AFC Henley Hunters U12 Girls won their first major silverware last weekend beating Laurel Park Starz 3-0 to win the match, and in the process securing the Berkshire County Division 4 title. The win was the crowning moment in an epic title run which included close recent victories against local rivals Rotherfield Utd and fellow title contenders Tilehurst Panthers Belles.
Knowing that only a win would be enough to win the league the Hunters started nervously, and it was the Starz who sparkled first testing the Henley defence with some direct play from back to front as they attempted to poach a lead. Henley were grateful for the defensive excellence of their gamekeepers Isla Walsh-Smith and Ameila Joao who kept the preying Laurel Park forwards at bay during a frenetic first 10 minutes.
Having weathered the early storm, mercurial winger Izzy Coleman started to ambush the Laurel Park defence with mazy dribbles and dangerous crosses. It was Coleman who went closest to taking the first scalp of the day with a wicked cross-shot which went just inches wide of the post. As the Hunters grew in confidence, Coleman set midfield dynamo Ava Douglas bursting through the Laurel Park defensive trap to smash home into the top corner, sending the home fans into raptures of relief.
Determined not to let the lead slip, the Hunters regained their composure before half time driven forward by dominant displays from Evie Outram and Eliza Browne who hounded the Starz players until the interval in their trademark combative yet composed style of play.
Both teams started the second half angling for the win and it was only through the exceptional technical nous of player of the match Freya Weatherston, dropping deeper than her more accustomed central midfield role, that the Starz attackers remained extinguished. Martha Barron and Henley’s Most Improved Player of the Year Romy Draper formed part of a tenacious terrier-like Henley attack seeking to bag another goal to take the game away from the opposition.
It was midway through the half when the decisive second goal was scored. Ava Douglas had been stalking the opposition defence since her first predatory strike, and it was the Hunters Top Goalscorer who lifted the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 and finally begin to settle Henley nerves. Players Player of the Year Ava Turner went in pursuit of a third knockout goal and her silky skills and pacy approach almost paid dividends, luring the Starz defence into a succession of desperate tackles.
Parents Player of the Year Abigail Palmer had already been at her dependable best all morning, ensnaring any Laurel Park players who roamed forward as well as wading into attack to catch the opposition off guard. Following a Laurel Park clearance to the edge of the area, Palmer pounced to make sure the chance landed in her keepnet, executing a beautiful lobbed finish to make it 3-0.
The ever ready Sophie Moulds entered the fray and tracked the Starz attackers into submission, winning the ball back on numerous vital occasions to see out the win. ‘Fox in the box’ Eva-Rose Stammers went close after sniffing out a chance near the end, almost getting on the end of a loose ball in the box to finish the game off.
Eloise Askin had been a colossus in goal all game showing top class ball handling skills and intelligent distribution. The Starz made one final searing hot attack on the Hunters goal in the last minute of the game, sending a spear like finish hurtling towards the top corner. Askin simply flicked the ball over the bar with a reflex action in keeping with her growing reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the Division.
The 3-0 win meant that the Hunters won the league following an excellent campaign during which they won an impressive 17 of 20 games, with 3 losses and 0 draws. Managers Weatherston and Turner said they were delighted with the league win but most proud of the character, attitude and enjoyment that the girls had shown throughout what has been a long, successful and ultimately unforgettable season!