2nd May 2022: A depleted Southampton team put on a great second half display.
A thigh strain for Laura Ingram, a season-ending football related ankle injury for Amy Maidment, with some other absences, leaves the Aztecs with only two on the bench.
Already condemned to the relegation playoffs, Southampton had only pride, and a supposedly easier playoff run to fight for. Worcester needed to win to potentially claim a playoff spot, and would have to win by a convincing margin, while hoping Bolton lose their game to Bloomsbury.
The opening minutes of this game featured no clear cut chances, as the two opponents were feeling each other out. This was the first meeting between the teams on a competitive stage, with the only previous encounter having been in a pre-season tournament. This contest between unfamiliar opponents came to an abrupt halt only four minutes in when goalkeeper and captain Lauren Sayler was bundled over in a challenge. The collision versus the straight leg was enough to not only end her game, but Lauren's season too.
While the great physio, Sophia Alba Manzano, was tending to Sayler, the team came together to solve the issue. Amy Maidment, being the recognised second choice keeper for the Aztecs, sporting a cast and getting around on crutches, was, needlessly to say, unavailable to tend to the sticks. Kathryn Heath selflessly nominated herself to play the remaining thirty-six minutes in goal. Shaking like a cat on a hot tin roof, it is important we remind ourselves that bravery is not an absence of fear, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
The first real test to threaten the Aztecs goal would come shortly after, giving Heath little time to set into her new role. A free-kick to Worcester was awarded around nine metres from goal, and was blocked by the ever competitive Alo Ilolo. Worcester soon broke the deadlock, with what was a rocket shot into the far top corner. A one-two between Grove and Rogers, and Rogers unleashed a fearsome shot across goal to put the team in white ahead.
Heath was to make a save from Hood, shooting from a similar position, but Heath was equal to it, displaying her first of many saves to come. Seven minutes in, and it was now Walklett trying to score past the Welsh stopper. A hard shot from wide left was tipped over the bar. From the resulting corner, Worcester worked a shot from Wathan, initially blocked by Moody. The ball bounced back to Worcester, who created another chance for Wathan, which was a low toe-poke to the far corner. Heath got a leg out to it, and then fortunately Hood spooned the rebound over the bar.
Resorting to very defensive tactics, largely determined by the constraints of the game, having to protect a rookie keeper and manage fatigue with only one sub, Southampton were not getting into the Worcester half. Eventually, a good chance came from a corner, which was wasted in a catastrophic manner. Rebekah Tonks played short to Alo Ilolo, Moody began her ascent into a shooting position, but unfortunately Alo Ilolo fluffed her pass, which fell right to Wathan on the edge of her own D. Seeing Heath had come forward for the corner, Wathan thought quickly, and hit a very good side footed shot into the empty net from thirty-four metres, with the retreating Heath agonisingly just inches from recovering.
2-0 now with just eight minutes remaining in the first half. It became three only thirty seconds later. Heath pulled off a great double save, but a third was too much, as Grove was able to slot it in from close range. Hood played down the line to Grove, whose shot across goal was saved by the leg of Heath. James shot the rebound from the left, and Heath was able to parry this one away. The ball bounced down centrally between the Aztecs defence, and Grove was quickest to react, to make it 3-0 to Worcester.
The guile and determination of Divina Alo Ilolo won the Aztecs a free-kick in a shooting position. She initially cut out a pass in the Aztecs half, which would have had Grove through on goal. The ball fell to James, who Alo Ilolo stalked, and then hunted down the loose pass intended for Wathan. Diving in with ferocity to win the ball, Alo Ilolo then broke free and headed for goal. Wathan's attempt to recover involved pulling Alo Ilolo from behind, and she was then punished with a yellow card from the referee, after kicking the ball away in frustration. Sadly, the Aztecs wasted the chance. Central, just nine metres from goal, Moody ran over the ball. Bekah Tonks stepped up to shoot, and then faked a pass to Moody. Crossed wires between delivery and body shape meant Moody's attempt to adjust her feet lead to the shot being dragged wide.
Moments later, and we're back up the other end, calling on Heath to make another save. Wathan and Rogers worked a shooting opportunity from a kick-in on the left, which forced Heath to make another foot save, before Moody punted the ball away to stop the advancing Worcester players bundling the ball into the net. Grove then caused Heath to make another save, dragging the ball past R. Tonks and then hitting a shot from a tight angle at the near post.
Southampton's best, and only real chance of the first half fell to Kayleigh Tonks. From a kick-in, Bekah hit a long diagonal intended for Curtis, which was headed away, and landed with K. Tonks, who brought the ball down, and poked a shot away at the near post, causing the first proper save from Panniers, who was woefully under tested in the first half.
Refreshed, and entering the second half with renewed enthusiasm, the Southampton confidence took a dent only thirty seconds in. R. Tonks passed to Moody on the edge of the Aztecs D. Rogers pressed, stuck out a leg to block Moody's pass, and it ricocheted into the Southampton goal, past a helpless Heath, who had come out to offer a supporting angle. At this point, nobody would blame Southampton for throwing in the towel. One sub, no keeper, already bottom of the table, chasing an unassailable lead. That's the easy thing to do. But that's not in this team's nature. Inventing a team out of thin air, and playing in the national league on live television only months later, is not an easy thing to do, and we're not going to start taking the easy route now.
Southampton started knocking on the door. Curtis pressed, and then fed a pass to Kayleigh Tonks, lurking in front of goal, which was cleared wide by the recovering Grove. The game was more tense and end-to-end than one would expect given the 4-0 score. Heath was called upon to make her first save of the half, two minutes in. Hood used some dazzling skills to dribble past Moody and hit a left-footed shot, which Heath turned round for a corner.
The game was raised, and then so was the score line. A Worcester kick-in on the right. Rogers put down and ran away, Wathan ran up to the ball and smashed it across goal, Grove got the final touch, throwing her body at the ball to knock it in at the far post. 5-0 to Worcester. Grove attempted to increase the score only thirty seconds later, dribbling past Moody on the counter, and attempting to beat the recovering Heath, who managed to get back to the line and kick the ball away. Grove again, denied by Heath from close range with four minutes played, as she span past Moody, and hit a powerful shot at the goal, which Heath parried, and was then able to secure.
Rogers was next to test Heath, dribbling through K. Tonks and Curtis, but her left-footed shot was smothered by the new Welsh goalkeeper. Southampton created a good chance when R. Tonks clipped a good ball forward to Moody, who controlled the ball well, but then hit the shot over the bar. Kayleigh Tonks came closer still, when supplied the ball from Rebekah, poking the ball just wide of the keeper's right post. Moody getting forward again had her shot blocked from close range, after being played in by Bekah Tonks.
With eight minutes to play, Heath made perhaps her best save of the game. Hood scooped from the halfway line to Grove, who played a great one-two with Wathan, and had her shot from three metres denied by a great reaction save. Southampton came closer still, when Rebekah Tonks played a great vertical pass to Kayleigh. Kayleigh controlled, turned, and clipped a ball to Divina Alo Ilolo at the far post, who volleyed the ball low into the near corner, which Panniers did very well to get a leg to and keep the ball out of the net.
Thirty seconds later, Southampton finally got their goal. Wathan's forward pass was cut out by Bekah Tonks, who played to Kayleigh, just inside the Aztecs half. Similar to goals seen by Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery, Kayleigh carried the ball down the left wing, shepherded by two defenders. She saw the moment, and cut between Wathan and Rogers, and shot low and hard into the bottom left corner.
Southampton's next goal would follow by three minutes, five minutes before the end of the game. Kayleigh Tonks was fouled by Wathan to the right of the goal, around ten metres out. Moody stepped up and unleashed a thunderbolt towards the far post. Sticking a leg out to block the ball, Wathan couldn't prevent it from making it 5-2.
Just thirty seconds after the second, Kayleigh Tonks nearly grabbed a third for the Aztecs. Groves held up by Moody allowed Alo Ilolo to steal the ball, and play a defence splitting pass. K. Tonks carried it forward and hit a hard shot wide of the near post. With two and a half-minutes to go, K. Tonks forced a great save from Panniers. Kayleigh pressed Wathan, and the deflected pass fell to Rebekah, whose perfect pass had Kayleigh through on goal. The first time toe-poke had Panniers have to react well and make an excellent split save to keep the ball out of the net.
Worcester had a huge chance to increase the distance. Walklett carried the ball down the wing, and slid a pass inside to Hallsworth, whose close range shot was hit wide of the goal. Hallsworth came close again, with ninety seconds remaining. Rogers tapped a kick-in to Wathan, who found Hallsworth. Hallsworth spun Moody on the halfway line, carried the ball to the edge of the D, and was unsuccessful at beating Heath at her near post.
To finish off the scoring, fans were privileged to witness an excellent piece of skill. Southampton had a kick-in near their right corner. Rebekah Tonks tapped it to Moody. With her first touch, she set herself, looked up, and then pinged a beautiful thirty-five yard ball to Nicola Curtis. The touch from Curtis was sublime, killing the ball dead at her feet. She turned, and finished neatly past Panniers to bring the game back to 5-3.
Southampton had a chance to grab a fourth. Awarded a free-kick to a similar position to the second goal, Rebekah Tonks ran over the ball, Moody smashed the ball low to the far post, and the ball went wide off Curtis trying to turn the ball into the goal. A depleted Southampton side clawed back the game, winning the half 3-2. The sentiment may be scoffed at by those not on board, but given the circumstances of the game, with not much to fight for other than pride, this team fought valiantly, and that is something they can be proud of.
Plenty of strong candidates for player of the match today with the fighting performances all over the court. The prize goes to Kath Heath. Not simply for stepping up in place of the injured Lauren Sayler, but for actually pulling off some great saves while in the net. The team spirit and support of the teammates meant that whoever went in goal would be supported and forgiven any mistakes. Heath was phenomenal between the sticks, pulling off big saves at big moments.
Watch the highlights back here.
View the whole match below.
The scores from the day of games.
Southampton Aztecs 3 v 5 Worcester
Bloomsbury 1 v 2 Bolton
Birmingham WLV 3 v 4 Manchester
London Helvecia 12 v 2 University of Liverpool
How the regular season ends.
Bottom of the table for the Aztecs in their first crack at high level, competitive futsal. The team has improved, and learned an awful amount along the way. Now we have two playoff games to ensure we stay in the division for next season.
The playoffs are more simple than they sound. We'll try to explain as best we can below:
Championship Playoffs - Positions 1-4.
7th May (Hartpury College): London Helvecia v Bolton, Manchester v Birmingham WLV
Third Place Playoff 14th May (Loughborough): Semi final 1 loser v Semi final 2 loser
21st May (Walsall): Semi final 1 winner v Semi final 2 winner
Relegation Playoffs - Positions 5-8 + the North and South 1st place teams (Bedford and Cheshire).
Group A: Worcester, Southampton Aztecs, Bedford Group B: Bloomsbury, University of Liverpool, Cheshire
7th May (Hartpury College): Worcester v Bedford, Bloomsbury v Cheshire 14th May (Loughborough): Southampton Aztecs v Bedford, University of Liverpool v Cheshire 21st May (Derby): Worcester v Southampton Aztecs, Bloomsbury v University of Liverpool
Here's how our group looks:
7th May - 12:00: Worcester v Bedford 14th May - 16:45: Bedford v Southampton Aztecs
21st May - 12:00: Worcester v Southampton Aztecs
Let's do this!
Enjoy the photos below!
In the face of unfortunate circumstances, the team came together and fought valiantly. The effort and determination of these players cannot be faulted. The dug in, gritted their teeth, and gave it everything. They didn't have to. Not much was riding on this game from a Southampton perspective. The Aztecs showed their class and their passion as they fought against the odds to claw this game back, and turn it into a competition towards the end. A huge psychological boost going into the playoffs. Much credit must be given to the injured duo of Amy Maidment and Lauren Sayler who, while on the bench, acted like super fans to cheer the team on. Rather than sitting there feeling sorry for themselves, or seeing the score and believing that extra exertions would be pointless, they encouraged, instructed, reassured, and cheered their teammates. Because it's only by togetherness that we get through the difficult times.
Two tough games to determine our survival in the league. Why don't you send the team some support on social media like Abi has, wearing her new Aztecs shirt with pride!
If you want our official Adidas kit, get yourself over to KitLocker.
If you would like other Aztecs merchandise, go to Spreadshirt.
Our next game is at Loughborough University on Saturday the 14th of May, for a 16:45 kick off versus Bedford.