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Colchester United claimed their second Essex County Cup Final success in three years after defeating Braintree Town 5-1 at Great Wakering Rovers FC's Burroughs Park ground.
U's Manager Kevin Anderson described the win as "the light at the end of the tunnel" after last season's reverse.
United took the lead after just 80 seconds and didn't look back against a hard working Braintree side who gained their reward fifteen minutes from time when substitute Lynsey Bowman netted a superb consolation. Anderson was delighted with his team's triumph having seen them relinquish their crown last term to fellow FA Women's Premier League Southern Division outfit West Ham United, adding: "It was nice to get the trophy back!
"We've had a difficult stretch recently and this was the light at the end of the tunnel for the team; winning the Cup is a reward and a positive end to the season. The players have really enjoyed the occasion and we encouraged them to play with enthusiasm this evening. To start as we did was exactly what we asked for and, with the second coming so quickly afterwards, it was always going to be difficult for Braintree to get back into it."
The opener arrived with the game's first attack as Helen Bass, the scorer of both of Colchester's goals in their semi final victory over West Ham, burst inside the penalty area from the left and cut back, Irons defender Sindy Godbold inadvertently diverting the ball into the roof of the net. Kevin recalled: "I felt Braintree would look to keep things tight for as long as they could, so it was important for us to get out of the blocks quickly."
Bass was presented with a fine chance to double the lead just six minutes later when Emily Heaslip threaded her through, but Jodie Osborne made an excellent covering challenge to slide the ball out for a corner. Bass injured her ankle in the tackle and was replaced by Amy Nash. But the U's did add a second in the 13th minute when Karissa Rodney was sent clear on the right hand side and, spotting Hannah Streetley off her line, fired a wicked dipping shot over the keeper and into the net.
Streetley's anticipation kept Town in the game as she made impressive blocks from Rodney - racing out of the box to deny the flying winger with her feet - and Maegan Doyle, whose exquisite one-touch control allowed her a sight of goal. It then took four minutes of the second period for Colchester to score a third, Nash delivering an inswinging cross from the left which was flicked in by the head of Zoe Rushen.
Jacqueline Ball's own 25-yard effort bounced off of the base of the post before Lilly Mellors grabbed a 56th minute fourth. The midfielder latched onto Doyle's pass and dinked over the advancing Streetley in one swift movement. Fine work from Godbold and Helena Golding thwarted Rodney after both the winger and Doyle had been denied by Streetley while Heaslip saw a fierce effort rap the crossbar and rebound to safety.
The fifth arrived in the 71st minute courtesy of another Nash cross. This time the flanker's corner was met by the head of Amelia Southgate, who nodded powerfully into the top corner of the net. "Having got ahead, we wanted to go and play with style, and that was more important in many ways than how the scoreline ended up," Anderson explained. "We created some good chances but didn't finish off some of our better moves."
Despite trailing, Eastern Region League club Braintree refused to be bowed and Rushen tested Nikita Runnacles in the U's goal with a long ranger. Then, on 74 minutes, Town gathered a return for their endeavours as Bowman controlled Aimee Drane's sweeping crossfield pass and raced away from the defence to lob Runnacles.
Streetley still had some work to do as she tipped Mellors' shot around her near post, leaving Anderson to reflect on a 5-1 win and look ahead to the future: "It was a great experience for my team, which included six or seven academy players who still have important league and league cup fixtures to play. The experience of doing the business at their age will be invaluable to them; some people play football for 20 years without getting to a County Cup final, and they have done it at just 16 or 17."
"It gets tougher every season to get to the final in this competition. As well as West Ham in the Premier League, Braintree and the other clubs in the Regional Leagues are getting stronger, and even those in the County League are getting better, so retaining this trophy won't be easy. I'd like to pay credit to Braintree as well; their heads never went down and it was good for them to get something out of the experience," he concluded.
Colchester Utd: Nikita Runnacles, Alex Shepherd, Jacqueline Ball, Emily Heaslip, Amelia Southgate, Laken Duchar-Clark (sub Amy Bryant 90mins), Lilly Mellors, Flo Gamby, Helen Bass (sub Amy Nash 9mins), Maegan Doyle, Karissa Rodney (sub Alice Nutman 73mins). Subs not used: Charlie Twydell, Rosie Mellors.
Braintree Town: Hannah Streetley, Aimee Drane, Danielle Croxford, Jodie Osborne, Sindy Godbold, Helena Golding, Chloe Argent (sub Lynsey Bowman 61mins), Ella Tooley, Paula Drane (sub Laura Hill 61mins), Zoe Rushen, Lynsey Warren (sub Jessie Anderson 83mins). Subs not used: Naomi Berners, Cathryn Lawley.
(Report by Robert Craven)
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