Braintree Girls (Hornets) 2-4 Leigh Ramblers (Under 18s Girls Cup)

Leigh Ramblers are Essex Under 18s Girls Cup Champions

Braintree Girls (Hornets) 2-4 Leigh Ramblers, Sunday 3rd March 2024, Kick-Off 4:00pm, Aveley FC, Essex Under 18s Girls Cup Final.

Leigh Ramblers Under 18s clinched their first ever Essex Under 18s Girls Cup silverware with a 4-2 victory over Braintree Girls in a thrilling contest, Manager Adam Beckwith claiming many of his squad can progress to “bigger and better things.”

Ramblers moved into a three-goal lead thanks to an own goal and strikes from Ava Killaly and Isabel Beckwith before Braintree pulled one back courtesy of Rhiannon Gray. Leigh’s three-goal lead was restored following Aaliyah Jackman’s strike and the Hornets’ Gray netted again late on, but it was to be of limited consolation.

After watching his club claim the County Cup for the first time, boss Beckwith explained it was a great feeling for his team: “It's a really good achievement for the girls. Most of these girls are Under 16s, so there are a lot of them playing a year up. And they've done really, really well. It was a really hard-fought game today. I’m really proud of them.”

This game was the third of a trio of #GirlsFinalsDay matches at Aveley FC, a festival which has become a regular opener to the Essex County FA’s County Cup Final campaign each year. Ramblers and Braintree are both right at the top of the Essex County Girls' League ‘A’ Division and Braintree had only lost twice so far this season - both times to Leigh - so a competitive encounter was in prospect. The eventual runners-up certainly played their part in an entertaining final.

Braintree, who’d progressed from the only First Round tie to get to the final, had a chance to get off to a flyer when excellent play on the left from Evie Walters saw her go around several red and black shirts before providing for Danielle Ware, whose strike was blocked.

It didn’t take long for Leigh to have a chance of their own on 11 minutes as the skilful Killaly collected the ball on the edge of the box, but she could only direct her strike beyond the wrong side of the post. Only three minutes later, Braintree had Lucy Sherwood to thank as she made her presence known with a superb block to prevent Beckwith’s shot.

The Leigh fans were nearly in raptures on the half-hour mark as Braintree’s defence were nearly ruthlessly exposed. Walters was sent through on goal, but her looping effort narrowly missed the target. A crucial blow came five minutes before half time, when Leigh opened the scoring.

The ball fell into the path of semi-final hat-trick hero Isabel Beckwith. Her driven strike found its way under goalkeeper Evie McPherson, with the recovering defender not able to get back in time as she poked her toe at the ball.

2020 runners-up Leigh were looking to go in at the break with a commanding lead, and they came close to doubling their advantage when a cross from the right fell perfectly for Killaly. She volleyed straight at McPherson, a ‘keeper who’s grown in confidence since joining Braintree this season.

Leigh’s relentless pressure told when they got another goal five minutes into the second period.  Beckwith who, along with team mate Jorja is one of two sets of twins in the squad, provided for the prolific Killaly inside the box. She made no mistake with her brilliant finish, finding the corner with a driven strike.

The floodgates appeared to have opened as Leigh continued to ask most of the questions, and they gave Braintree a mountain to climb thanks to a third goal with 55 minutes on the clock. It was regular scorer Isabel Beckwith who added to the 20+ goals she’s already netted this so far season with the decisive strike. ‘Keeper McPherson was a spectator, and couldn’t stop her shot.

Killaly and Isabel Beckwith regularly get amongst the goals for Ramblers, and they certainly didn't let their coach down on this big occasion. He reacted: “Those two have been scoring goals all season. Ava, as I said in the programme, doesn't score boring goals. It was a nice turn on the edge of the box there to put it away, and Isabel, you can always rely on her to find the back of the net.”

The game seemed to be heading to a clear conclusion, but Braintree were in no mood to cave in. They pulled one back two minutes beyond the hour mark as the ruthless Gray navigated her way past a handful of Leigh players with quick feet before applying an excellent finish to match. It was no surprise she netted, with 26 goals to her name already in 2023/24.

Braintree had shown fighting qualities before from their penalty shootout semi-final victory over Hashtag United, so they still had plenty of life left in them. And, with ten minutes left, Jackman despairingly missed out on a chance to make sure of Ramblers’ victory as she was awarded too much space. Braintree nearly paid for it, but she diverted her effort wide of the mark.

Jackman was eager to make amends for this earlier miss and she did just that, calmly slotting into the top right-hand corner three minutes from time, sailing over the despairing ‘keeper. Jackman is known for taking on defenders, and her manager was impressed with her goal. “She loves to run at defenders. I would be scared if I was on the pitch, but she loves doing that! And the final product was pretty awesome, to be honest.”

League leaders Braintree have been managed by the award-winning Matthew Gray for nearly eight seasons, and the club have plans to return to women’s football next season. They netted a further deserved consolation in the dying moments. Gray completed her brace after she turned in Faith Pryke’s cross, but it proved to be too little, too late as Leigh were crowned winners for 2024.

Beckwith summarised by claiming that the future is bright for his players: “A lot of them can go on to bigger and better things and play at a higher level, hopefully. Quite a few of them will be playing college football next year as part of their 18-plus. I think a lot of them have got a good future.”

Braintree Girls (Hornets): Evie McPherson, Olivia Burchan, Lucy Sherwood, Phoebe Topham, Evie Walters, Rhiannon Gray, Lauren Amory, Faith Pryke, Danielle Ware, Phoebe Underhill, Katelyn Nurse. Substitutes: Chloe Alcock, Lily Ross, Ella Turner, Esther Franklin, Erin Mitson. Manager: Matthew Gray.

Leigh Ramblers: Nicole Santiago, Aimee Gore, Amy McCormick, Ava Killaly, Mia Collins, Jorja Beckwith, Isabel Beckwith, Holly Taylor, Morgan Brown, Sofia Newton, Daisy Hutchings. Substitutes: Amelie Wilder, Jessica Bolton, Aaliyah Jackman, Sasha Newton. Manager: Adam Beckwith.

Referee: Michael Wallace (Colchester).

Assistant Referees: Jason Acott (Barking & Dagenham) and Glen Bowtell (Castle Point).

Fourth Official: Steven Martin (Colchester).

Attendance: 156.

post-match reaction and action photos

Audio and imagery from the big match...

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