Southampton FC Women continued their winning run with an impressive 2-0 victory away to in-form Gillingham.
Southampton made their chances pay in the opening 45, first going ahead through Lucia Kendall’s smart turn and finish on 28 minutes, before Alisha Ware struck four minutes later to double the advantage.
The second-half would yield no further goals, but Southampton exercised persistence and maturity to see out the encounter, earning a third successive victory and another clean sheet on the road.
Coming into the game, both teams were enjoying a rich vein of form, Gillingham’s manager Josh Oatham recently the recipient of the prestigious Manager of the Month award for February, while Saints arrived fresh from their 2-1 victory over London Bees midweek.
On the boggy pitch at the Rochester United Sports Ground, Saints struggled to find their rhythm in the early stages, Rosie Parnell’s bobbling back-pass almost gifting Mel Espinosa the chance to poke home on three minutes, but not before the alert Kayla Rendell could clear.
However, like all top teams Saints quickly began to grow into the battle, first going close through Kendell’s low effort on nine minutes, which whistled just wide of the bottom left corner following good play from skipper Phoebe Williams to keep the ball in play.
Considering Saints’ home result against Gillingham at the start of the season, a resounding 9-0 victory, the improvements Oatham has since made to his side were totally evident, those in red and black resistant to allow Southampton the freedom of the pitch.
That being said, Saints refused to be overrun and instead orchestrated a brilliant piece of intricate passing play, involving Pharoah, Kendall and Freeland on 25 minutes, the latter’s header on target but not powerful enough to beat Cara Davies at her near post.
With Southampton now playing the fluid football many have become accustomed to this season, the opener on 28 minutes was somewhat predictable, Kendall, yet again, sliding home with her left-foot following an excellent piece of skill to bring down Milly Mott’s whipped cross from the right.
Eager to respond, Gillingham instantly launched an attack up the other end, Amy Haynes’s volley from range turned expertly wide by the diving Rendell, ensuring Saints’ lead lasted longer than just one minute.
Despite the brief scare, Saints wasted no time in hunting for a second, another cross into the box causing mayhem for the home side, as the battling Ware earned her own luck, blocking Vicky Ashton-Jones’s attempted clearance before arrowing her subsequential half-volley into the right corner on 32 minutes.
Going into the break, it was difficult to see a way back for Gillingham, especially with Southampton’s attacking players in such ruthless goalscoring form.
As many would have guessed, Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side returned the stronger of the two teams, Pharoah’s effort from distance in the 50th minute harmlessly wide, but a warning to the substantial home support that a third could be imminent.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, things would not play out that way, as the hosts battled hard to stem the flow of Southampton’s attacks, keeping their chances of an unlikely comeback just about alive.
Laura Rafferty would be the next to go mighty close on 68 minutes, her towering jump ensuring her head met Kendall’s lofted corner, but the defender’s powerful effort flew just high of the crossbar.
As the final minutes ticked by, Saints continued to threaten, Kendall’s first-time volley from a looping Gillingham defensive header lifting a few from their seats, but the bobbling effort was well smothered by Davies, who showed fine composure to grip the ball firm and keep the deficit to two.
Overall, an accomplished victory on the road, and one which will further increase Saints’ confidence going into their next, crucial league tie against Crawley Wasps midweek.