Argyle / Football

REVIEW: Argyle Ladies encouraged by sixth place finish in National League

PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies will look back on a season of what ifs, even though they finish sixth in the National League Southern Premier Division – their highest-ever position.

They were a bit disappointed with their home form – they actually did better on their travels in 2018-19 – but it did not help that they played at six different ‘home’ venues.

However, overall they were encouraged by a sixth place finish in their first season back at that level. They also again won the Devon Cup.

Joint manager Dave Leonard said: “It’s been a fantastic season finishing sixth in the third tier of English Ladies’ football. I am extremely proud of their achievement and also their personal dedication to make this happen.”

Fellow joint manager Trevor Rodd added: “It was a very progressive first season at this level and a respectable finish. The club and coaching staff have gained a lot of experience to move forward into next season.

“We’ll now have a well earned break for a few weeks and then get back at it. As any manager will tell you the season never really ends. We have to say a huge thank you to all our sponsors and supporters.”

Skipper Katie Middleton said: “It’s been a pleasure to captain this team again and for our first season at this level, we certainly haven’t let ourselves down finishing in sixth.”

Argyle secured great signings during the season in Welsh international Helen Bleazard, England under-20 international Jessica Jones, quality midfielder Leah Burridge and Greece under-20 international Panagiota Papaioannou.

During the campaign, Argyle gave first team debuts to youngsters Faye Ivall, Tamsin Medd-Gill, Kelly Vinnicombe, Nicola Champion and Sally Salter. Argyle had former Yeovil Town goalkeeper Lyndsay Rogers between the sticks until she decided to leave which meant bringing in Sarah Prior from the development team.

Experienced central defender Middleton again captained the side. Mollie Taylor has shown great improvement at the centre of the defence, while Kayley Lane continued to show her value to the team by taking up numerous different positions.

With the competition for midfield places strong, Burridge and Ivall had to settle for full-back positions which they occupied admiringly.

Steph Beck proved to be a valuable asset in the midfield after joining from Torquay United. But it was a frustrating season for Darcey Hepworth, who suffered a number of injuries. It has also been a difficult time for central defender Ebony Dover, who also suffered a number of injuries but proved her worth in a variety of positions.

Argyle’s engine room mainly consisted of the energetic trio of Zoe Cunningham, Becky Dandridge and Jones, while up front Helen Bleazard proved influential and on her day the pacey Amber Pollock was a handful for any defender.

Last summer, Argyle lost manager Travis Rowland who decided to stand down and he was replaced by joint managers Leonard and Rodd. They were joined in the backroom set up by coaches Marc Bonney and Jason Haswell and physio Hannah Robertson.

Unfortunately preparations for pre-season were not of the best but Argyle started the season on the front foot when Natasha Knapman scored all four goals in the 4-3 win at Milton Keynes. It was important for the team that Knapman, who had scored more than a hundred goals in the previous two seasons, was to continue her good form at the higher level.

The Pilgrims came back to earth by losing 3-0 at home to Chichester City. Knapman then scored the opening goal in the 4-2 win over Milton Keynes in the League Cup only to be carried off with an ankle injury which kept her out of action for over six months.

Despite being without Knapman, Argyle won their next three league matches as well as beating Bideford in the Devon cup and Southampton in the League Cup.

November, December and January was a bad time for the team. It started with a 4-0 home defeat against Loughborough, followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat at Oxford United before beating local side Marine Academy Plymouth 2-0 in the Devon Cup.

November ended with a shock 9-1 defeat at Coventry United which prompted joint manager Leonard to say: “We don’t become a bad team overnight.” And so it proved, as a week later they produced a much better performance in a narrow 2-1 FA Cup defeat at Coventry United.

Argyle then had a long wait to play their next match. At the beginning of January they went down 2-1 at Chichester City and this was followed by a 5-3 defeat against Crawley Wasps to exit the League Cup before beating Watford 3-2 for their first league win since the beginning of October.

The only match played in February saw them beat Queens Park Rangers 4-3. This started a great run of just one defeat in the next 10 matches in all competitions.

C&K Basildon were then beaten 2-0 before going down to a narrow 3-2 defeat against a Cardiff City outfit crammed full of Wales internationals. The next match saw the Pilgrims entertain Portsmouth in the ‘Dockyard Derby’ in front of 846 fans at Home Park where Knapman returned to action by coming off the bench to score the equalising goal in the 2-2 draw.

The season ended with defeats at the hands of the league’s top two Coventry and Cardiff and against Watford.

With Coventry United taking promotion to the Championship and C&K Basildon being relegated, Argyle will be up against relegated Millwall, Division One South East winners Crawley Wasps and Division One South West winners Keynsham Town, which will cut down their travelling costs. The league will also have to find a place for Yeovil Town, who have been denied a licence to compete in the Championship.

After playing most of their home matches away from Plymouth, Argyle will be playing their games next season on the state-of-the-art 3G facilities at the Manadon Sports and Community Hub, while all training will be at the Marjon University.

Despite only making nine starting appearances Knapman still managed 12 goals, the same as Jessica Jones, with Helen Bleazard on 11. Argyle were well served by experienced captain Kate Middleton, who played in all the teams 29 games. She was followed by Mollie Taylor 26, Kayley Lane 24 and Zoe Cunningham 23.

Starting Appearances: Katie Middleton 29, Mollie Taylor 26, Kayley Lane 24, Zoe Cunningham 23, Helen Bleazard 22, Amber Pollock 21, Jessica Jones 21, Becky Dandridge 20, Ebony Dover 18, Steph Beck 18, Lindsay Rogers 17, Leah Burridge 15, Faye Ivall 14, Darcey Hepworth 13, Sarah Prior 12, Becca Wakely 10, Natasha Knapman 9, Panagiota Papaioannou 4, Tamsin Medd-Gill 2, Nicola Champion 1, Rachel Heron 1

Goals: Natasha Knapman 12, Zoe Cunningham 12, Jessica Jones 12, Helen Bleazard 11, Kayley Lane 7, Kate Middleton 6, Mollie Taylor 3, Becky Dandridge 3, Faye Ivall 3, Leah Burridge 2, Tamsin Medd-Gill 2, Amber Pollock 2, Ebony Dover 1, Panagiota Papaioannou 1.

Meanwhile, Argyle’s development team enjoyed a remarkable season after winning the South West League Western Division title, having been runners-up the previous year.

In a season where they had to field six different goalkeepers and with a large number of players suffering injury, it was a major boost to manager Rob Bonney and his coaching staff of Simon Parnell, Vicki Fannon, Dan Tecza and physio Natasha Rogers for the team of experienced and youth players to win the league.

The team introduced several promising youngsters into their squad at the start of the season.

After winning their opening game they suffered a set-back in their second game going down 3-2 against Plymouth rivals Plympton. Despite this, the team went on an unbeaten run to set up a title challenge.

It was not all plain sailing as the team suffered more than their fair share of injuries. This gave the youngsters a chance to step up and show their worth and they certainly did.

There were some impressive performances during the season and it did not go unnoticed by the first team coaches and five earned call-ups.

The young team were led by the experienced Gabi Alphous (17) and Becky Parkyn and captain Alex Hugh (16 each). Alphous once again led the scoring with 20 goals with young Cornish teenager Nicola Champion weighing in with 12.

Starts: Gabi Alphous 17, Becky Parkyn 16, Alex Hugh 16, Nicola Chapman 14, Kelly Vinnicombe 14, Jodie Randall 13, Sally Salter 12, Rachel Javan 11, Vicki Fannon 10, Amy Darnley 9, Maya Ridge 8, Kiara-Jade Robins 8, Tamsin Medd-Gill 7, Hannah Brock 6, Shania Fenlon 5, Lucy Solloway 4, Sarah Prior 3, Lindsay Rogers 2, Rachel Heron 2, Panagiota Papaiannon 2, Charlie Rollerson 2, Faye Ivall 2, Dani Salt 2, Claire Squires 1, Michaela Phillips 1,Kayleigh Brown 1.

Goals: Gabi Alphous 20, Nicola Champion 12, Alex Hugh 8, Maya Ridge 7, Tamsin Medd-Gill 5, Shania Fenlon 5, Kiara-Jade Robins 4, Faye Ivall 3, Lucy Solloway 2, Hannah Brock 2, Kelly Vinnicombe 2, Sarah Prior 1, Rachel Javan 1, Jodie Randall 1, Sally Salter 1.

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