Well, that was tense!
As City’s men bounced back from last weekend’s capitulation to Plymouth with a mature performance and win against Birmingham in front of the Carrow Road faithful, eyes turned to see if the women could match their result and continue their winning run, this time in the first round of the Women’s National League Cup.
As we should all know by now, Norwich City Women win football matches – although south-coast opponents AFC Bournemouth perhaps made City work harder than they have done all season.
Bournemouth are having an almost identical season to the Canaries. The Cherries currently sit top of the Women’s National League South West – the same level as Norwich within the pyramid – and have taken maximum points from five league games so far this term, currently sitting two points ahead of Keynsham Town.
The beauty of this fixture was that it would clearly highlight the levels at which Martin Herdman’s team is currently performing, facing opposition technically in the same position as them within the pyramid.
You couldn’t get more evenly tied.
Realistically, Norwich knew that they weren’t going to race into early leads as we have seen in the last two games. A composed first half saw City have the better of the chances but couldn’t find the opener and headed back to the dressing room at Bournemouth’s Ringwood Community Hub locked in a goalless stalemate.
Just before the interval however, City were forced into an early change, as an injury for Liv Cook ended her afternoon early, much to the disappointment of the travelling Yellow Army who hoped she could add to her tally after netting the fifth goal in last week’s demolition of Actonians.
She was replaced by Rachel Lawrence, the hat-trick hero from a fortnight ago with a point to prove after failing to register a goal in London.
The fact that we have a striker on the bench who has recently netted a hat-trick and to whom goals come naturally highlights the promise and squad depth within this young group.
Ten minutes after the restart City finally got a much-deserved breakthrough, with August’s player of the month Freya Symonds finding herself back amongst the goals – hitting the back of the net with a cool side-foot strike that Teemu Pukki would have been proud of.
The Canaries were only ahead for just over 15 minutes, however, when the home side equalised through Lucy Cooper just after the hour. It was here that Bournemouth showed that their league position is no fluke, dominating the chances and forcing the Norwich defenders into multiple match-defining blocks and clearances to keep the tie all-square.
Into extra time we went.
After a dull first period, substitute Rachel Lawrence burst into life, scoring a wonder goal from 25 yards to wrap up the hard-fought 2-1 victory and progress in the Women’s National League Cup – not only sending a statement to the rest of the league but also to the rest of the teams at the level.
City are here to stay and are taking the Women’s National League by force, beating the best of the best at the level in league and cup – all within the space of two weeks.
Of course, Norwich are no strangers to lengthy cup runs. It was only four months ago that the Canaries beat Mulbarton Wanderers 3-0 at Carrow Road to reclaim the County Cup in front of over 2,500 spectators.
Permission to get carried away?
The most impressive element of this team however is not only the unity within the squad but the flexibility and different options available. Take Millie Davis for example – a clear leader who has built up a reputation as being one of the best midfielders at the level filled in at right-back and had one of her best performances in green and yellow.
Similarly, grinding out a result when backs are against the wall shows all the hallmarks of a top side. This is something the men’s team can learn from, as aside from the opening-day victory over Hull, it still feels that conceding first can be a nail in the coffin for the first team.
That’s two games in succession now where the Canaries’ ladies have conceded within a few minutes of taking the lead. Instead of collapsing, something their male counterparts are renowned for in big fixtures, City’s calmness and composure allowed them to navigate tough opposition.
It’s this attitude that makes Martin Herdman prouder as the weeks go by.
Up next for Norwich is a second successive trip to London in the league, as the Canaries travel to QPR buoyed and with a spring in their step, looking to extend their winning run and position as early frontrunners in the Women’s National League Division One South East.
This would have then been followed by a home fixture against Chesham United, however, this fixture has been rearranged due to Chesham’s involvement in the County Cup and will be rescheduled for December.