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West Ham girls lift Essex Cup

PUBLISHED: 13:30 13 March 2017

West Ham under-16s celebrate their Essex Cup win (pic onderosapics.photoshelter.com)

West Ham under-16s celebrate their Essex Cup win (pic onderosapics.photoshelter.com)

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Leigh Ramblers 1 West Ham United 6

West Ham's captain attacks against Leigh (pic ponderosapics.photoshelter.com)West Ham's captain attacks against Leigh (pic ponderosapics.photoshelter.com)

West Ham United’s under-16 girls overcame the stubborn resistance of Leigh Ramblers to score five goals in the final 17 minutes of the Essex Cup final and lift the silverware for a fourth time at Saffron Walden FC.

Holly Turner hit a hat-trick, with Kelly Wealthall adding a brace and Poppy Binding netting an excellent goal in a 6-1 victory, after Kate Newton had given Leigh the lead.

And manager Jason Stephens said: “Those that saw the game will know that it was a difficult match.

“The scoreline was a bit flattering but, in the last 15 to 20 minutes, we managed to put it to bed and we had to work hard all the way through.

“Credit to our girls because they might not have had the most fluent game, but they stuck at it and we saw their character come through. This is a stepping stone now to the national competition.”

West Ham went into the match with the confidence of a team that had won 11 of their 12 league matches this season, sitting proudly at the top of the Essex Girls’ A Division.

However, they came up against an inspired Leigh defence, particularly goalkeeper Emily Mackler, who was called into action as early as the third minute when she gathered Andreya Ezikel-Meade’s curling attempt.

The Hammers winger drew another save from the custodian four minutes later with a 25-yard effort and Mackler went sprawling to her right to turn another Ezikel-Meade shot wide, before Turner stabbed at the keeper from Sophie Kelly’s corner.

Further heroics were to follow in the 13th minute when the dangerous Ezikel-Meade threaded the ball into the path of Turner, who saw her effort brilliantly palmed around the post.

And Ramblers went in front on the counter-attack as Maddie Archer’s lofted through ball was controlled by Newton and expertly steered into the bottom left-hand corner.

Stephens added: “I was never worried. If you look back at our season we average seven goals a game, so I knew we were going to score.

“We’ve never not scored in a game. It was a case of getting over those cup final nerves. It doesn’t matter who you are, from the FA Cup to the Champions League and girls at grassroots, it’s just the same.”

But as team tried to restore parity, they were confronted by more outstanding work in the Leigh back line as Ezikel-Meade was forced away from goal by Megan Harris’ excellent challenge, before Mackler made another smart stop.

Mackler dived bravely at the feet of the flying winger in the 24th minute and was fully extended to tip a Turner strike past the far post as West Ham ramped up the pressure.

But in the 26th minute, Turner produced a precise finish after being found by Wealthall, as she held off Megan Thomas to guide the ball inside the left-hand upright and out of the reach of Mackler.

“I’ve known Howard [Mackler, Leigh Ramblers Manager] for a long time, so we knew it was going to be a tactical battle,” added Stephens.

“Whether it was the quality of the squad in terms of our depth, or whether it was that our players dominated the important parts of the match, it was a hard game.”

Wealthall chipped over on the half-hour mark as West Ham looked for a lead, while Mackler pushed Turner’s shot around the post following a one-two with Sophie Spencer-Webb, and Ezikel-Meade saw her 20-yard attempt nodded over by defender Thomas.

And Mackler denied Ezikel-Meade from Kelly’s corner in stoppage time, as Wealthall fired over at the end of a strong run.

Leigh started the second half well, with Newton threatening up front, but West Ham had better chances and Ezikel-Meade had a shot blocked by Connie Mashford, before Mackler saved from Turner.

Turner got behind Thomas a quarter of an hour after the break, but was apprehended by Rhiana Castle’s perfectly-timed tackle and, when substitute Sydney Graham side-footed wide from Wealthall’s pass on the hour mark, it looked as though West Ham might be frustrated.

Those fears were diminished in the 63rd minute then Wealthall, who was only fit enough to feature as a substitute, raced clear of the Ramblers defence before angling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.

Within 60 seconds, Turner’s second goal had broken Leigh’s resistance and given West Ham a two-goal cushion as Molly Bowness instigated the attack with a pinpoint right-wing cross, and Wealthall’s powerful close-range header was parried by Mackler for Turner to force home the rebound.

The Irons were now playing with real confidence and, by the time Turner’s strike from the edge of the penalty area had bounced off the crossbar, they had extended their advantage to 4-1, after Wealthall held off two defenders to convert a long through ball.

With two minutes remaining, Binding contributed the goal of the game, as the midfielder travelled from halfway, mesmerising a series of defenders before cutting back on to her right foot to dispatch a 15-yard finish into the top right-hand corner.

That left just enough time for Turner to complete her hat-trick in the first minute of injury time, as Kelly provided the cross from the right flank and Turner drove a shot into the back of the net to secure a first Essex Under-16 Girls’ Cup since 2013 for West Ham.

“The grit and effort and determination to keep going won us the game,” added Stephens.

“We saw that from Leigh Ramblers for 70 minutes and our players technically weren’t quite on it. There were some moments when it was frustrating, with the final ball delivery or some choices, but the girls kept going and came through in the end.

“Once we got one or two we relaxed and played our normal game. We’re the senior team of the girls section, so we’re setting the standards for the rest to aspire to.

“Our Under-10s and Under-12s are looking like a formidable group as well, so hopefully this will be a motivation for the rest of the season. We’ve still got three more trophies to play for, and hopefully this is just the first step.”

West Ham United: Charlotte Boland, Sophie Kelly, Maddie Austin, Molly Bowness, Sophie Spencer-Webb, Mad O’Connor, Andreya Ezikel-Meade, Ebony Uzoechi-Phillips, Poppy Binding, Holly Turner, Eva Carvalho. Substiutes (repeated): Hannah Landon, Kiera Harris, Tessa O’Connor, Kelly Wealthall, Sydney Graham.

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