CHARLOTTE Leedham inspired Stratford-upon-Avon School’s U16 girls’ team as they retained their County Cup title with a 4-2 victory over North Leamington School.
The Stratford team took to the field with a side ravaged by illness and player unavailability, but the girls produced an excellent display and beat the odds to retain their crown.
It has been a time to savour for the team, who have also made it to the final of the English Schools’ Football Association National Championship for the second time, having won three years ago. The final will take place on April 21 at a Premier League ground to be confirmed.
With four girls making their debuts for the Stratford school team – Sallie-Ann Partridge in goal, Marina Mandache in defence and the deadly duo of Annabel Chatwin and Claudia Zyda in attack – it was always set to be a testing night, but the girls did a magnificent job.
Stratford started the stronger, with Leedham, Lauren Jones and Naomi Jones all testing the North Leamington keeper with early long range efforts.
As the first half progressed North Leamington grew in confidence and only an excellent stop from Partridge prevented Stratford going behind.
Just as the first half seemed set to end goalless, Leedham took matters into her own hands. Cutting inside from the left, she launched a rocket of a strike from the edge of the box that flew past the hapless North Leamington keeper and into the net.
Half time saw the replacement of Chatwin with Zyda for her debut and Stratford went close to increasing their lead. A Chloe Kennard looping effort nearly found the net, but rebounded off the frame of the goal.
Shortly afterwards Stratford paid for their profligacy in front of goal when a storming run from a North Leamington defender – who plays for Aston Villa along with Stratford School’s Molly Rouse – was halted by a foul on the right hand side. The resulting free kick caused havoc in the Stratford box and a North Leamington attacker stabbed home to level the score.
A lesser team would have crumbled under the pressure of an equaliser, but the National Cup finalists only upped their efforts and found themselves back in the lead.
Good work from Lauren Jones resulted in a free kick 25 yards from the Leamington goal and, after a brief discussion over who would take the set piece, Leedham stood up to the plate and thundered the ball home.
Shortly afterwards Leedham completed her hat-trick with the goal of the game. Finding herself on the left 30 yards from goal, she cracked the ball on the half volley towards the North Leamington goal and her effort sailed over the helpless keeper and into the net.
However, a mix-up in the Stratford defence saw Leamington gifted a goal and a lifeline back into the game, but Stratford were not to be denied the County Cup title and with seconds remaining Naomi Jones found space in the Leamington box and, although her initial effort was saved, Andrada Georgescu was on hand to poke home the rebound at the far post to seal victory.
The full Stratford squad was: Sallie-Ann Partridge, Marina Mandache, Kinga Tomaszewska, Megyn Revitt, Wiktoria Rutkowska, Naomi Jones, Charlotte Leedham, Lauren Jones, Chloe Kennard, Andrada Georgescu, Annabel Chatwin, Claudia Zyda.