A football club is based on solid foundations. And Bolton County are like no other – as we have a thriving Girls section that will hopefully one day move up into our fantastic Women’s squad – so this morning we had a great opportunity to go down to Leverhulme School to witness our u11 Tornados taking on Tiki-Taka Lyon. It was a cold and blustery morning but the sun was shining and there were plenty of smiles all-round. The girls were put through their warm-up’s and with young Alfie eager to get involved in the action, there was a good mood emulating from the gathered home supporters behind the respect barrier. This promised to be a great game of football – and so it turned out to be..

The pitch looked great considering the recent downpours and knowing that some massive games fell foul to the weather yesterday, we were lucky to have a match to play today. And when the starting 9 was announced, it saw Poppy-Lee take her place between the sticks and the outfield players consisted of Molly, Heidi, Mali, Hannan, Layla, Freya, Isla and Bella. We had choices from the bench as well – with Annie, Chloe and Miley to bring on – and as the girls got themselves ready, Alex’s message was clear – keep the football, make sure we tracked back with our marker and above all-else, enjoy it! Being our first-time here, we thought we must have seen some form of ritual when one of our Dad’s went over and hung his coat from a tree – but we soon realised that he was to be today’s referee – so we hid behind our collars for a brief second and then the action begun…

Right from the off, it was the away side that were showing their attacking prowess and their No.11 looked quick as she raced for an early through-ball – but there was our Freya to deal with it well and clear the ball from danger. Soon after they forced a corner but we defended it well and as the shot came in, Poppy-Lee made a great save. The early pressure was certainly coming from the visitors…

Another quick break from the team in stripes saw a good ball fed into the path of their No.10 and she was like lightening as she set off towards our goal. But out charged our Poppy-Lee and she claimed it well. Feeding the ball into the middle quickly, she set up a good attack that saw us spray it across their penalty-box but we just couldn’t get on the end of it to put it away. End to end stuff and the crowd were enjoying this…

Chloe then came onto the field and quickly got involved – but their pace up top was going to be an issue and it wasn’t long until they had taken the lead. A great pass through the channel saw that speedy No.11 race through and as she picked her spot, she slammed her shot past our Poppy-Lee and into the back of our net. No shame in that though Poppy – it was a really good finish to be fair. On we went in search of the leveller now…

We were still pushing forward when we could and a corner that was fed into their box came out quickly and as they looked to surge upfield, Heidi came across to make a superb tackle to clear the danger. A succession of corners for the away side then came as their attacking line continued to probe – but all of our defenders were working overtime to close them down and stop their threats when we could. With 9 minutes on the clock, another good attack from the red and white stripes saw a great shot come towards goal – but once again, our No.1 was equal to it and plucked the ball out of the sky with ease. This was really entertaining and we hadn’t had 10 minutes yet…

Isla then made a great run down our left and as she dragged it past their full-back, she snapped her shot in that looked destined for the back of the net – but could only hit the side-netting first. A good effort though kid – and one that had the home fans jumping. Mali then made a great tackle in the middle of the park that gave us the ball in a great area – but this time their keeper was equal to it and kicked the ball clear before we could cause any real damage. Freya then made another solid tackle to thwart them escaping on their left and as the minutes ticked away, this was becoming a real battle of wits…

Chloe that had a stunning shot that was flying towards the bottom corner – that was until their No.1 managed to dive well to her right and push the ball around the post and out for a corner. They defended that well and hit it out for a throw – but at least we were seeing a lot more of the ball in their penalty-area now. Mali then had a good shot that looked to have flicked off their defender for a corner – but the referee deemed otherwise and on went the game. Heidi was giving them plenty to think about down our right and as she swung in a peach of a cross, we threw bodies at it only to see the ball go agonisingly wide of the post. ‘It’s coming girls’ came the cry from the County supporters…

It was all County now and another good chance saw Molly receive the ball on the edge of their box and as she shaped to shoot, the home fans held their breath expectantly – only to see it go inches wide of the upright and out for a goal-kick. They cleared it long and as they counter-attacked, it looked as though their striker was going to surge through – until our Layla used her strength to muscle her out of the way and win the ball. This was a great game now…

Then somewhat against the run of play, it was the away side that scored again. Their dangerous No.10 must have had special powers in that beanie of hers as she raced forward to strike a great effort in off the far post from about 12 yards out that our Poppy had no chance of stopping. A quality strike and now we had it all to do…

Annie then came into the action and as the game moved towards the break, it was refreshing to see the referee helping the girls by pulling back foul throws when he could. As he explained, they are going to need to learn these before too long so rather than awarding it the opposite way, he allowed the girls to re-take it and described what they needed to do. Well done Ref – that’s how they’ll learn better…

And just before the half-time whistle went, we were back in it! Some great work down our left saw the ball forced out for a corner and as Mali went across to take it, the County players filled the box. In came the cross and there was on Miley to smash her shot into the roof of the net at the far post. A great goal and there wasn’t time for the re-start as the whistle went. What a time to score eh? Now it was game on again…

As the girls rushed in to get their drinks and go for their pep-talk, getting that goal just before the break had given us a renewed vigour here. The coaches set about reminding them that they needed to keep the ball better rather than just kicking it and we needed to pass and move a bit more – but we were still in this and if we could get the next goal, it would be a different game. All the girls were working hard so they needed to keep that going and keep focused. With their lungs re-filled, they were soon back out there and ready to go again…

Straight from the re-start, it was County that were on the front foot and again it was Chloe showing good skills as she dribbled it past her marker and fired her shot in – but their keeper saw it coming and managed to get down to gather it well. Heidi then took a knock to her knee so as she was carried off, back in came Miley and on we went…

But it was yet another quick break from Tiki-Taka that saw the next goal come – and once again it was their No.10 that got it. A ball through the middle saw her break our lines and as she sprinted towards our box, she looked up and smashed her shot past the diving Poppy and into the back of our net. Another top-finish from the girl and it was clear that she was their star…

We let our heads drop a little and another counter-attack saw them with a certain goal – but our Poppy came out to make a great save with her feet and the danger was gone. But minutes later it was their No.10 once more – and she got on the end of a pass to use her speed and charge towards our goal. This time she got to the edge of our box and as she pulled the trigger, the ball whistled past our Poppy’s outstretched hand and into the back of our net. She was good this kid – but we were still doing our best…

Credit to our girls. They kept plugging away and never once did they throw in the towel – and that girl Chloe was still working wonders on our left-wing. She forced a corner and as it came in, they managed to whack it clear – right into the run of their No.10 again. This time we very nearly got to her in time – but she managed to get her shot off and as Poppy went to save it, the power was just too much and the ball landed in the back of our net. So unlucky for our keeper but another good goal – and her fourth of the game – for their No.10. A good day at the office for her that’s for sure…

Poppy had been heavily involved today and again she made a fine save low down when they looked likely. A good kick-out set us on our way and it had been a good display from our goalkeeper this morning. The ball was worked into their box and as we played it in, their defender did well to knock it out for a corner. Mali went across to take it and as she played it in, the ball smacked against the base of the post and came back into the middle – where it found our Hannah and she made no mistake in slamming into the back of the net from close range. A fine finish and was there enough time for us to pull this back still? We’d soon see…

Unfortunately though – despite us actually scoring it – the last goal of the game went to Tiki-Taka. They had worked the ball well into our box but our defenders had dealt with it and got it out for a corner on their left. The ball was curled in and as she tried to swipe it clear, the bobble caught our Layla out and all she could do was divert the ball past Poppy and into the back of our net. A great finish if it had been up the other end! All of her team-mates and every County fan there told her not to worry and as the ball made it’s way back for the re-start, that was probably that in terms of the result…

We made more changes to freshen things up as we moved into the final stages and with both sides giving it their all, the supporters had been privileged to watch this today. Sure – the Tiki-Taka girls were quality all up – but we had more than matched them for long periods of this game and all of the girls could be proud of their efforts. And when the referee decided he had seen enough and blew his whistle for the final time, it was the visitors that were leaving the happier…

The handshakes were done with pride and as both teams left the pitch, the fans showed their appreciation. There were disappointed faces amongst our ranks – but Alex and Pete were quick to remind them that the second half had been better, the subs had done their jobs well when called upon and there were plenty of positives to take out of this today. Training will be used on Friday to work on a few things and when we come out again next time, we’ll be determined to put things right. A debate ensued as to who had the Girl of the Game trophies and as people dispersed to take down the goals, County TV managed to catch up with Alex to gather her thoughts:

‘They all did well out there didn’t they? We do need to keep our heads held high and stick together as a team – but it will come and Pete and I are proud of the girls today. We’ll work on things in training and no matter what, we’ll be back smiling again next time we play!’

So as the dust settled on Leverhulme School’s pitch, that was that for another week in the life of our u11 Tornados. It was a pleasure to go down and watch them this morning and win, lose or draw, they definitely did the Club proud out there this morning. We’ll try and get down to watch you again before the end of the season but for now, keep working hard girls – and keep enjoying it!

#UpTheCounty!