Women's Report: Wilkinson hat-trick seals three points


Katie Wilkinson’s first half hat-trick inspired Southampton FC Women to a fourth successive Championship victory, beating Coventry United 3-0 at St Mary’s Stadium.

Southampton did all of the damage in the first half, edging ahead after just 27 seconds courtesy of Wilkinson’s first ever goal in a Saints shirt, a feat she repeated twice more in the 38th and 42nd minutes respectively to earn herself a first half hat-trick and her team another three points.

Under the floodlights of St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton looked to register a fourth successive league win and a seventh game unbeaten, while visitors Coventry aimed to earn their first points of the campaign and lift themselves from the foot of the table.

Somewhat surprisingly given their difficult start in the league, Coventry stunned Southampton exactly one month ago in the Continental Cup, rolling out 2-0 victors over Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side at Butts Park Arena. Lee Burch’s team were impressive that day, but endured a nightmare start on this occasion.

It was the tenacity of Wilkinson alone which earnt the opportunity, the striker not allowing Coventry to clear their lines and earning her own luck in doing so as she came onto a bouncing ball that resulted from her own initial block. Without hesitation, the striker fired her magnificent right-footed half-volley into the bottom left corner from just outside the box, blasting her side into the lead after just 27 seconds.

The perfect start for those in red and white and a first club goal for Wilkinson, one she certainly deserved given her tremendous efforts since arriving on the south coast in July.

Under the cosh already, Coventry instantly began searching for a route back into the game and nearly found it through Mary McAteer’s dart to the front post, but the number nine was unable to direct her effort from the whipped corner on-target after four minutes.

After an enthralling start to the game, proceedings began to settle as the minutes crept beyond five, both sides amending their game plan accordingly following Saints’ unprecedented early lead.

Efforts from Alice Griffiths and Wilkinson would both be denied around the 20th minute, but it was the strike of Ella Pusey which warranted the biggest cheer from the 2,000-strong crowd.

The 22-year-old’s second half strike against Sunderland was enough to earn her side three points on Sunday, and the striker came very close to replicating that feat after latching onto a through ball from midfield in the 33rd minute, but her low, left-footed shot from a tight angle rolled narrowly wide of its intended target.

However, despite spurning her first opportunity, the striker wasted no time in setting up partner Wilkinson with a second.

Architects of their own downfall yet again, Coventry’s Eleanor Heeps was caught napping on the ball by Pusey, who showed fine awareness to cut her pass back into the path of Wilkinson, the attacker’s initial effort blocked well by the recovering goalkeeper, but her second too powerful to stop on 38 minutes.

With the visitors pressed against the ropes, Saints remained ruthless, allowing their opponents just four minutes of respite before further extending their advantage.

This time it was a delicious cross from full-back Megan Collett which proved the catalyst, her whipped ball causing havoc as it travelled perfectly between goalkeeper and defence. Heeps was able to get a small touch en-route but failed to get enough contact to deny the electric Wilkinson of a first half hat-trick, the striker on hand once again to steer home at the far post shortly before the break. Clinical.

Emerging from the tunnel ahead of the second 45, Saints looked to inflict further damage, while Coventry prepared to batten down the hatches.

In comparison to their first, the Sky Blues made a positive start to the second period, forcing the hosts to wait over 15 minutes for their next opening.

This time the chance fell to Megan Wynne, the winger finding space down the right flank before being fed by Wilkinson, but the Welsh international couldn’t test the goalkeeper amid pressure from Megan Alexander, who showed persistence to block the attempt.

Despite creating less goalscoring opportunities, Saints’ performance remained first-class, Spacey-Cale’s side dominating possession as the minutes ticked toward a further three points.

Into the dying embers, the hosts continued their search for a fourth, Pusey fed through by substitute Georgie Freeland before firing her strike goalward, but the tight, right-sided angle favoured the goalkeeper, who turned behind with her legs for a corner.

From that corner grew one last chance for Wilkinson, who from a similar position to Pusey before her zipped an effort across goal with power and precision, forcing Heeps into perhaps her finest stop of the evening to turn the ball around her far post and contain Coventry’s deficit to three.