Southampton FC Women suffered a narrow 2-0 defeat to visitors Charlton Athletic on the opening day of their Championship campaign at St Mary’s Stadium.
Despite Southampton’s bright start to proceedings, it was Charlton who opened the scoring in the first half, Emily Simpkins tripped by Megan Wynne in the box before dispatching the subsequent penalty herself after 22 minutes.
Following a similar pattern, Saints yet again started well in the second 45 but quickly found themselves two behind through the left-boot of Mel Johnson on 52 minutes. Later in the half, Angela Addison would enjoy Charlton’s second opportunity from the penalty spot, but Kayla Rendell made a smart save to deny her team a third of the afternoon.
In the opening minutes of their inaugural Championship season, Southampton looked the more threatening of the two sides and registered the first significant attempts on goal.
Wynne was quick to force Sian Rogers into a save, the goalkeeper holding on to her volley at the near post moments before striker Katie Wilkinson headed over Milly Mott’s whipped cross from the right flank on seven minutes.
Four of Saints’ summer signings featured in the starting XI, with Wilkinson in particular looking a real threat up top in the early stages, her powerful, right-footed free-kick from 30 yards forcing Charlton’s stopper into another smart stop as the clock stroked 10.
Considering Charlton’s fifth placed finish in the Championship last season, their difficulty in containing Saints’ energic attackers in the opening exchanges perhaps came as a slight concern to their traveling faithful. However, Karen Hills’s side would begin inflicting more pressure beyond the 20th minute.
Following some scruffy pinball on the by-line to the right of Rendell’s goal, Charlton eventually worked a pass back into the feet of Simpkins near the penalty spot, the captain feinting left before being illegally tripped by Wynne in the eyes of referee Chloe-Ann Anderson.
Simpkins herself would shoulder the responsibility from 12 yards, lifting her effort beyond the outstretched arms of Rendell and into the top left corner of her net midway through the first half.
With the wind in their sails, Charlton continued to peg Southampton back in the minutes after their opener and certainly should’ve doubled their advantage on 28 minutes, Emma Follis’s right-sided cross angled over Rendell and perfectly into the path of Johnson, who from just a few yards failed to make any meaningful contact.
Finishing the half the stronger of two teams, The Addicks went close once more seconds before the interval, Sophie O’Rourke’s cross-cum-shot from the left flank forcing Rendell into a diving, fingertip save to direct the ball clear of her far post.
Considering their encouraging performance, especially in the early phases, it had been a frustrating first 45 for Mareianne Spacey-Cale’s team, though much remained to be played for in the latter period.
As they did in the first, Saints started the second half with attacking intent, Leeta Rutherford nodding Paige Peake’s long free-kick back across goal and into the path of Lucia Kendall whose subsequent header was a powerful one but lacked direction.
Despite their direct start, however, a momentary lapse in defensive concentration would cost Spacey-Cale’s side dearly, Southampton waiting for an offside flag that never came which allowed Johnson to steal in and slot her low, left-footed effort smartly across the body of Rendell with 52 minutes played.
A heavy blow to their aspiration of points, the home side now faced an uphill battle. In an attempt to keep her team in the fight, Kendall again tried her luck on 52 minutes, her curling effort from distance just a little too high as the ball kissed the roof of Rogers’s net on its way over.
With Southampton committing women forward, space naturally began to appear in their defensive areas which Charlton were quick to exploit.
The 71st minute saw a long ball into the box spark chase between Beth Roe and Ella Morris before the recovering defender, in her eagerness to win possession, dragged her opponent to the floor. A second opportunity from the spot was subsequently awarded to the away side.
Similarly to her teammate in the first half, Addison opted to lift her effort into the top right corner, but Rendell wouldn’t be fooled twice and, to the backdrop of Southampton’s 2,444 taunting fans, got across swiftly to parry the weak effort clear.
Buoyed by the heroics of their goalkeeper, Southampton kept pushing right into the dying embers. Beth Lumsden, who had made a positive impact since being introduced for Wilkinson in the second half, would go closest, the striker forcing Rogers into a fine low save with her right foot a few minutes after she dragged a similar opportunity narrowly wide.
Defeat in the end, but plenty of positives to take for Spacey-Cale’s side who will now begin preparations ahead of Lewes in the league next Sunday. Kick-off at 12:30pm.