goal was the icing on the cake,” Stephens commented. “She tells us she deliberately meant. We believe her - we’ve seen her do it in training - so, absolutely, great effort!”

Billericay were unable to hold onto their Women’s Cup crown as Hashtag capped off an excellent first season in the FA Women’s National League Southern Premier Division with a cup double, and a potential second-placed finish. Stephens praised Billericay, who competed right until the end: “They’re a young team. We’ve lost the final before to Billericay. It’s our turn this year, but going back to them, they stick at it.”

“They’ve got some really good, young players, and they scored a couple of nice goals themselves, so just keep believing, right? Because that’s what we did. Three or four years ago, when Billericay were the superior team, we had all our players. Most of them are still here, they just stuck with it, and they had belief. They’ll come again.”

Billericay Town: Alex Baker (C), Olivia Smith, Maddie Biggs, Leanne Bell, Jánaye Beaufort, Morgan Rogers, Ruby Sealey, Ella Houghton, Soraya Walsh, Ché Thomas, Amber Gaylor. Substitutes: Lucy Jones, Georgie Morton, Nia Evans, Charlotte O’Shea, Louise Davis. Manager: James Gibson.

Hashtag United: Frankie Angel, Sophie Baigent, Grace Gillard (C), Courtney Lumley, Macey Nicholls, Sammy Rowland, Hayley West, Gemma Baker, Malika Apindia, Valentine Pursey, Wiktoria Fronc. Substitutes: Sophie Kelly, Georgia Griffin, Jade Keogh, Esme Lancaster, Kallie Balfour. Manager: Jason Stephens.

Referee: Amy Purser (Braintree).

Assistant Referees: Broghan Kelly (Castle Point) and Lily Priest (Chelmsford).

Fourth Official: Elora Hardstaff (Thurrock).

Attendance: 688.

Photo: Denise Clarke Collins.


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