Southampton FC Women faced defeat against a top-tier Leicester City side in their final pre-season game.
Leicester City provided tough opposition for Southampton FC Women's final pre-season friendly ahead of the Barclays Women's Championship at Belvoir Drive Training Ground.
The Foxes started the brighter, forcing an early save from Kayla Rendell before dominating the possession. However, Saints grew into the game, creating a number of chances in the first half and preventing Leicester from going ahead.
A lapse of concentration early in the second period saw Leicester pounce on a ricocheted shot off the bar to turn home from inside the box, but Saints did well to snap back into action and played some encouraging football against the Super League opposition.
Hot conditions at Leicester City’s Belvoir Drive Training Ground were testing for both sides but it was Leicester who worked their first chance with a neat set play; a short ball was recycled round the back of Saints’ defence, allowing Leicester’s number 22 to unleash a shot, only to see Rendell’s outstretched leg send it wide.
Leicester continued to dominate possession in the opening exchanges, encamping themselves in the Saints half and patiently working the ball to find shooting opportunities.
However, Saints were quick to hit on the break given the opportunity. A quick one-two between Beth Lumsden and Megan Wynne saw the latter drive down the line and deliver into the box. Katie Wilkinson looked to get on the end of the cross, but was well-shepherded by two Leicester defenders.
Saints began to grow into the game as the clock ticked out of the initial ten minutes, with Milly Mott looking particularly assured against a strong Leicester attack.
Despite that, Rendell was once again called into action in the 11th minute, as a frustrated Leicester attacker let fly from outside the box - an easy stop in the end for Saints’ number one.
It was Saints with the next real chance of the game, as dogged perseverance from Wynne saw her win back the ball and feed Beth Lumsden. Some quick feet and a driving step forward saw the number ten unleash a rising ball towards the top of the net, only to see it parried away for a corner.
Saints were then unlucky to not take the lead in the 28th minute, as Wynne’s hard work once again caused issues for the Foxes back line. A nearly open goal beckoned as the ball came back across the box to Katie Wilkinson, but a strong recovery saw Leicester clear off the line.
Ella Morris really came alive in the closing ten minutes of the first half, confidently taking on her player on the left-hand side after a fantastically weighted ball from Paige Peake; Morris nearly causing an own goal, as her searching cross had to be tipped away by the Leicester keeper.
Saints had to be alert in the opening encounter of the second half, as a driving run from the Foxes’ right-winger saw the home team burst into the box. Some scrappy defending saw Saints manage to get the ball away, but it was a warning shot for the side.
Saints reacted well, with Morris winning a free-kick inside the Leicester half after once again tying her defender in knots with her quick feet.
Lucia Kendall’s free-kick looked dangerous as it sailed towards the top of the net, but Leicester’s keeper was equal to the effort, managing to clutch the ball out of the air before spilling it and then reclaiming.
However, it was Leicester who were able to break the deadlock in the 48th minute, as a long range shot crashed off the crossbar into the path of a blue shirt. Slow reactions from Saints saw the player slot the ball low and hard into the bottom corner to take the lead.
Alice Griffiths replaced Leeta Rutherford ten minutes into the second half, providing much needed fresh legs in the beating sun.
Morris went agonisingly close shortly after the change, nipping in on a loose touch to snatch the ball from the left-back and curl a shot goalward which flew narrowly high and wide.
More changes in the 70th minute saw Ella Pusey, Ciara Watling and Phoebe Williams enter the fray, with Lumsden, Wilkinson and Ward make way.
A sustained period of pressure from Saints looked like it would bear fruit as the game headed into the closing ten minutes, as Leicester struggled to properly clear their lines under the high-press.
Ciara Watling looked to provide the winning assist in the dying moments as she weaved past her player on the touch line, before seeing her cross-shot blocked.
A tough game for Saints, but an encouraging one against an established Barclays Women’s Super League side, creating plenty of their own chances in front of the Leicester goal.
Marieanne Spacey-Cale and her side will now look forward to their opening game of the league season against Charlton at St Mary’s.
Tickets are still on sale for supporters to witness Saints make history in the second tier of Women’s football - come and support them!