A gutsy Southampton FC Women overcame promotion rivals Ipswich 2-1 at the Goldstar Ground, massively boosting their promotion hopes.
Saints were flat in the first-half, falling behind to Paige Peake’s well struck penalty in the 36th minute.
The second 45, however, was in stark contrast as exceptional goals from Lucia Kendall and Ella Pusey topped a tremendous display and sealed a deserved victory.
Boosted by the support of a packed Goldstar Ground, Ipswich started the game with intent, Zoe Barratt’s early cross from the right well weighted, but not met by striker Natasha Thomas in the middle amid good defensive pressure from Rosie Parnell.
In the seventh minute Saints faced a similar challenge, once again a ball from the right whipped toward the far post where Lucy O’Brien lurked, but the winger’s headed effort was bland and harmlessly nestled into the side netting.
Looking to respond after a lacklustre start, Saints carved their first opportunity of the afternoon shortly after, Georgie Freeland setting off Alisha Ware who used her pace well to evade Bonnie Horwood’s defensive efforts, but was let down by a heavy touch, which saw the ball trickle away into the grateful gloves of Sarah Quantrill.
Undoubtedly the home side’s most dangerous player, Barratt would predictably be the next to threaten Kayla Kendell’s net on 12 minutes, but, alike her teammates, showed a lack of cutting edge and spurned her header wide. Despite their bright start, there was a collective feeling that Ipswich could regret wasting such golden early chances.
As the clocked stroked past the half-hour mark, Saints had managed to get a foothold in the game and began to find some more frequent offensive joy, mostly on the counter-attack.
Following a lazy Ipswich pass out of defence, Ware would again be the beneficiary of a chipped through ball in the 33rd minute, but, with the angle constantly tightening, the winger snatched at her effort, sending the ball high and wide. In such a rich vein of form, she will label that a chance wasted.
Just as the game appeared to be slowing down ahead of half-time, Milly Mott suffered an unfortunate slip, grabbing at Anna Grey in the process who immediately went down in the box. Penalty, according to the strict Sophie Dennington.
After some debate, Paige Peake stepped up and smashed her spot-kick confidently into Rendell’s top right corner on 36 minutes.
Using half-time as an opportunity to regroup and replan, Saints came into the second-half with a renewed hunger and aggression that was totally absent in the prior period.
With that in mind, Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side quickly began pestering their opposition offensively, substitute Ella Pusey looking to make an immediate impact with her head as she glanced wide.
The shift in mentality was evidently clear and was perfectly emphasised by Kendall’s stunning half-volley six minutes after the restart, which she caught sweetly following a poor defensive clearance, arrowing her unstoppable right-footed strike across the goal and into Quantrill’s right corner.
With Southampton showing more threat in the first 10 minutes of the second-half than they did in the entire first, Ella Morris would be the next to dirty Quantrill’s gloves, unleashing a right-footed arrow from range which was well saved down low.
With their backs against the wall, Ipswich, despite their best efforts, couldn’t stop Saints grabbing a second, Kendall this time proving the creator as she slipped in Pusey who eyed up the goalkeeper before lifting her effort clinically over her on 55 minutes. The perfect response.
Now in the driving seat, the final half-hour would be a real test of Southampton’s nerve, as they looked to hang on to arguably their biggest and most crucial league victory this season.
Desperately trying to level proceedings but starved of chances, O’Brien tried her luck from range on 77 minutes, but screwed her effort well wide to the cheer of Southampton’s away support, which was raucous.
With just a few moments to go, Pusey looked to further increase the advantage but was cynically brought down just outside the area. Her subsequential free-kick would be fired over, but more importantly ensured the final seconds were survived scare-free, earning a dramatic victory and one which massively strengthens Southampton’s promotion hopes.