A resilient performance earnt Southampton progression in the FA Women’s National League Cup, defeating visitors MK Dons 2-1.
A bland first-half was in complete contrast to an action-packed second, which saw Southampton go behind to Marriane Taho’s measured lob on 47 minutes, before an excellent strike from Alisha Ware and a pinpoint freekick from Leeta Rutherford, in the 55th and 78th minutes respectively, ensured Southampton’s progression into the third round.
Southampton made a blistering start and enjoyed an early opportunity after just 17 seconds, Ware latching onto Sophia Pharoah’s threaded pass, but the lack of power in her eventual effort from just outside the area allowed for an easy stop by Chloe Sansom.
Good work down the right-flank by Milly Mott would prove the source of Saints’ next opportunity, the youngster receiving from captain Phoebe Williams before driving down the line and curling a sumptuous ball into an unmarked Georgie Freeland, who will be disappointed not to have turned home from close range on seven minutes. Nevertheless, chances seemed aplenty.
However, Milton Keynes did well to absorb the continual Saints pressure throughout the opening stages, before sculpting their first opportunity with 21 minutes played, Chez Albert showing good strength to hold off the challenge of Rosie Parnell, before turning onto her right-foot and firing just wide of Kayla Rendell’s right post.
Enjoying a rich period of possession, the visitors soon threatened again, Nicole Pepper’s freekick, left of the box, dipping and swerving onto the roof of Rendell’s net after the increasingly threatening Albert was fouled by Caitlin Morris.
Somewhat surprisingly, given Southampton’s positive start, the game had become an even contest by the closing stages of the first 45, Milton Keynes visibly growing in confidence as the minutes ticked by, while Southampton appeared frustrated.
This is the second meeting of the two sides this season, after the first came on the opening day of the league, a fixture in which Southampton were made to work hard for a 3-1 victory. Entering the break goalless today, Marieanne Spacey-Cale will undoubtedly have called on her side to mirror the perseverance and resilience shown in their earlier game against today’s opponents, in the second period.
However, after starting the second-half the hungrier of the two sides, the visitors quickly struck, Taho afforded too much space by Southampton’s midfield, meaning she could turn uncontested and lift a delicate, precise effort over the head of the advanced Rendell and into her top right corner from considerable distance, just two minutes of the referee’s whistle. An impressive goal, but one which Southampton will feel was avoidable.
Although, despite this unfavourable second-half start, such perseverance would shine through, Ware, who had arguably been the hosts biggest offensive threat thus far, finding space to the right of Sansom’s left post, before firing a ferocious, right-footed effort past the goalkeeper, who could only stand and watch the driven shot rustle her net. Game on, with 35 minutes to play.
Growing in confidence after their timely equaliser, Southampton were beginning to show more of a cutting edge in attack, epitomised by some neat, intricate passing between Pharoah, Ware and Rutherford on the edge of the opposition’s box, the latter looking for her third goal in the last two games, but eventually firing over.
Not deterred by this missed opportunity, however, Rutherford would soon step over a freekick earnt shortly after, positioned centrally and about 30-yards-out from Sansom’s goal.
Not Southampton’s typical dead-ball specialist, a blanket of anticipation fell over Snows Stadium and the 165 spectators which filled it, as Rutherford’s powerful, right-footed strike cleared the defensive wall and bent perfectly into the visitor’s top right corner on 78 minutes. A truly spectacular effort by the defender.
With ten minutes to play, Southampton called upon their experience and maturity to see out the game, surviving late scares from Laura Bright and Taho to earn deserved progression into the third round of the FA Women’s National League Cup.
In action once again at Snows Stadium on Thursday, 9th December, Southampton will welcome neighbours Eastleigh in the Senior Cup, a game in which Spacey-Cale’s side will hope to carry over this positive mentality, and continue their winning run.