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Hampshire gave themselves a chance of winning the South East Counties Championship and prevented Middlesex from retaining their title by beating them 1-0 at Andover New Street F.C.
However, Hampshire will need their opponents to do them a favour in the final match on the 22nd April, as Sussex will overtake their South Coast rivals on goal difference if they win at Uxbridge.
After a tense first half of few clear cut chances, Middlesex were unlucky to hit the woodwork twice just before Hampshire's winning goal. Firstly. Claire Gooch hit an upright with a shot from ten yards on 63 minutes after a corner was half cleared. Three minutes later, striker Stacey Sowden broke clear and calmly lobbed Lou Lee in the home goal. However, the ball bounced in the rock hard goalmouth, hit the underside of the bar and Lee was able to gather as Middlesex were already celebrating.
On 69 minutes, these misfortunes were compounded when Hampshire broke free on the right and a cross was met with a sweet first time stike from 15 yards by Kirsty McGee which gave Cherie Rowlands no chance. This breakthough lifted the home team and they played excellent football in the last twenty minutes to deny Middlesex any real opportunity to get back into the game. Indeed, the home side created more chances; Lisa Langrish had a header cleared off the line and Cassie Thorp, who was outstanding in the second half on the left, set up Gemma Hillier for a clear run and shot which was well saved.
The real key to Hampshire's success, however, was the way that the defence, led by the calm authority of Laura Oakes, kept the attacking threats of the dangerous Sowden, Holly Sandow, Dee Smith and late substitute Robyn Downie largely in check.
This win sets up an exciting finale in two weeks time; Sussex need to win at Middlesex to take the title in the replay of a match abandoned at half time in early December, otherwise Hampshire will prevail in only their second season in the competition.
Hampshire: Lou Lee, Charlotte Brown, Laura Oakes, Kerry Fisher, Lynsey Crewe, Leeta Rutherford, Kirsty McGee, Molly Clark, Lisa Langrish, Cassie Thorp, Gemma Hillier (sub Charley Wilson 85mins). Subs not used: Sadie Blakeley, Jenna Dunster, Gemma Ritchie, Krystal Whyte.
Middlesex: Cherie Rowlands, Vicky Elcome, Zoe Timberlake, Melissa de la Fuente, Claire Gooch, Kerrie Marlborough, Shannon Moloney, Dee Smith (sub Royn Downie 75mins), Holly Sandow, Stacey Sowden, Kelly Spencer. Subs not used: Danielle Matton, Alissa Down, Charlotte Stead.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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