Joe Sheehan: Ipswich Women are 'trailblazers' following Portman Road debut

Natasha Thomas celebrates her goal for Ipswich Town
Natasha Thomas has scored 20 goals for Ipswich so far this season

Ipswich Town manager Joe Sheehan hailed his team as "trailblazers" following a big victory over Chatham United in their first match at Portman Road.

A crowd of 10,173 watched the Women's National League Southern Division game, which Ipswich convincingly won 5-0.

Natasha Thomas scored twice, with one each from Sophie Peskett, Lenna Gunning-Williams and Summer Hughes.

"It's a great day and really important for the growth of women's football in this region," said Sheehan.

"We've been waiting a long time to get this opportunity to play here - it had to be the right moment, the right occasion."

He told BBC Radio Suffolk: "We said in the week that this occasion was far bigger than the result and we challenged ourselves to inspire a whole new generation of young children to get into football.

"This team are trailblazers, they were doing something for the first time that's going to have a huge impact.

"Everyone goes through their life and has an opportunity to make an impression on people that will live with them for a long time and our players have been able to do that and that's why it's such a hugely successful day."

Sheehan's team normally play their home games at the AGL Arena - Felixstowe & Walton United's stadium.

All four stands were open at Portman Road for an occasion Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton described when the game was announced in February as "historic".

Winger Peskett, who became the club's first professional woman player in 2021, described scoring at the stadium as a "surreal moment" and one she will "remember forever".

"It's what dreams are made of, I guess," she continued.

Sophie Peskett fires home Ipswich's second goal after beating three Chatham defenders
Sophie Peskett fired home Ipswich's second goal after beating three Chatham defenders

Ipswich had to adjust to a much larger playing surface than normal but were not overawed and took control of the game after Thomas put them in front in the 23rd minute.

"We're used to not as good pitches or astro [turf] where it does bounce a bit differently, so to play on here, it does mean a lot of things we work on in training can actually come off," Peskett told BBC Radio Suffolk.

"It's a much bigger pitch than we're used to so a few of us struggled physically a little bit towards the end of the game but it meant we could play fluid football, just like the men play."

Peskett added: "There was a lot in my head [beforehand] about what's it going to feel like, I've never played in front of more than 2,000 and that was years ago.

"I was actually more in the zone than I thought, I wasn't over-thinking about how many people are watching. When you're on there you just cut out outside noise and that's how you know you're playing in the zone and how you get the best performances out of yourself.

"I'm proud of myself and everyone else as we didn't let the occasion get to us and it just showed we can do it on the big stage. Next year we're looking to absolutely tear up this league."

Ipswich boss Joe Sheehan applauds the crowd at the end of Saturday's game
Ipswich boss Joe Sheehan applauds the crowd at the end of Saturday's game

Ipswich are fifth in the table with five games left to play, after finishing second in 2022-23.

"We are improving. I don't think we are anywhere near the finished article with the potential of this group," added Sheehan.

"I take a lot of pride in leading this team and being part of their trailblazer moment."