A cold and wet Sunday afternoon saw Preston North End Women’s FC take a point from unbeaten league leaders Blackburn Community Sports Club Ladies FC in a thrilling Halloween fixture.
Blackburn got off to a quick start, opening the scoring within the two minutes, with a 20-yard shot from their No.10, Becca McGrath, firing into the roof of the net and over goalkeeper Olivia Neal’s outstretched fingertips.
Despite going a goal down, the Lilywhites regained their composure and swiftly found their footing soon after. The majority of the first half was a battle of the midfielders with Olivia Hooper, Olivia Askam and Katie Woodhead holding off BCSC’s attempts to get in behind.
Courtney Woodhead had the first real chance for her side to get on the scoresheet in the 12th-minute, but her shot went wide the target. Hooper had another opportunity moments later with a quickly released shot from 25 yards out finding the wrong side of the side netting.
It looked like the Lilywhites were the stronger team despite being a goal down as they continued to find ways in behind BCSC’s back four they just couldn’t convert those final chances in front of the goal. Meanwhile, Olivia Neal made a fantastic save getting down quickly to deny BCSC their second goal of the game.
The Lilywhites did equalise after 37 minutes, with some fantastic link-up play down the left-hand side as Hooper and Abi Cookson combined before finding right winger Lucy Swift, who rifled a hard-and-low shot off the ground to beat the goalkeeper to the bottom right corner.
The last ten minutes of the first half saw the Lilywhites in possession and creating more chances, with Hooper, Askam and substitute Rachelle Smith all coming close without being able to convert.
The midfield battle saw no clear chances created in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
But halfway through the second half, Askam countered after a BCSC corner, carrying it past three players down the left flank, but she couldn’t pick out Smith in space on the opposite side with her cross-field pass.
Courtney Macpherson had a chance from a corner and her strike looked to be heading towards the top corner, but it didn’t quite drop in time and narrowly ended up over the crossbar.
Blackburn weren’t without their chances and came incredibly close to getting their second with five minutes to go, after a mistake in the box opened up the goal, but defender Megan Mercer made a last-ditch effort to clear the ball off the line to keep the game locked in at 1-1.
There was a battle of set pieces in the closing minutes as Hooper of PNE shot over the bar from a 30-yard free-kick, before left-footed Beth Wilson curled a 20-yard effort up and over the wall, forcing a brilliant save from the Blackburn ‘keeper to deny her the match-winner.
The final chance of the game fell to Blackburn right on the edge of North End’s box, but thankfully for North End the shot went wide of the left-hand post to ensure the contest ended level.
Speaking to PNE.Com after thee game, first team coach Nigel Greenwood said: “It was an incredible performance from everyone; myself, David, and Andy are extremely proud of how we have come up against one of, if not, the best teams in the league and come away with a point.
“I think we could have come away with all three points because I feel we were the better team for a strong percentage of the game.”
Despite wondering whether his side might have come away with more, Nigel felt the draw was a fair result for both sides.
“In the end I think it’s a fair result and either team could have stolen the game right at the end with those last two free-kicks in particular. Their keeper made a fantastic save for her side and we can’t fault the effort put in by everyone.”
Nigel hopes picking up a point against the league leaders will show the rest of teams in their division that they are ready to pose a challenge for any side.
“I think this sends a statement out to the rest of the league that we are here and are up for any challenge. We just need to keep going week in, week out and put in the work at training and the results will keep being in our favour.
“It all starts with training, keeping our fitness levels up, getting the younger players some more playing time and experience, and importantly, converting all the chances we create during the game.”
The women’s team are next in action on Sunday when they will travel north to face Penrith in the North West Women’s Regional League Division One North.