Southampton FC Women marked their comeback game with an impressive 3-0 victory over Plymouth in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup second round, after almost four months away from the pitch due to government restrictions.
A powerful header from Lucia Kendall in the 34th minute got Southampton up and running, curtesy of fullback Milly Mott’s whipped cross from deep.
The second came just one minute before halftime, Rachel Panting sneaking in at the back post to nod home after Plymouth failed to deal with Caitlin Morris’s angled ball into the box from a freekick.
Southampton’s third and final goal came after 77 minutes, Rosie Parnell smashing home on the rebound after Plymouth’s Poppy Soper saved Phoebe Williams’s flicked effort at her near post.
With both teams having their league seasons cancelled due to government restrictions, this fixture has been eagerly anticipated and featured two sides both driven by the premise of further fixtures in the competition should they be victorious.
Despite playing one division below Plymouth, the Saints took control of the game early and were unfortunate not to go ahead in the 11th minute, Williams playing a delightful ball through to Kendall whose eventual shot was well smothered by the outrushing Soper.
Keeping their foot firmly planted on the gas, Southampton’s Ella Pusey found herself with a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the 21st minute, the striker using her pace to latch onto a Shelly Provan cross, but failed to keep her shot down when travelling at such speed.
The home side did open the scoring 13 minutes later though, Mott breaking away down the right wing and delivering a deep, whipped cross to the far post and onto the head of fellow RTC graduate Kendall, who powered her effort past Soper who was left helpless.
Shannon Sievwright came close to scoring a spectacular effort on 42 minutes, the central midfielder’s long range freekick sneaking just over the crossbar, but serving a clear reminder to Plymouth of her ability to create something out of nothing due to her accomplished striking of the ball which she showcased all afternoon.
With the visitors still yet to register an attempt on Kayla Rendell’s goal and struggling to maintain possession; Southampton’s second goal in the 44th minute practically killed off the game, Morris’s angled ball into the box from a freekick evading everyone but Panting, who snuck in at the back post to nod into an open net.
Emerging from the interval with the same mentality shown in the first half, Southampton instantly began hunting the third goal, Panting coming close with a curled effort from distance just a couple of minutes into the second period.
Spurred on by a superb double save in the first half to keep out efforts from both Kendall and Sophia Pharoah, Soper was called upon again by her team in the 55th minute, this time using her foot and hand in equal measure to tip Pusey’s low shot round her left post.
However, the stopper was left helpless a few minutes later; Parnell chipping a weighted ball into Kendall whose touch and finish would have been enjoyed on the highlights reel for weeks to come, if a handball hadn’t been spotted by eagle-eyed referee Stephen Jansen in the build-up.
Even without her first half assist, Mott had an excellent day for Southampton and caused constant havoc down the right side, almost forcing Plymouth defender Panagiota Papaioannou to turn the ball into her own net on 76 minutes with a powered, unpredictable cross - something that would’ve truly summed up The Pilgrims day.
Southampton added their deserved third and final goal in the 77th minute, Sievwright’s low corner cleverly flicked at the near post by Williams who saw her effort saved by the gloves of Soper, who could only direct the ball into the feet of Parnell who slammed home with her right foot to seal a deserved victory.
After such an extended period away from the pitch, Marieanne Spacey-Cale will be thrilled with the way her team performed, especially against higher tier opposition, while Southampton will be growing in confidence that, especially in the absence of the league football, they can make this Vitality Women’s FA Cup campaign one to remember.