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Charlton Athletic 0 Gillingham 1
Gillingham set a marker for the season with a hard fought opening day victory at the new Thamesmead home of local rivals Charlton Athletic.
A moment of quality in the 71st minute from former Charlton striker Ashlee Hincks settled a tight and tense encounter as she lifted a 25-yard free kick over the wall and against the inside of Megen Lynch's right hand post from where it rebounded to nestle just over the line at the opposite side of the goal.
Gills were grateful for three fine saves from Arsenal loanee Becky Spencer who dealt well with long range shots to preserve a clean sheet in the second half. As the home team also hit the woodwork with a Grace Coombs free kick early in the half, they could justifiably claim that a draw would have been a fairer result.
Charlton opened the match with crisp passing and good movement, the returning Kim Dixson showing well and Gemma Bryan working very effectively as a lone striker. Bryan had the first three attempts on goal in the opening twenty minutes, although the finishes did not match her movement and hold up play.
Dixson went close with a snap shot from distance but it was the Gills who nearly snatched the lead on 32 minutes when Hincks gave notice of her abilities with a driven free kick from 30 yards which struck the outside of the post. Defences were largely on top, however, and half time arrived with few clear chances for either side.
The match became increasingly physical after the break with three bookings in the second period and lengthy stoppages for injuries to players of both sides.
However, a lot of good football was in evidence as well, much of it from the home team. Toni Alden firing in a free kick on 48 minutes which Spencer held, then releasing Bryan with a super pass down the line from where she forced Spencer to tip a 20 yard shot over. Coombs then hit a 25-yard free kick which struck the outside of the post as Charlton pressed forward. Spencer dived to her left to push away a powerful Bryan effort and dealt with the resulting corner.
But it was the Gills who took the lead when Katie Flack conceded a free kick 25 yards out and the away team looked increasingly comfortable during the final 20 minutes, even going close to extending their lead with a shot against the bar as the game moved into injury time. Despite the good work of Charlton substitute Kristina Manktelow on the left,the Addicks were unable to breach an excellent Gills back four where debutante Sian Cheedy was particularly assured and the visitors celebrated a good win against opponents who will play less well and win in the coming weeks.
Not the result which Charlton would have wanted in their impressive new home in front of a good crowd of well over a hundred, but their young team of home grown talent displayed great spirit and energy throughout. Gillingham also showed they will be a force in the division with a sound defence and goal threats from Hincks and her attacking partners.
Charlton Athletic: Megen Lynch, Pam McRoberts, Toni Alden, Kim Dixson, Becky Duggan, Katie Flack, Ciara Sherwood, Grace Coombs, Charley Clifford, Gemma Bryan, Stef Simmons. Subs: Yasmin Poole, Kristina Manktelow, Jenny Newman, Abigail Igbavboa, Ellie Bailes.
Gillingham: Becky Spencer, Lauren Williams, Stacey McConville, Deanna Cooper, Becky Lyon, Sian Cheedy, Daniella Farmer, Ashlee Hincks, Natalie Crinean, Rachel Ahern, Vicky Ashton-Jones. Subs: Jessica Nunn, Laura Jeffrey, Lauren Phillips, Amy Russ, Lesley Kay.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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