Southampton FC Women fell to defeat in their final game of the season against Sheffield United, as a single chance proved the decider in a game that Saints arguably dominated.
Southampton FC Women faced their final challenge of the 2022/23 Barclays Women’s Championship season with a home clash against Sheffield United.
Both sides headed into the encounter with a positive run of games under their belt, with Saints coming off the back of two wins, while the Blades were nine points in nine, despite their position in the table.
The Blades looked to start the game on the front foot, providing a number of searching balls across the box within the first ten minutes of the game, but nothing to massively trouble the Saints back line, or Kayla Rendell who returned to the starting eleven after illness.
Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side grew into the first fifteen minutes, with mainstay Ella Morris seeing a lot of the ball down the right-hand side but failing to find the all-important link-up to break into the opposition box.
Sophia Pharoah looked to be home and dry just before the twenty minute mark; the number 12 brought down a wonderfully weighted ball over the top, before she was hacked down just outside of the box, the referee waving away appeals.
With Saints starting to dominate possession, it was less than five minutes later that they had their next chance.
Megan Collett did well to dink the ball over her player and make up acres of ground before switching the play to Morris. Morris drove into the box, slamming her shot towards the bottom corner but Sheffield United’s Fran Stenson did well to get down and tip away.
Rendell was forced into her first save of the game just after the half hour mark, as the Blades were quicker to react to a sloppy pass, and got a shot off from distance; The Saints keeper tipping onto the top of the net.
However, Saints did well to absorb the short period of pressure after the chance, and the crowd thought they had gone ahead through Ella Pusey in injury time.
Alice Griffiths - who had been excellent in the middle during the first half - won the ball, drove into space and slotted a pass to Pusey, who struck home into the bottom corner, only to see the flag raised for offside.
Sheffield United had the first sight of goal in the second half, as a ball flashed across the box, evading all Saints’ shirts. The Blades only needed the final touch, but there was no black shirt to provide it.
Minutes later, Rendell was called into action once again as Sheffield United burst into the box en masse. With Saints unable to clear, Rendell did well to smother the shot and send it spinning away ahead of her defence.
Saints looked lethargic despite the Blades’ opportunities, and it didn’t take long for the away side to make their start count.
Courtney Sweetman-Kirk latched onto a ball in the box, saw her first shot denied, with Milly Mott clearing off the line, before she was able to turn home from close range in the 60th minute.
Two changes ensued, with Chloe Peplow and Beth Lumsden replacing Alice Griffiths and Katie Wilkinson.
Lumsden looked bright in possession coming on, with her pace seeing her drive past her defender down the left-hand side, but unable to find a teammate in a dangerous position.
Another attacking change saw Lexi Lloyd-Smith enter the fray in the 72nd minute, almost having the perfect start.
Pharoah and Lloyd-Smith played a neat one-two which saw the latter with space in the box, but a combination of a slip and pressure from the Blades’ Charlotte Newsham saw her unable to strike the ball cleanly, and the visitors were able to clear.
The visitors looked a different side with the goal buffer, and tested the Saints back line as the game headed into the final ten minutes.
A final throw of the dice saw Megan Wynne replace Sophia Pharoah in the 85th minute, the number 11 providing fresh legs in attack alongside the hardworking strike force.
Despite Saints' dominance, it was just the single goal that denied the home side a winning end to the season, seeing them finish sixth in the Barclays Women's Championship.
A debut season to be proud of, with Marieanne Spacey-Cale's side laying the foundations ready to go again in 2023/24.
Southampton: Kayla Rendell, Ella Morris, Milly Mott, Lucia Kendall, Rosie Parnell [c], Ella Pusey (Lexi Lloyd-Smith 72), Sophia Pharoah (Megan Wynne 85), Alice Griffiths (Chloe Peplow 60), Katie Wilkinson (Beth Lumsden 60), Megan Collett, Paige Peake.
Unused subs: Laura Rafferty, Georgie Freeland, Phoebe Williams, Ashleigh Ward, Beth Howard).
Manchester City: Fran Stenson, Charlotte Newsham, Sophie Barker, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, Maddy Cusack, Bex Rayner, Allthea Paul, Mia Enderby (Tamara Willock 80), Sophie Haywood (Rhema Lord Mears 61), Rachel Brown, Molly Graham.
Unused subs: Grace Riglar, Chene Muir, Charley Docherty, Maria Francis-Jones, Ruby Clarke, Bethan Daniels, Ellie Wilson.