Southampton Women extended their unbeaten run in the FA Women’s National League Southern Premier on Wednesday, drawing with Oxford in a six-goal thriller at Snows Stadium.
Winning both the league and the cup, it had been an emphatic week for Saints, though Marieanne Spacey-Cale was determined to enter Wednesday’s fixture with the same mentality they have all season.
With Oxford undoubtedly buoyed by their impressive victory over Ipswich Town, the visitors arrived at Snows Stadium with similar positivity as the hosts.
Marieanne Spacey-Cale made six changes to the starting XI that claimed victory over Huddersfield Town, with Shelly Provan, Phoebe Wiliams, Shannon Sievwright, Alice Griffiths, Katie Rood and Ciara Watling all earning their place on the field.
A thoroughly competitive opening half at Snows Stadium saw three goals hit the back of the net. Katie Rood claimed the opener for Saints but it was Oxford United that entered the tunnel at half time with the lead.
Beth Lumsden’s conversion from the penalty spot was then followed by Merrick Will’s fabulous individual effort, with Saints having much to prove in the second half.
A different tale was told in the second, with an enthralling 20 minutes drawing the action to a close under the lights. It took until the 75th minute for Saints to draw the scores level, with Phoebe Williams’ goal given the green light by the assistant referee.
Rosie Parnell then netted her first goal of the season to give Saints the lead for the first time since the 15th minute. With the clock deep into extra time it looked as though Saints had secured all three points before the visitors were awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area.
A sublime strike from Cheryl Williams from the set-piece effortlessly floated above Kayla Rendell and into the top of the net.
After a cagey opening few minutes, it was Oxford who were presented with the first real opportunity to set their sights on goal at Snows Stadium.
Shannon Sievwright’s challenge on Lumsden resulted in a free-kick for the visitors on the right side of the area, with Daisy McLauchlan presented with an opportunity to get the ball inside the area. Despite a strong delivery, Leeta Rutherford’s header was enough to clear the threat for Saints.
The following passages of play were largely dominated by Saints, who looked to find an opening in the game. Some smart work from Provan down the left flank then saw Ciara Watling released on the outside of the area, a silky offload to Phoebe Williams looked promising but was ultimately intercepted by the Oxford defence.
With Saints continuing to dominate possession, Katie Rood danced her way inside the area and past a number of the Oxford defence, with the ball eventually heading behind for a Saints corner.
A fine delivery from Ella Morris entered into the penalty area with Rood there to head in for the hosts and give them the advantage after 16 minutes of play.
The celebrations were short lived, though. Just moments later, a late challenge on Sophie Baker by Sievwright saw the visitors awarded a penalty. No hesitation from Lumsden and Oxford were level within a minute.
The goals from either side injected new energy into the clash and while Saints produced a couple of promising opportunities through Watling and Ella Morris, it was Oxford who drew next blood.
A dizzying run from Will into the box addled the Saints defence, with her shot from close range evading Rendell and striking the visitors ahead for the first time in the contest.
With Saints looking to retaliate, Provan worked a lovely ball into the box from the left flank before a stray leg from Riva Casley sent a wandering ball behind for a corner.
Williams’ delivery resulted in much scrambling within the box, with huge calls for handball from the Saints players.
With the half drawing to a close Saints came close to finding the equaliser with Williams finding her way past Rose Kite, but Megan Alexander made a defiant clearance from the line to deny her.
The second half saw an even contest between the two sides, with Saints doing well to work the ball up the pitch but Oxford’s defence holding strong and denying any real threat.
A great interception from Griffiths in the centre of midfield presented Saints with their first opportunity of the half, releasing Morris who embarked on a tantalising run into the area. Some instinctive thinking from the Oxford goalkeeper as Kite left her line to defend, providing a vital touch to deflect Morris’ shot behind for another Saints corner.
A couple of chances then ensued for Saints, with a delightful delivery from the left flank from Provan finding Williams at the far post. With the goal open, Williams looked to tap the ball in but failing to get it under control, it fired well above the crossbar. Captain Sievwright was the next to try her luck from range, but it fell straight into the hands of Kite.
With Saints still trailing it was time for Marieanne Spacey-Cale to bring in re-enforcements, with Ella Pusey and Megan Collett coming on in place of Ella Morris and Alice Griffiths.
With chances presenting themselves at both ends, it was Saints who eventually broke the deadlock in the second half. Much confusion from players and officials alike as Williams’ strike looked to have crossed the line but with a clearance coming in late, it took a few moments for the goal to be awarded.
After consulting with the assistant, Williams’ goal was confirmed and Saints were back on level terms on a tense evening at Snows Stadium.
Having found their feet with the equaliser, it didn’t take long for Saints to find themselves back in front with another corner producing a decisive goal for the hosts. With much scrambling inside the area, the ball eventually fell to the far post where Parnell was on hand to knock the ball into the back of the net.
As the game edged closer to an end, Oxford were eager to find the equaliser to come away with an all-important point in their bid for second place. Carly Johns came close, with her shot from outside the area eventually being collected by Rendell.
A whole host of opportunities fell the visitor’s way in the closing stages, with their breakthrough coming in the 95th minute of play.
Awarded a free kick with the clock run down, Williams made no error in finding the back of the net. Perfectly converting from the dead ball, the scores were once again tied with the points shared on a dramatic night.
Saints now host Cardiff at Snows Stadium on Sunday, bringing their FA Women’s National League Southern Premier regular season to a close.