Southampton FC Women secured progression to the next round of the FA Women's National League Cup on Sunday afternoon following a hard-fought victory over divisional rivals Ipswich Town.
Ferociously contested, as most first versus second ties often are, Saints had to dig deep to overcome a resolute Ipswich side, with Lucia Kendall scoring the only goal of the game with a strike befitting of any victory.
The visitors needed some heroics from goalkeeper Kayla Rendell to preserve the clean sheet, and survived a wave of Ipswich pressure late on, as the home side were roared on by a 600 strong crowd.
A deserving victory in the end, but one that was ground out thanks to a mixture of sheer determination and a sprinkling of magic from Saints' Rendell/Kendall duo.
Each head-to-head dual was hotly contested in the early stages, giving it a real cup-tie feel. Little separated the sides, beyond a couple of half chances for Saints, which were well defended by the hosts. Although the intention from both was clear, and the rivalry evident too.
Shannon Sievwright's deep corner was perhaps the most presentable opportunity of the first period, with Laura Rafferty the target at the back post, but the ball was flicked away at the last second by Lucy Egan.
Ella Pusey got a brief sight of goal in first-half stoppage time, having been sandwiched between Egan and Ipswich stopper Sarah Quantrill, but her toe poked effort ended wide of the post. A game of fine margins.
The second 45 minutes started much in the same way. Egan carved herself a chance five minutes in, wide right of goal, with a fierce shot that flew marginally over the target, much to the disappointment of the abundant home following.
The hosts were more than a match for Saints, without really troubling Rendell in between the sticks, and the same could be said at the opposite end.
Pusey's shot in the 61st minute will register as an effort on target, but wasn't one of her finest, while a free-kick from range, also taken on by the number nine was equally tame.
Substitute Zoe Barratt was beginning to provide a spark for the home side as the half wound on, nearly benefiting from a measured cross from the right in the 65th minute, which Barratt herself attacked but wasn't able to get purchase on the finish. Natasha Thomas attempted to make use of the loose ball, but Rendell eventually claimed.
If Barratt gave Ipswich some life, Kendall was beginning to play a similar role for Saints. Her trickery was causing problems between the lines, as she picked up clever positions to act as the link between midfield and attack.
Sievwright delivered a succession of corners moments later, which were manfully defended, but Saints were finally stamping their mark on the occasion. The breakthrough was imminent and it was the brilliance of Kendall who provided it.
She danced inside two players, left of goal, before curling a sumptuous effort into the far corner, giving Saints a precious lead in the 79th minute. Georgie Freeland nearly doubled the advantage in the proceeding phase of play, with a cross-cum-shot that was plucked out of the air by Quantrill, but it needn't have mattered as Saints had their noses in front.
Ipswich's resolve was broken, but the fightback was on. The hosts would have found themselves level if not for the athleticism of Saints stopper Rendell, who twice thwarted efforts in the final five minutes. Substitute Sarah Brasero-Carreira drove towards goal, with three minutes remaining, and unleashed a shot that forced Rendell into a clasping stop - the crowd's moan gave a clear indication of how close the effort was.
The game was far more lively in the dying stages than at any other point in the tie, with both sides forcing openings. Ciara Watling snuck towards the back post in stoppage time, and with the ball bouncing loose, she threw herself at it, but got blocked en route.
A couple of brief scares at the opposite end caused momentary concern, but Rendell wasn't going to be beaten, holding strong against efforts from Barratt and Brasero-Carreira.
Hard-fought, but well deserved, as Saints secured progression to the next round of the FA Women's National League Cup, and will meet today's opponents again in a fortnight's time, this time in league action.