Luton Ladies fall to first league defeat

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Luton Town Ladies fought back from two goals down against Gillingham on Sunday but still lost 4-2.

Early on, the away side started better and played some good football in midfield, using the wide areas well and trying to get in behind the Hatter’s defence. But some good defending from centre backs Rachel Kosky and stand in captain Rachel Carter stopped Gills from getting in on goal.

For the first 20 minutes the Town struggled to get a hold on the game and keep hold of the ball, with strikers Tasha Fensome, and Tamera Bayne who was making her first start for the first team, not getting a chance to attack.

Eventually, the right winger from Gillingham picked up the ball out wide, and was somehow allowed to run towards goal without anyone putting a tackle in. She then had a shot at goal and keeper Rachel Evans couldn’t stop the shot from being fired into the bottom corner. Five minutes later a cross from the same side was perfectly delivered towards the waiting striker, and Carter couldn’t reach the header and the Gills forward doubled the lead with an outstretched foot.

Straight after the goal, Fensome had a chance to double the lead as she was through one on one but she had too much time to think about the shot and it was easily saved by the keeper.

Bayne and Fensome then combined well again soon after, this time Fensome breaking free of the Gillingham back line and firing a cross into Bayne. Her first touch took her too wide of the goal but she was able to still get a shot off, again the keeper saving.

Just before half time, Fensome won the ball just inside her own half and set Bayne off as she beat the offside trap, outpaced the defender and as the keeper ran towards her, beat her and rolled the ball with accuracy into the bottom corner from 25 yards to score her first goal for the first team and get her team back in the game. Erica Byron was having an excellent game on the left of midfield, running at her defender and bringing players into the game.

She was unlucky not to give Fensome another chance on 40 minutes as she played her in but the effort was blocked. Just before half time the away side had a chance to get their two goal cushion back, but a superb save from Evans saw her tip the ball over the bar as it looked like it was sailing into the roof of the net.

In the second half the Town again came out the better side, as they seem to in every game. With more confidence and drive, they were able to keep the ball better and create early chances. Byron was again shining on the left hand side, working hard and attacking the full back, and her hard work paid off, when Fensome pressed the Gillingham defender in her own half and won the ball back. She raced down the line towards goal and then pulled back the cross to the awaiting Byron who finished well, to pull her side level.

The Town then went hunting for a third, pushing players forward and running at Gills defence. Abbie Luby who was introduced at half time started well and combined well with Zara Carroll, playing in Fensome but the move didn’t come off. Bayne made way for Rebecca Kane and she was involved immediately, as Jess McKay crossed from the left hand side to her, but her shot didn’t come off.

It was looking more likely that Luton were going to nick the winning goal, but as the game moved towards the final 10 minutes, Gillingham broke down the middle, and a shot that wrong footed Evans somehow looped into the net, to frustrate the Town after they had worked so hard to get back into the game.

A change in formation for both teams to try and win the game meant that the final few minutes was very open and end to end. The away side broke forward again and a silly foul enabled them to waste more time on a free kick. Some poor defending and switching off meant that the striker was able to get a shot off after she was played in from the free kick, and catching Evans by surprise, with a blocked view, it crept into the bottom corner.

In the final five minutes and added time, the Hatters had another couple of chances, Luby having the best one as a cross from Byron gave her a double opportunity to get two shots off, but both were saved by the keeper, and gave Luton their first taste of league defeat this season.

Manager Nikki Baker said “I am hugely disappointed to concede four goals at home and the way in which we conceded them is more disappointing.

“Gillingham are a good side and we fully expected a tough game. However we have gone six weeks unbeaten in the league and that is an achievement. We have two weeks off now in league cup & FA Cup so is a nice break from the league and something different.

“It gives us time to work on the things we did badly today”.