This was a battle between two teams who sit second in their respective divisions. Orient compete in the Women’s Premier League South East Division One, while Charlton are one step above in the Southern Division.
Manager Chris Brayford made two changes to the side who began their last competitive match against Luton Town on February 4th. Leyre Bastyr returned in place of Kathryn Canavan in defence, meanwhile Connie Montiel-McCann came in for Makesha MacFarlane who dropped to the bench.
It was a sunny afternoon in south-east London with perfect playing conditions for what promised to be a competitive Capital Cup semi-final. Charlton showed early signs of their quality as they passed the ball with confidence. They registered their first shot on goal after just two minutes when Kit Graham’s distant effort crept wide of the mark.
Orient were seeing less of the ball but were pressing the home side while showing strength and physicality in their approach. They had restricted Charlton to long range attempts which failed to trouble Naomi Ogunde in the O’s goal. The hosts dominated possession in the opening stages, however Orient were resolute and tried to establish a passing game when they retained the ball.
Although, Orient’s defence were undone when Charlton broke the deadlock on 13 minutes. Georgia Griffin latched onto a neat through ball before skipping round Ogunde and slotting the ball into the net to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Minutes later, Ogunde came to Orient’s rescue by first pushing away Graham’s low drive before superbly tipping over Griffin’s fierce curling effort. Despite trailing, the O’s did not let this dampen their spirits as Hayley Barton and Lisa Holmback looked to get in behind the Charlton defence.
After working their way back into the match, Orient levelled the score at 1-1 on 21 minutes after a flowing counter attack. Holmback drove through the centre before picking out Barton on the right who squared for Belen Ripoll-Douton to tap beneath Charlton keeper Katie Startup. This was a reward for their persistence and a pleasant sight for the travelling O’s supporters.
Soon after, Orient came close to taking the lead when Barton and Holmback combined once more but the latter dragged her effort wide, before Barton’s effort fizzed over the crossbar. Charlton were trying to maintain their passing game, yet Orient’s high press saw the hosts become careless in possession presenting the O’s with chances to attack.
The home side had a sustained spell of possession to release some pressure but were causing their fans a fright at times when trying to play out from the back. Graham dragged a left-footed shot wide from the edge of the box, while Orient remained organised and looked to get forward at every opportunity.
At the break, Orient were left to reflect on a very positive first 45 minutes of this semi-final. Despite falling behind, they stuck to the task and Ripoll-Douton made no mistake when her chance presented itself. Charlton looked confident in possession with individual quality across the pitch but would have been frustrated to have let Orient back into the game.
The O’s got the second half underway and found themselves in front after just thirty seconds. Holmback, who contributed to the first goal, received the ball and let fly from distance before watching her effort swerve and dip into the net giving the O’s a 2-1 lead.
Quickly, Charlton went in search of a response and clipped the crossbar before Charley Clifford saw her shot bounce just wide of Ogunde’s right-hand post. Conceding early in the half was a shock to the system for the hosts, and Orient needed to maintain their focus to keep them at bay.
On 52 minutes, the O’s could have extended their lead when Holmback showed great tenacity on the right to beat her marker before finding Sophie Le Marchand in the centre whose effort rolled into the arms of Startup. At the opposite end, Charlton substitute Kim Dixson looked to make an immediate impact but scuffed her shot high over the crossbar.
Despite Orient’s best efforts to contain them, Charlton drew level at 2-2 soon after the hour mark. Graham took the ball down on the edge of the penalty area before turning and lashing a shot into the top corner beyond a stranded Ogunde. Moments later, the hosts came close again when Hannah Churchill fired wide after some good link up play with Graham.
Orient made their first change of the afternoon on 68 minutes with goal scorer Ripoll-Douton making way for Sárka Stryhalova in attack. Meanwhile, Charlton were turning on the style and could have taken the lead but for further heroics from Ogunde who bravely denied Clifford from point-blank range. With tiredness creeping in, Orient were on the back foot but were working hard to resist a wave of Charlton pressure.
However, Charlton snatched the decisive goal on 72 minutes when a pin-point aerial ball dropped for Graham who volleyed low into the bottom corner to give the hosts a 3-2 lead. This was a crushing blow for Orient who had given a great account of themselves throughout.
With fifteen minutes remaining, the O’s made their second change which saw the introduction of new signing Kate Bradley who replaced Montiel-McCann in the midfield. Soon after, their final switch saw Egle Trezzi replaced by Rebecca Hirst on 78 minutes.
Orient continued to push Charlton as Stryhalova almost pounced on a back pass but Startup was alert to the danger. A late spell of pressure saw Le Marchand embark on a menacing run down the left side, while Stryhalova’s attempted cross was gathered by Startup before the referee’s whistle confirmed Charlton’s place in the final.
After the game, captain Danielle Griffiths gave her thoughts on Orient’s display: “I’m really proud of the performance. I thought we did really, really well to match them for 90 minutes, to go ahead after being behind and the first half really showed our character. I’m really positive that we can match teams that are eventually going to be in the Super League.”
Next up, Orient are set for a two week break from competitive action before hosting Cambridge United on Sunday March 18th in the Women’s Premier League, with kick-off at 2pm.
Photo by Keith Gillard