Southampton FC Women extended their unbeaten league run to four following an impressive 1-0 victory over Birmingham City at Snows Stadium.
Lucia Kendall’s late strike in the 84th minute was enough to snatch victory for her side following a hard-fought encounter that never faltered in its intensity.
Under the floodlights of Saints’ fortress last season, Snows Stadium, the encounter began reasonably cagey as either team looked to build momentum. Unsurprising given the importance of the match which featured two sides separated by just a couple of points in the league prior to kick-off.
Former Women’s Super League outfit Birmingham would be the first to shape an opportunity, Libby Smith dazzling with her quick feet down the left wing before feeding Lucy Quinn, her subsequent shot on the turn flashing harmlessly across the face of Kayla Rendell’s net on six minutes.
Looking to build on their first opening, The Blues looked to snatch the lead once again in the 10th minute, Quinn stooping to get her head on a low cross, but one which she couldn’t direct goalward amid the defensive presence of Southampton’s Paige Peake and Rosie Parnell, who ushered clear.
With the match persisting in its frantic but competitive nature, the home sides efforts finally yielded a first chance on the 30-minute mark, and it was a golden one.
Birmingham’s first mistake was to allow Beth Lumsden time outside their penalty area, Saints’ number 10 showing fine vision to pick out the darting run of strike partner Katie Wilkinson in-behind, the attacker setting herself, eye-to-eye with Lucy Thomas, before whipping her right-footed effort agonisingly wide of the left post.
Despite spurning the opportunity, however, Wilkinson remained undeterred in her play, showing excellent footwork moments later to initially draw a foul from Harriet Scott. The consequent free-kick was spread quickly by Ella Morris into the path of Leeta Rutherford, whose blasted effort from range became Saints’ first on target.
Continuing their explosive end to the half, Alice Griffiths tried her luck from a similar distance moments before referee Steve Hughes’s whistle. Thomas, as she did with Rutherford’s before, dealt with the powered attempt adequately, but the warning signs were nonetheless present as Saints prepared for a productive second 45.
Appearing for the second period, Darren Carter’s side, much like they did at the start of the first half, enjoyed early opportunities.
The most notable went the way of Pennock, who latched onto Quinn’s through ball and was poised to shoot, but not before Megan Collett’s remarkable recovery, the left-back bravely launching her body in front of the ball to block the attempt.
Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side wasted no time in responding, Morris stealing possession in Birmingham’s final third following some loose passing from the visitors, the right-back allowed time and space to drive inside, shift the ball onto her right-foot and fire viciously toward goal, her strike just a few inches too high on 54 minutes.
Offering the 1,000 strong crowd at Snows no time to catch their breath, Saints flooded forward again moments later in search of the illusive opener. Presented with another tidy opportunity to strike, Griffiths duly obliged, her right-footed shot from just outside the area skimming the crossbar on it's travels.
The aggressive swing of the pendulum finally slowed as the minutes ticked beyond 60, both sides enjoying some quality possession as fatigue began to creep in.
In fact, the crowd would be made to wait until the 77th minute for their next sharp intake of breath, Birmingham captain Louise Quinn going close with her towering header from a corner shortly before Pennock steered her low effort marginally wide from 25-yards.
Entering its final stages, there was a collective feeling that only a moment of true brilliance could sway the result of this passionate encounter. Step up, Kendall.
The substitute had enjoyed a relatively quiet evening since her introduction for Lumsden in the 68th minute, but showed her clinical nature when it really mattered, pouncing on Wilkinson’s rolled pass across the edge of the box before steering her right-footed strike effortlessly into Thomas’s bottom left corner on 84 minutes.
Four minutes of additional time would follow the completion of the 90, but Southampton, as they have on countless occasions before, rose to the challenge and protected their lead courageously.
A crucial three points which not only extend Saints’ unbeaten league run to four, but propels them a point above their opponents in the table.