Southampton FC Women saw off a stubborn Crawley Wasps with three quick-fire second half goals at Snows Stadium.
After a well contested first 45 Saints came out the blocks firing at the start of the second, Laura Rafferty with a superb through ball into the path of Lucia Kendall who chipped home the opener on 48 minutes.
It was two just nine minutes later. Another ball from deep this time latched onto by Ella Pusey who found the bottom corner one-on-one.
Pusey doubled her tally on 67 minutes, checking back and firing home a third as a confident Saints really got into their stride.
The one-to-watch on the Crawley team sheet was Iesha Swaby, a strong forward with an eye for goal particularly out wide.
Saints made a few changes to the side for tonight’s game, the likes of Rafferty and Kayla Rendell returning to the starting XI whilst new signing Katie Rood and keeper Sara Luce dropped to the bench.
The pressure came from the off for the home side; neat interplay between Pusey and Milly Mott forcing a corner via the latter’s low cross inside the first minute.
Saints came even closer two minutes later. Lucia Kendall’s deep free kick aimed for the far post but narrowly missing the outstretched leg of Rafferty.
The waves of pressure kept coming. Shelly Provan the next to fire a low cross into the box which Georgie Freeland tipped over first time.
Pusey looked to have notched Saints in front from close range on 8 minutes, connecting to another Mott cross at the near post but failing to find the target. She would have been denied by the linesman’s flag anyway had the ball found the net.
Crawley’s first effort of the night came via a set-piece soon after, Natasha Stephens clipping her strike on the turn just wide of Rendell’s left post.
Saints responded with a chance of their own. A quick break down the right from none other than Mott once more, who found an unmarked Kendall but the England international couldn’t direct her shot on target.
The end-to-end nature of the game didn’t falter as the ten-minute mark came and went.
Crawley first having a chance via Florence Jackson which Rendell had to collect, before Pusey, fed after a solo run by Alice Griffiths in midfield, found space in the box and forced opposing keeper into Megan Lynch into a similarly strong save.
Mott turned the provider again on 22 minutes after a relatively quiet spell in the game feeding Kendall through just to the right of the Crawley goal. The Saints youngster just unable to find the underside of the bar.
Provan had a similarly lively start to the game on the left wing, looking to feed Pusey once more but denied by the flag for the second time on the night.
The game appeared to die down as the half wore on, both sides having to catch their breath after a non-stop opening 25 minutes.
Crawley had claims for a penalty with just over five minutes to go before the break as Swaby fell to the floor just inside the box. Nothing doing for the referee.
This seemed to spur on the visitors, who put Saints under considerable pressure in the minutes following.
In first-half stoppage time the hosts went close again; Pusey feeding Freeland who just missed the near post with her effort. At the break, it was all square.
If Saints were close to taking the lead at the end of the first half, they went one better three minutes into the second.
Rafferty’s long ball from defence fed through Kendall, who made no mistake with a cool lob over the keeper as she claimed her third goal in as many games.
Crawley did well to fight back after going behind, but the hosts’ quality told in the final third as they doubled their tally on 57 minutes.
A long ball from defence along the floor seemed to catch the visiting defence out, as Pusey was alert to it and fed through on goal.
Saints’ number nine kept her nerve and placed an exquisite finish into the keeper’s bottom left corner.
After a quiet first half by the home side’s standards, they were well and truly getting into their stride second half.
The confidence flew through Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side during this second half, typified by a third goal of equal quality in the 67th minute.
Another through ball from deep caught Crawley on the back foot, Pusey this time having to check back on the edge of the box before firing past Lynch with power for her second of the afternoon.
Crawley had a chance to cut the lead via a set-piece with just over 15 minutes to go. Naomi Cole’s deep free kick finding the feet of Swaby who had time to turn and shoot but failed to trouble Rendell.
Another effort came minutes later as Cole let fly from range and rocketed Rendell’s crossbar.
In the build-up to Sunday’s crunch tie against Ipswich Crawley certainly gave Spacey-Cale’s side a stern test at times.
Crawley kept on pressing as the game's end drew closer, Swaby in-amongst it again hitting the bar in the final minute of the game.
But Saints' defence stood strong once more, continuing their record of conceding just once all season in Southern Premier.
It sets Spacey-Cale's side up perfectly for the visit of league leaders Ipswich Town on Sunday.
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