A DEPLETED Plymouth Argyle Ladies side suffered a cruel 1-0 home defeat to second-placed Crawley on Sunday in the National League Southern Premier Division.
If losing to an 80th-minute goal after a herculean effort was not bad enough, Argyle, who had gone into the game sitting in third spot, were also disappointed that only 100 fans turned up to watch two of the league’s top teams in action at Manadon.
“I don’t know what we have to do to promote the girls,” said Argyle manager Dave Leonard. “We had 800 at Home Park and just a 100 for this game.
“We’ve played just two home league games this season and it is disappointing.”
Injuries have cost Argyle in the last few weeks. They could have coped playing against lower placed sides, but losing so many players at the same time when playing top clubs like Watford, Crawley and Oxford United has been tough and left manager Leonard having to dip into the development team.
Once again Argyle were deprived of their dynamic midfield. Having already lost Jessie Jones and long-term injury Amber Pollock, Kayley Lane and Becky Dandridge were also sidelined. They were also without Zoe Cunningham and had top striker Natasha Knapman not fully fit on the bench.
Argyle started with youngsters Nelinha Barros, Bethany Everson and Lucy Solloway on the bench, along with striker Knapman and Greece international defender Panagiota Papaioannou, who is now back to full fitness.
It meant manager Dave Leonard had to shuffle the pack. Ben Kyle resumed in goal with Bow Jackson, Ebony Dover, Lydia Huntley and Mollie Taylor as the back four. Faye Ivall, Steph Beck and Leah Burridge played in midfield with Beth Everson and Helen Bleazard the wide players and versatile captain Kate Middleton as the lone striker.
It was no surprise that Argyle took time to settle into the game but great link up play between Jackson and Bleazard ended with her cross towards Middleton being collected by the goalkeeper.
Despite Crawley having the majority of the ball Argyle were slowly settling into the game and good pressing ended with Everson just failing to make contact with a cross.
A great ball by Dover down the right wing to the overlapping Jackson was snuffed out. Middleton was having a certain amount of success by holding up the ball and playing it into the channels.
Some great link-up play between Bleazard and Middleton ended with Ivall just failing to make contact. Just before half-time a foul on Burridge ended with Bleazard firing over.
In the second half the game continued as it finished the first – end to end.
Argyle had a let off when following a corner Kyle pulled off a great save to deny Charlotte Owen after Crawley’s Maria Ledezma Viso had sent in a great.
The Pilgrims survived that mini crisis and then had a couple of chances themselves with Burridge having a shot save and Bleazard firing over the crossbar from distance.
Argyle got themselves into the ascendancy with everyone battling tenaciously for the ball and Taylor headed over from a corner. With 25 minutes remaining Leonard sent on Knapman which meant Middleton returning to the back four.
Argyle were continuing to press but after Kyle had saved a free-kick the hosts had Middleton sin binned in the 78th minute.
The Pilgrims were throwing everything into the attack but despite their best efforts they were caught out when a straightforward shot from Laura Palmer went through Kyle’s hands to score what proved to be the only goal of the game.
Afterwards manager Leonard said: “I am going to be positive in the way we played. I am not looking at how we lost the game as it was about the girls that came in and did what they had to do and I thought there were people there who put in their best performance of the season.
“The commitment, the desire and the attitude was what shone through. It was the togetherness the squad had and the resilience that they showed against a strong Crawley side.
“Anyone that was there felt we were unfortunate not to get something out of the game.”
He added: “If I mentioned one player it would be disrespectful to the other girls as for me all the players needed special praise. For the whole squad process I think it was a great advert for women’s football.”
The defeat has dropped Argyle down to fourth place in the table, with Cardiff City moving one point above them after beating Gillingham 5-0 away. The Pilgrims are now seven points behind the top two – Watford and Crawley.
Argyle: Ben Kyle, Lydia Huntley, Helen Bleazard, Mollie Taylor, Kate Middleton, Bow Jackson Ebony Dover, Leah Burridge, Steph Beck, Faye Ivall, Natasha Knapman, Bethany Everson, Nelinha Barros, Panagiota Papaioannou, Lucy Solloway.