Battling Bedford in narrow defeat
Bedford hosted top of the table Hampstead & Westminster in front of bumper crowd at Chester Road, and despite a dogged defensive display, went down by a single goal.
With London 2012 Bronze medallist Emily McGuire and current centralised squad member Sarah Robertson in their ranks, Hampstead have started the season in great form and going into the match they led the table on goal difference having hammered 9 goals past their opponents last week. Bedford went into the fixture with Clare Bilham back in the squad and were looking to be hard to beat. Coach Martin Mason McLeod deployed a new formation and from the first whistle it was clear that the maroons were up for the fight. Bedford pressed and looked to deny forward passes whilst in defence centre backs Rachel Jackson, Elli Priston and Jenna Maclaren marked tightly and put in an abundance of excellent well-timed tackles keen to starve the visiting forwards of clear cut goal scoring opportunities. From set pieces goalkeeper Leanne Sargeant made some sharp stops and was always alert.
Throughout the game, Bedford worked tirelessly in midfield to chase and harry their opponents whilst in possession Bedford remained calm and were able to transfer the ball to wide players Sam Turner and SJ Darrington, who played with excellent dynamism. Going forward the maroons struggled to make the ball stick up front so rarely relieved pressure and this was compounded by the loss of both Maclaren and Emma Pinny to 2-minute green card suspensions however just before half time, Bedford enjoyed their best spell of attacking play. Steph Holyoak was close to deflecting a cross goal-ward whilst Kate Costin was obstructed en-route into the circle with the umpire giving a corner where Beth Noble had a shot repelled by the Hampstead defence.
Into the second half and again Bedford continued their impressive defensive display with all the squad contributing. Claire Higginson and Charlotte Holland pressed with high intensity, whilst MOTM Emma Pinny covered every blade of turf making some incredible challenges and epitomised Bedford’s grit and determination. Mid way through the half, Hampstead eventually broke the deadlock from a deflected set piece which gave Sargant no chance -Annabel Driver with the vital touch. After conceding a goal Bedford tried to respond but it was still the London side with the best of the attacking opportunities with Sargeant using her gloves to palm away twice and having to be sharp to slide down to stop a shot at her near post.
Bedford went in search of a counter attack equaliser as Rebecca Budd and Becky Tarrant tried to force the initiative with their usual vigour making inroads going forward but it wasn’t to be and despite a positive display, proving the newly promoted side can compete with the top sides in the Investec conference, it's Hampstead and Westminster that take the 3 points and remain unbeaten. Next week Bedford face a tricky away visit to third place Wimbledon, looking to cause an upset.