A determined performance from Southampton FC Women extended their unbeaten league run to six following a narrow 1-0 victory over Sunderland at St Mary’s Stadium.
Southampton enjoyed the better chances in the first half but were made to wait until the second for their opener and eventual winner, Ella Pusey’s low strike in the 58th minute enough to secure a hard-fought 1-0 victory and three points against visitors Sunderland.
The form of either side was incomparable ahead of kick-off, Saints red hot and unbeaten in their last five league games, while Sunderland’s previous encounter ended in a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of London City Lionesses one week ago.
With that in mind, Saints’ early dominance came as no real shock, Katie Wilkinson’s effort from a 25-yard free-kick the first to dirty the gloves Claudia Moan after four minutes, not that the goalkeeper was overly stretched.
The home sides' siege showed no signs of slowing as the 10th minute came and went, both Wilkinson and Lucia Kendall trying their luck around that time, stopped by the well positioned Moan and the excellent sliding block of Grace McCatty respectively as Sunderland clung on.
Credit to the away side, after absorbing the early pressure they began to grow into the match as the minutes neared 20, earning four corners in quick succession, the last of which was swung directly on target by Tyler Dodds, forcing Kayla Rendell to take swift action and punch clear with her right fist.
With possession now at a premium in a game that was becoming more and more open by the minute, the midfield battle in particular was growing into a vicious contest, Saints looking to steady the ship while The Black Cats wrestled for control at the helm.
Pusey was perhaps Southampton’s brightest spark in their 1-0 victory away to Sheffield United last Sunday, and the striker looked set to grab her second of the season in the 26th minute after being threaded through perfectly by Wilkinson. However, for the second time in the match, a last-ditch sliding challenge was just enough to deny the home side an opener.
Continuing in its unpredictable rhythm, the next highlight of the game came courtesy of Emily Scarr’s right-boot, the midfielder setting herself from approximately 20-yards, left of goal, before whipping her vicious effort toward Rendell’s near post, forcing the stopper into an impressive diving save on 40 minutes.
It’s likely, given their terrific form of late, that Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side went into the break the less pleased of the two sides. Yet, as they did most recently against Birmingham, a single moment of brilliance in the second half may well prove enough to earn them all three points.
That being said, it was Sunderland who threatened first, Scarr allowed far too much time to the left of Rendell’s goal, poking her right-footed effort across the goalkeeper and onto her far post from a tight angle on 53 minutes.
A big let off for the home side, but one which also seemed to jumpstart their offensive regime, Megan Wynne’s snap-shot from just a yard or so out hacked off the line by a mass of Coventry bodies following Wilkinson’s downward header from a corner.
Despite the positive signs, Wynne’s unfortunate miss was arguably the third or fourth presentable chance Saints had failed to convert in the match. Considering the time, they could certainly do with making their next count.
Not only did it arrive swiftly, but it perhaps fell to the perfect person, Wilkinson once again doing brilliantly to flick her header backwards toward the penalty spot, before the in-form Pusey stole in at the far post to roll her first-time finish home confidently beyond the outstretched Moan, leaving the goalkeeper helpless in the 58th minute.
It was a goal met with jubilant appreciation by Saints’ 2,799-strong home faithful, whose aim was to now support their side in navigating the crucial half-hour that remained.
That was a task Southampton managed impeccably right through to the 90th minute, resisting every attack their opposition threw at them in a bid to draw level and avoid successive league defeats.
With six gruelling minutes of injury time awarded, Saints looked to continue in their resoluteness, but nearly found all of their hard work undone by a moment of confusion.
Ciara Watling had seemingly been given the green light to replace Kendall, the winger having already made her way to the bench, however referee Lauren Impey went on to restart play without formally introducing Watling to the pitch, momentarily leaving the home side a player light.
During that time, Abby Holmes drove down Saints’ left side, making her way just inside the box before unleashing a vicious right-footed effort that flew just a few inches too high of the crossbar, sparing the game a controversial ending.
Another three points in the bag for Saints, and a sixth successive game undefeated in the Championship as Spacey-Cale’s side now turn their focus to the visit of Coventry United on Wednesday evening. Kick-off at 7pm.