Harlow Town Ladies progressed to the First Round Proper of the Women’s FA Cup against Royston Town. Goals from Fran Gamble and Georgia Box were not enough as the Hawks were held after 90-minutes but went through with a shootout win.
The first chance of the game came from Royston as they looked to start quickly. Gemma Croucher had a shot from the edge of the box but her effort just skimmed the top of the crossbar. A couple of minutes later, Olivia Steele tried to put Harlow ahead but her shots from inside the box were blocked well.
The deadlock was broken in the 13th minute as Georgia Box opened the scoring. Georgia Raby played a superb ball through the Royston defence and Box slotted well past Yasmin Walford. Despite taking the lead, Harlow were on the back foot as the Crows sought an equaliser. They tried to come forward but it was defended well before a corner was headed wide. Emma Slater tried to feed a ball through but Sarah Walker was out well to claim.
Chloe Bassett fired an effort just over the bar before Harlow were forced into an early change as Daisy Jenkins replaced Georgia Raby, who had taken a wacky to the face. Harlow continued to come forward as they looked to firm up the scoreline. Fran Gamble picked up the ball and made a good run but Amy Cooper recovered well to prevent any chances before she doubled the Hawks lead as Nicole Farmer played a superb ball over the defence for Gamble to lift over the stranded keeper.
Royston again looked to respond almost immediately but they couldn’t take their chances. Yasmin Pratt was almost through but Hannah Porter did well to prevent a chance before the Crows were awarded a direct free-kick from inside the box because of a back-pass. The resulting free-kick from Croucher was straight into the wall and out for a corner. The resulting corner was headed onto the roof of the net. Fran Gamble picked up the ball on the edge of the box but her sjot was comfortable for the keeper. As the game approached half-time, Harlow tried to extend their lead. A cross from Chloe Bassett was just over Ellie Manning’s head before Georgia Box was almost played through but she couldn’t round the keeper before Yasmin Walford collected on a second attempt. On the stroke of half-time, Royston came close as Kaydee King missed her kick but Gemma Croucher’s shot was off the post.
Royston applied the pressure early in the second-half but it was well defended by Harlow. Ash Deacon tried a shot from the edge but it sailed wide before Georgia Box was flagged off after being played through. Hannah Porter was switched on as she blocked a shot well to deny Royston a route back into the game. Fran Gamble got her second of the afternoon as she was played through and slotted the ball well under the keeper.
A minute later though and Royston pulled one back as Emma Slater was played through and lifted the ball over Sarah Walker. Despite conceding, Harlow continued to push as they sought a fourth goal of the game. Georgia Box slide in to poke the ball beyond Walford but her shot was comfortable for the keeper before she picked up the ball but again her shot was comfortable for the keeper. Fran Gamble had a shot from a tight angle with landed on the roof of the net but it was Royston who got the next goal as they looked for a comeback. Paige Rolfe tucked a free-kick beyond Walker to the delight of the visitors.
As the game approached the last 10-minutes, both sides tried to get goals. Olivia Steele had a shot but it was over from distance before Royston had a good attack but it fizzed out as Slater’s cross was comfortably held by Walker. Rolfe had another free-kick in a similar position to the one she scored but this time her effort was just wide of the target. In the last 10-minutes, Harlow struggled to get a hold of the ball as Royston pushed for an equaliser. The Hawks dealt with the initial pressure well with the Crows being awarded free kicks as they progressed up the pitch. The pressure had paid off and the visitors had their equaliser as a ball was played over the top and finished well.
With the 90-minutes and added time up, the game went to penalties. Georgia Box stepped up first but she saw her penalty saved before Royston’s  made it 1-0. Olivia Steele stepped up and smashed it past the keeper before Sarah Walker made herself big and saved a penalty from Royston. Fran Gamble took the next one and gave the Hawks an advantage before  brought the shootout level. Chloe Bassett was on target to put Harlow 3-2 head as Paige Rolfe sent her spot-kick over the bar. Captain Kaydee King stepped up and slotted her penalty into the bottom corner to send Harlow into the next round.
For her fantastic performance, Nicole Farmer was the player of the match.
Speaking after the game, Fran Gamble said “It was a first start for me so physically, it was tiring but we absolutely battled through and I think we deserved it in the end.”
“There were a few errors with the goals but we showed great character to win the penalty shootout and get through to the next round” added Hannah Porter.
[On mentality going into the shootout] “For me, they celebrated [the equaliser] like they had won the game so I think that really motivated me and I was just thinking we couldn’t let it slip. We knew what we had to do and I think we were ready for it” explained Gamble.
HP added “We didn’t have much time to think about it so we went straight into it and didn’t have time to get nervous.”
[On getting to the First Round Proper] “It’s nice for the club and the girls. Our attention is now to see who we get in the next round” said Porter.
“It’ll be interesting to see who we get with the National League sides still in the competition and it’s going to be a test whoever we get. We are all looking forward to it” Fran added.
Photos: Matt Bacon (@Bacon0Butty)