Billericay Town Ladies kicked off the new season in the Women’s National League South East Division One in style with a 5-2 home win over Kent Football United. Blues shared the goals around with a double from Jay Blackie, and a strike apiece from Danica Dougal, Zoe Rushen, and Lindsey Morgan.
For the visitors, who competed well throughout in their first match at National level, consolation came via an Amy Russ penalty and a late strike from Shannon Burden.
After a successful 2018-19 campaign, finishing runners-up to Crawley Wasps and winning the Essex County Cup, the Billericay side for the current year had a familiar look. Set up in 3-5-2, Laken Ducher-Clark, Dougal, and Courtney Lumley operated as centre-backs.
Wing-backs Esme Lancaster and Lucy Jones offered speedy support. Skipper, Morgan, Blackie, and Kerry Stimson lent considerable drive and experience in midfield. With striker, Sam Pittuck, moving up one tier and departing for Crawley, Zoe Rushen and Karissa Rodney were paired together up front.
It was a special day for Kent as they negotiated the landmark of their first match at tier three. Buoyed by four consecutive promotions under the guidance of 27 year old manager, Sam MacNeil, the young, Dartford-based side displayed no signs of stage-fright on the advent of the big occasion.
Well prepared with an 8 week pre-season, and five wins out of seven in friendly fixtures, the visitors began with a similar formation to the Blues and kept space to a premium in the early stages.
Opening exchanges saw Kent start well as their captain and play-maker, Russ, set off on a mazy run through midfield, which served as a warning of her potential on the ball. Ended by an alert Blues defence, she would return to cause further problems as a neat spin and turn generated sufficient space for her to send a 10th minute 30 yard shot arcing beyond Alex Baker and onto the Billericay crossbar.
Immediately afterwards, a home response via a Stimson break forward into the Kent box was only thwarted by right-wing back, Mackley, coming across to cover the danger. Stationed on the left side of midfield, and bursting forward at every opportunity, Stimson was again involved. Linking well with the industrious, Rushen, she picked up a return pass on the edge of the penalty area and sent a low shot inches wide.
Relishing a physical contest in a congested midfield, Blackie left her post to display the predatory instinct to give Billericay the lead, smashing home from six yards. Pushing forward to support a break, she was first to react on 21 minutes after a Dougal shot was palmed at full stretch by Kent goal-keeper, Grace Taylor, onto the bar.
Kent showed no signs of shrinking due to the goal deficit and, within five minutes, Chloe Francis went close for the visitors. Finding space in behind the Billericay back-line, a low shot tested Baker and, after an initial parry, was saved at the second attempt. It got more alarming for the Blues on 33 minutes as midfielder, Megan Burrows, raced clear and shot wide when one-on-one with Baker.
Suitably chastened by the Kent threat, the Blues grew further into the match and started to put together some clever passing combinations involving Blackie, Jones, and Stimson. Blackie tried her luck from range firing a curling drive that was headed for the top corner before the intervention of the goalkeeper.
Pressure mounted further as first Stimson, in yet another combination with Rushen, sent a shot just wide and moments later a side-footed drive from Lancaster was deflected for a corner.
Just before half-time, Billericay’s second goal arrived as Dougal, unmarked just ahead of the penalty spot, had ample time and space to collect a cross from the right hand side and slot home. After a competitive half in which Kent had real chances to score, Billericay’s superior finishing had proved vital in making the difference.
In the second period, the Blues visibly upped the tempo considerably. With Kent appearing to have switched to a 4-4-2, space in midfield opened up and Blues started to dominate possession. Rushen took advantage to unleash a low shot that was pushed out to Lancaster who blazed over when well-placed.
With the game played in the visitors half, Morgan went close with a header just off target. She would turn creator shortly afterwards, threading a fine through ball to Rushen. Under pressure, and with much still to do, the Blues striker volleyed the ball past Taylor for the third goal.
Influential throughout the match, Morgan ensured she made her mark on the game by scoring the fourth goal on 65 minutes. It was one to remember as she latched onto a through ball and lashed home a powerful shot past Taylor.
Five minutes later, Kent pulled one back through Russ as she coolly converted a spot-kick after substitute Hannah Corlett was tripped by Duchar-Clark.
Further excitement was provided by Blackie in the 76th minute as she added the home side’s fifth strike with a prodigious leap to head home a Lancaster cross.
Back came Kent, for what proved to be the last goal of the game in the 86th minute, as Shannon Burden slammed home a loose ball after a cross evaded Baker.
Blues can reflect on a pleasing performance against opposition that look to have sufficient quality to thrive in this division. Visibly stronger after the break, Billericay also took the opportunity to bring on three young players, Ellie Nicholls, Hannah Smith, and Millie Dingwall, all of whom have featured for the club in the past within the U-16 set-up.
All acquitted themselves well and offer promise of a successful internal pathway route via the burgeoning youth set-up at Billericay into the first X1.
Starting the season as one of the title favourites is never easy but Billericay have started encouragingly and delivered a good, all-round team performance.
The infrastructure is improving every year and the nucleus of key players that delivered the club’s best ever season has almost entirely been retained. With crowds growing ever larger, and interest rising, there is a lot to be positive about.
Billericay Town Ladies Line-Up
1Alex Baker; 2. Laken Ducher-Clark; 3. Esme Lancaster; 4. Lucy Jones; 5. Danica Dougal; 6. Courtney Lumley; 7. Jay Blackie; 8. Lindsey Morgan; 11. Karisss Rodney (12. Hannah Smith, ’74); 13. Zoe Rushen (10. Ellie Nicholls, ’68); 21. Kerry Stimson (16. Milly Dingwall, ’88). Sub Not Used: 20. Amy Mullett
Goals: ’21 and ’76 Blackie; ’42 Dougal; ’57 Rushen; ’65 Morgan.
Kent Football United Line-Up
24Grace Taylor; 2. Ami Burnham; 5. Shannon Burden; 6. Abi Adewunmi; 7. Lucy Cockerill (3. Eloise Williams, ’88); 8. Megan Burrows; 9. Lydia Wills; 10. Amy Russ; 12. Chloe Francis (18. Hannah Corley, ’73); 15. Poppy Payne; 16. Becks Mackley subs Not Used: 14. Charley MacNeil; 4. Tash Maloney.