An early goal was not enough to keep Preston North End WFC in the running of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup as they were defeated 4-1 by Runcorn Linnets Ladies FC.
The women's team travelled to Cheshire to face Runcorn in the competition's first qualifying round on Sunday; their second competitive outing of 2021/22.
The game got off to a fantastic start for PNEWFC, who were quick to attack Runcorn's goal, as Charlotte Greenwood attacked down the right-hand side, playing a fantastic ball into the box to find Freya Hunt, whose shot was just wide of the post.
An onslaught of PNE shots and corners followed, with Abi Cookson coming close on several occasions.
Cookson’s hard work was soon rewarded moments later with her finding the back of the net just four minutes into the competition.
However, the celebrations were short lived as only two minutes later, Runcorn found the back of the PNE net.
The weather started to come into play as both teams struggled with the slippery surface, affecting both passes and players' stability.
Midway through the first half, PNE goalkeeper Ellie Dewhurst made an important save to deny Runcorn their second of the game. PNE led the way in shots on goal throughout the game, with both Lucy Swift and Cookson coming close to giving PNE their second of the match.
With back-and-forth attacks for both teams, it was only a matter of time before the next goal arrived. Unfortunately, it was Runcorn who capitalised first, as they lofted the ball over Dewhurst in the 35th minute with a strong attack down the left flank.
Just before the half-time whistle, Lilywhites defender Courtney Macpherson’s fierce free-kick was pushed away by the Linnets goalkeeper.
Only two minutes into the second half and the Linnets capitalised on an error at the back to extend their advantage.
There seemed to be no luck on the cards for the Lilywhites, as roughly 15 minutes into the second half, shot-stopper Dewhurst went down with an injury.
Rose Stuttard stepped up to help her team out and played the remainder of the game in between the sticks for the Lilywhites, and she was called into action instantly, making a punching save to send the ball over the bar.
PNE didn’t let the score line affect their play too much, as they continued to apply pressure on the Linnets goal, coming close with a few chances. The best chance fell to Cookson again, with her looping header only inches over the crossbar.
The battle in the middle of the park remained a close one, with neither team willing to step down.
It wasn’t long until Stuttard was called into action once again as she made another vital stop to deny Runcorn their fourth of the game after a misplaced pass out from the back.
But in the 81st minute, Runcorn sealed the game with a final goal, leaving the Lilywhites with a mountain to climb in a short amount of time.
Despite the scoreline, PNE continued to battle, but unfortunately with time running out and the thre-goal deficit hanging over them, the Lilywhites' hopes of progressing into the next round of the FA Cup were over, as Runcorn ran out 4-1 winnerrs.
Reflecting on the game, first team coaches David Rawcliffe and Nigel Greenwood broke down both halves of the game.
Greenwood said: “The first half was definitely in our favor from the very beginning. It was a decent battle by both teams, but we definitely had the upper hand and out shot them, it’s just unfortunate we couldn’t hit the target”.
Greenwood also stated that until their second goal PNE were moving the ball well in the poor conditions but needed to clean up small matters.
Going into the second half, Rawcliffe noted: “We were still in the game and we just needed to come out with the same intensity we started with and try to cut out the silly mistakes that had hindered us.”
Rawcliffe and Greenwood were disappointed with the final outcome, with the scoreline not reflecting the pattern of play in Cheshire.
Rawcliffe continued: “It’s disappointing when you look at the scoreline and see the difference in shots on target between the teams. We need to re group and refocus for next Sunday.
“You could see the look on our players' faces as they exited the pitch, but we can use this towards our next game.”
The Lilywhites return to action on Sunday as they host Hindley Juniors Women in the Lancashire FA Women's Challenge Cup.