Crusaders strikers made a huge statement of intent in the opening fixture of the new FIFA sponsored U17 women’s league by beating Cliftonville 5-1 in a clinical display at Solitude.
The new league features six teams, and was opened by FIFA vice president Jim Boyce last night at Solitude (pictured). Among other things, FIFA has provided each player with a pair of boots and a full set of training gear. The other teams in the Division are Lisburn Ladies U17's, Killen Rangers U17's, St Oliver Plunkett U17's and Cumann Spoirt An Phobail U17's.
Crusaders started the game brightly, passing the ball around well and preventing Cliftonville from being able to get out of their own half. They took the lead in the 5th minute, when the ball was passed around the midfield and then into the feet of striker Amiee McNeill, who made no mistake with a low finish into the bottom corner giving Cliftonville goalkeeper Kirsty McCaughtrey absolutely no chance to save it.
The game continued in a similar fashion, being played between the halfway line and Cliftonvilles 18 yard line. Crusaders were able to create chance after chance, and had numerous chances to get the all important second goal, only to be repeatedly denied by Kirsty McCaughtrey who was displaying some very confident goalkeeping.
However, the second did come in the 22nd minute, when a Cliftonville goal kick was hit up the pitch and was won by the head of Kerri McMaster in the Crusaders midield. The ball then fell to striker Aimee McNeill, who produced a wonderful dipping shot from 25 yards out to leave McCaughtrey staring helplessly as the ball sailed over her head and into the top corner.
Crusaders finished the half strongly, and had a few more chances which produced some more good saves from both the woodwork and McCaughtrey, including a brilliant double save where she saved the initial shot, and got up and sprinted then dived to save the rebound. Cliftonville, though, were coming into the game slightly more by the end of the first half, and were able to string one or two passes together, however they were still having trouble getting out of their half and turning their posession into chances.
The second half started as the first had, with crusaders dominating, and they quickly added a third when midfielder Megan Beattie raced through, and past the onrushing keeper, and tapped the ball into an empty net.
Aimee McNeill completed her hatrick on 56 minutes, and a further goal from number 10 Chloe Doak made it 5-0 when her looping effort went in off the far post. There was still time for McCaughtrey to make another excellent double save from McMaster, the second from point blank range right on the line, and for Cliftonville to score a very good goal of their own when Geraldine McCabe beat two defenders and finished confidently into the bottom left corner across the diving Lauren Kelly, who could do nothing to stop it.
It was a good finish to a good game in which Crusaders have laid down the gauntlet to the rest of the league, showing what they can do. Cliftonville will look to tighten up at the back and try not to concede as many goals and will look to build on the positives next time out against Cumann Spoirt An Phobail U17's.
Photo and report by Ben Hanna