After months of waiting the sun finally rose on August 18th. Well, kind of. But regardless of what Mr. Sun was or wasn’t going to do, it was time to get the ball rolling again.
Cheltenham were forced into a late change after new signing, Kerry Bartlett, was ruled out after failing a late fitness test.
Poole started with a similar side to the team that had played Plymouth last weekend. Symes replacing Maidment and Blake replacing Hawkins the only changes, while impressive new signing, Hannah Varney, lead the line.
The first touch belonged to Poole as the new season was finally underway.
The opening minutes were evenly contested with both teams trying to find their rhythm.
It didn’t take long for Cheltenham to settle though, and they soon began to exert their quality on the opposition. The engine of the midfield, Fensome, alongside Kempski and Criddle were able to limit Poole’s possession in key areas, and it wasn’t long before they began to create opportunities for their attacking players as well.
Butterfield looked increasingly menacing down the right, and soon found herself one-on-one with the keeper. With full-back, Symes, trying her best to get back and cover, it was Sam Chrippes who denied Butterfield’s effort with her feet. Great save.
Cheltenham were now forcing Poole to play in their half for large parts of the game. Poole centre-backs, King, and captain, Witherington, doing their best to remain resolute and keep the game level.
With corner after corner, it looked like more of a ‘when not if’ the Robins would score, but further heroics from Chrippes would deny Cheltenham in another one-on-one situation, this time Bevan forcing another fine save from the Poole number one.
Poole’s best outlet was down the left, Blake trying her orchestrate an attack, but repeatedly being denied by Kempski and Dolloway, who combined well to restrict the Dolphins’ offence.
The game had now fallen into a familiar pattern: Cheltenham attack, Poole defend.
With very little in terms of offence, it was Chrippes once again who kept the score level. A dangerous set piece was delivered and met by a Butler header, only for Poole’s formidable shot stopper to somehow get a hand to it. The debutant denied a goal by a remarkable save.
Another good chance fell to the energetic Bevan, this time denied by the woodwork.
Late on Poole pushed forward down the right, Norman doing well to initially hold the ball up, but it was another chance nullified by an efficient, well-organised Cheltenham side.
The Robins would have one final chance of the half, a Dolloway header from a corner, which went just over the crossbar.
Cheltenham kicked-off and once again looked to capitalise on their dominance.
Bevan and Wyatt were locked in a constant battle: Bevan’s tireless running trying to force the breakthrough, Wyatt doing her best to contain her.
Cheltenham were once again looking dangerous from set pieces, and it was Butler once again who found herself on the the receiving end, this time volleying the ball over the bar.
The breakthrough eventually came in the 51st minute. With the box filled with bodies the corner was floated in, somehow managing to evade everyone in the middle, leaving Butterfield to put it back across the face of goal for Butler to score. A deserved lead and a deserved goal for the debutant, who had repeatedly looked dangerous from set pieces.
Poole looked to respond immediately, showing a more postive approach and demonstrating some nice work down the right. Hannah Varney was inches away from capitilising on a throughball before the chance was snuffed out by Panniers, her most notable involvement thus far.
Familiarity returned soon enough with Cheltenham controlling the game and forcing Poole to play in their own half: a left-footed effort from Kempski was held well by the Poole keeper, a brilliant driving run from Fensome, who then looked to play in Bevan, was intercepted by a perfectly timed Marshallsay outstretched leg.
Cheltenham were now relentlessly hunting a second goal.
It would soon come courtesy of a flowing move down the right. A cross field pass would fall to Stewart, who assessed her options and chose to selflessly pull it back to Bevan, who struck the ball into the corner past Chrippes’ outstretched hand.
The game restarted and Cheltenham once again looked to capitalise on their dominance.
It had been an impressive 70 minutes from the home side. The forwards working with their midfielders, so that their defenders and keeper were rarely troubled. It was efficient. It was measured. It was impressive. Poole, a team that has seen a significant turnover in players during the summer, didn’t have an answer for such a cohesive unit, chances created few.
Cheltenham were now seeking a third. Good play down the right from Dolloway and Butterfield causing Poole problems once again. Stewart and Bevan both constant nuisances.
A tame shot gathered easily, another low shot pounced on by the keeper, and then a smart tackle from Wyatt to deny Stewart a shooting opportunity.
Unable to take advantage of a number of corners, it was Poole who had the opportunity to counter, Cheltenham conceding a foul put an end to the attack. Poole were unable to take advantage of the rare opportunity.
Another set piece, then another. The hosts unable to score a third.
Poole had another chance, before the game concluded with a series of half chances: Bevan, Butterfield, Stewart and Dolloway, all having opportunities, though nothing clear cut, for the Robins.
The whistle blew.
Cheltenham: It was a far more dominant, controlled performance than the scoreline suggests. The team worked hard for one another and operated a cohesive unit, it was impressive to witness.
With a number of key players to return, they will pushing for the top-top places in the Division One South West again. It’s anyone’s league, and they proved last season they can beat the best teams, it was just a few slip-ups that hindered further progress.
If I was a Cheltenham fan I would be very optimistic and looking forward to an exciting season.
POTM: Too difficult. A genuinely fantastic team performance.
Poole: A young team, in its infancy in many regards. Having recruited such a large number of players during the summer, it’s naturally going to take time to gel and develop an understanding.
There was talent, though. It’s just perhaps a little hard to judge when they’re playing one of the best teams in the league on the opening day of the season.
POTM: Chrippes. Outstanding display from the Poole keeper. A number of key saves, as well as good technique, kicking and organising her team well from the back.