21st of May 2022: The Aztecs seal tier one status with a win in Derby!
Beck Haigh comes into the squad for the first time, and Molly Sumner returns for her first appearance since February, making what is perhaps the most British line-up the team has ever had.
The eight warriors who got us over the line and kept this dream alive.
The Worcester squad travelled without a recognised goalkeeper, and opted to play fly for most of the match. This set the terms of engagement early on, as the Aztecs planned on sitting deep to defend, and then breaking forward on the counter. The first chance at goal fell to Southampton's Stanley who, after picking up the loose ball, attempted to score from a drop kick from her own D, shooting wide of the goal. Stanley tried again a minute later, but sliced it wide. With Worcester committing so many players forward, this opportunity would present itself a lot. Worcester had all the possession as they went 5v4 in the Aztecs half, but were limited in the chances they could create due to the deep defending of Southampton.
If nerves were getting to anyone, they were surely eased six minutes in, when Kayleigh Tonks put Southampton ahead. Nicola Curtis cut out the pass, K. Tonks took a touch to set herself, and then squeezed a shot through the pressure just inside her own half to punish Worcester, and take advantage of the open goal left by the fly keeper. This meant Southampton would now have to concede five to be relegated, but with thirty-six minutes remaining, and the talent that Worcester possess, anything can happen in futsal.
Kayleigh Tonks nearly added a second only three minutes later, forcing a good save from Walklett. Stanley dropped the ball to Moody, who clipped a great ball forward to Bekah Tonks, who brought it down expertly on the chest, and laid it off to her sister Kayleigh, who was denied from the edge of the D. From the resulting corner, Kayleigh and Bekah made a three in a line for Moody to hit a powerful strike on target, which was blocked.
The second Southampton goal came six minutes before half-time. Moody and R. Tonks built up patiently at the back, while Heath's movement created space for a forward pass to Curtis. The ball was cut out, but R. Tonks and Curtis pressed well to win it back. Curtis then slid the ball to R. Tonks in a 2v1 for Bekah to poke home from close range. For those counting at home, Southampton would now need to lose the game 6-2 to be relegated. Every goal pushed the Chaser further back. Despite the breathing room, the job isn't complete until the final whistle goes.
Molly Sumner, on her first game back for Southampton, came close to making it 3-0. Again, Moody and R. Tonks building up at the back, as Moody sent a low through ball to Sumner who received approaching the D, but poked it just wide of the onrushing Walklett in goal. Thirty seconds later, and Walklett hit a fearsome shot after a scintillating piece of skill, but Stanley was equal to it with a firm pair of hands. What came next from the following kick-in was a thunderbolt of a shot from Wathan, which just has to be admired. Wathan, in the centre circle, played out to Walklett, and held her position. She got the ball back, took a touch forward, and unleashed a rocket into the left top corner of the Southampton net. Now the game is over and that we are safe, we can take a moment to admire that Worcester goal. What a hit!
Only ninety seconds before the half ended, Moody tried a thunderbolt of her own, which was parried and scooped up by Walklett. Southampton had successfully navigated the first half, and now had one foot in tier one survival. Could the Aztecs endure another twenty minutes? Due to Worcester playing fly, the ball was in play a lot longer than normal, as Worcester kept the ball for long periods of time. This meant the clock ran down very quickly, and as a result, players were less fatigued than normal at half-time. This was another bonus for Southampton.
Worcester had the first chance of the second half, ninety seconds into the restart. Rodgers shot from close range, and Stanley made the save look easy by catching it comfortably. The first chance for Southampton came two minutes into the half. Moody clipped a diagonal ball for Curtis who struck it on the volley, which was reminiscent of the famous Paulo Di Canio goal for West Ham, and would surely have won goal of the season had Curtis found the back of the net. Continuing the theme of spectacular goals, Wathan tried another shot from distance, which Stanley was able to tip over the bar.
The job was perhaps complete four minutes into the half when Nicola Curtis made it 3-1. Assisting both the Tonks sisters, Curtis now bagged a goal of her own, assisted by the Tonks sisters combining for a move straight off the training ground. A kick-in on the Aztecs' right wing, near the corner, Bekah laid it to Kayleigh, whose firm cross was met by Curtis, putting it into the top corner from close range for added effect. It's never over until it's over, however, it would take conceding seven goals in quarter of an hour for Southampton to suffer relegation. This team was not going to let that happen.
Southampton were now keeping the ball for much longer. Worcester were using the fly keeper less, and began to sit deeper. The Aztecs began to turn it on with some intricate passing moves. Stanley even tried a shot from distance, creeping forward, and hitting a shot that was tipped over the bar from five metres inside the Southampton half. Nine minutes played, and Kayleigh Tonks nearly got her second. Moody and R. Tonks were doing well to keep the ball at the back while Heath and K. Tonks created space in attack. Moody found K. Tonks, who slipped it forward for Heath who had made a blindside run to the right wing. Heath received and paused, laying it off for K. Tonks to shoot from the edge of the D, but her central shot was saved.
The Aztecs were denied another goal of the season contender, this time by the crossbar. Stanley rolled to Kayleigh Tonks on the edge of the Southampton D. Kayleigh played square to her sister, who hit a diagonal to Curtis. Curtis brought it down and laid it off for the overlapping K. Tonks, who clipped a diagonal cross to Heath at the back post. Heath's volley, which looked destined for the top corner, bounced away off the woodwork, on the corner where the bar meets the post. It's one we'll have to score for real next season, hopefully on the BT Sport cameras.
With three minutes remaining, Stanley came her closest yet from a dropkick, missing the goal by inches after making a save. Kayleigh Tonks again came close with a minute remaining, being fed by Curtis on the counter, only to have her shot saved. Rebecca Moody submitted Southampton's fourth rejected application for goal of the season when she was given the ball from a corner. Her shot from distance crashed back off the crossbar, and was cleared away by Worcester.
Stanley was called into action again when she made a great split save to deny Wathan, who feinted past Kayleigh Tonks and hit a toe poke through the crowd of players towards the bottom corner of the goal. At the other end, with only ten seconds remaining, Kayleigh Tonks nearly scored again. Moody blocked the attack, R. Tonks began the counter, and K. Tonks poked the ball through to the goal from the halfway line, taking advantage of the Worcester fly, only narrowly missing wide of the far post. And that was it. The last action of the game. Game over. Aztecs win. Survival confirmed.
Warriors, the lot of them! We have a lot of good in this side, but perhaps our biggest strength is the togetherness. Teammates and friends, willing to fight for each other. Willing to go in where it hurts for each other. Maybe it's not been pretty, but the team has fought tooth and nail to make make this work. We're so proud of every single one of them!
Phew! We can all breathe a sigh of relief. We won't have to endure drama like this again for months now. Enjoy the summer off. We have some big plans coming up.
Voted as player of the match, the diminutive Curtis came up big for Southampton with two assists and a goal, being involved in all three goals which sealed our survival.
Watch the full match below.
Watch the highlights here.
How did it all end? The Aztecs finished top of the relegation playoff group. Sadly, there's no silverware for such an achievement. This does confirm our place in the league next season, which will run from September until May, playing each team twice, and travelling around the country. There's likely to be another five to seven games on BT Sport, with the rest being broadcast on YouTube, although this will all of course be confirmed in due time.
What happened in the rest of the day's futsal?
Worcester 1 v 3 Southampton Aztecs: This result meant that the Aztecs confirmed tier one status, and it's curtains for Bedford, who stay in tier two. Southampton and Worcester will be adversaries again next season.
Bloomsbury 4 v 6 University of Liverpool: In this winner takes all game, the loser would be condemned to relegation. It was a back and forth game, with both teams being in the lead. Liverpool even suffered a red card, but that was not enough for Bloomsbury to claw it back, who will now be demoted into tier two, into what looks to now be a very strong league with Bedford, Bloomsbury, and Reading Royals all part of it.
Cheshire 4 v 1 Bedford: Already promoted Cheshire fought Bedford for the tier two national crown. Bedford suffering a double whammy, as when this game was finishing, Southampton were taking the lead against Worcester, denying them their promotion.
Birmingham WLV 4 v 2 London Helvecia: In an incredibly exciting game, Birmingham pull off the unthinkable and defeat the undefeated, to take the trophy as national champions. Birmingham WLV will now represent England in next season's UEFA Women's Futsal Champions League. We wish them all the best!
As for us, we have loved every second of this journey. We are only a year old, and have experienced some tremendous highs in that time. Originally thought of as just making up the numbers, the Aztecs have pulled off some big results, gone from strength to strength, and survive to live another day in a league that, this time last year, nobody really conceived us playing in. We've won games and scored goals on TV. We've developed an international fanbase. And we've brought many people into our little green family along the way. There is so much potential for futsal in this country, and so much potential for this club in our city. We're looking forward to all the fun that remains to be had.
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Training will start again in July. By then, we hopefully will be able to officially announce a women's reserve team, and a men's first team, in addition to a few new signings. If you want to be involved as a player, let us know your details by clicking on this link.
Now that the season is over, it's time to determine the individual awards. Click here to vote for your Fan's Player of the Season. Voting ends next Sunday the 29th. This is your opportunity to give some credit and acclaim to your favourite Southampton Aztecs player. If you want a little help in making your mind up, below are the stats and the goals.
Rebecca Moody, Rebekah and Kayleigh Tonks, and Nicola Curtis featured in all Aztecs games in the national division. Curtis and the Tonks sisters also featured in all of the games in the Southern division. These players are creating a legacy. Full credit to Lauren Sayler and Amy Maidment who came along to the remaining games when injured. This demonstrates the team spirit and togetherness shared by these great athletes and great people.
All of our goals can be found in the video below. You can enjoy them on YouTube, but make sure you get to Twitter to vote for your favourite.