Cheltenham Town Ladies played host to National League Southern Premier side Watford Ladies on Sunday in boiling hot conditions and impressed as they were edged out 3-2 on the day.
Cheltenham settled into the game slowly with new signing Chloe Rogers, taking her place alongside Cerys Dolloway, called into action early to deal with Watford’s lively winger.
Chances came and went for the away side and they were to pay as Cheltenham took an opportunity to score with their first attempt on goal. Following a foul on Ellie Briscoe, captain Sarah Walters floated an excellent kick into the area for Annie Martin to power home a header.
Against the run of play Cheltenham were ahead but the goal settled them down. Long kicks by Hannah Bingham in the home goal were causing problems for the away side and Martin and Hitchcox link up nearly forced goal number two, only to be denied by a superb save.
It was however the away team that would score the game’s next goal as their forward ran through the home defence with ease and slotted past Bingham.
It took just five minutes for Cheltenham to concede goal number two and show a vulnerability very similar to last season. This time a good build up from the away side carved open Cheltenham’s defensive setup and the reward was a finish at the near post.
Two quickly became three as Cheltenham were on the ropes. Welsh top scorer Helen Ward was the recipient of more poor defending as she passed Walters and despite a tame effort, the ball found its way into the net.
Cheltenham needed half time and, with their setup adjusted following the introduction of Rhian Robbins and Naomi Purvis, they started the half positively.
Martin, Hitchcox and Robbins pressed the ball higher up the pitch and Cheltenham kept turning the ball over. It was however the away side that carved out good opportunities but Bingham was equal to all of them.
It was a high press that gained the only goal of the half as Martin knicked the ball away from Watford's defender and calmly lifted the ball over the keeper and into the net.
Cheltenham were back in the game and they continued to force the issue with Martin and Hitchcox missing chances, before the save of the game denied the hosts a share of the spoils.
A long range free kick was won by Fensome following a poor tackle. Captain Walters stepped up to test a seemingly small statured visiting keeper. The strike was destined for the top corner, only to be tipped over the bar with a fine tip by the young sixteen year old keeper.
The action continued to go end to end as Watford looked to catch a Cheltenham side pushing for an equaliser. Replacement keeper Katie Christopher however stood firm with a couple of superb saves to deny the visiting team.
Manager Alex Cheal said: "Today was a great test for us and once again we have come away disappointed to lose. Watford showed their class at times with their forward play, but I like to think we more than matched what they had to offer. Had we not given them as much respect and slumped back into our old ways for a 10 minute period in the first half then we may have more.
"We are pleased with where we are right now, with two games to go we can now knuckle down and work on the finer details ready for the first game of the season."
CTLFC: (from) Bingham, Christopher, Walters, Dolloway, Rogers, Purvis, Ellis, Garland, Hitchcox, Fensome, Wilkins, French, Robbins, Briscoe, Martin, berry, Morris, Davies.
Earlier in the afternoon the Reserves went down 7-2 to a very strong Watford Development side. To be fair this was more of a challenge for the Robins second string as it was their first outing while it was the opposition’s third.
Cheltenham settled in well and for the opening spell matched Watford. However, the Hornets soon got their passing play together and their pace caused our defence problems.
At half time there was little between the two teams but superior fitness told in the second and despite Cheltenham pulling the score back to 4-2 at one stage Watford went on to cruise to victory and continue their unbeaten preseason run.
"On a red hot day, this was always going to be a stiff test,” said coach Alyta Norman.
“Watford are more ahead of us with their schedule and it showed but we will take the positives, and there were many, and look forward to our next game.”