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Women's Football News
Larkhall Athletic goalkeeper Nicki O'Connell praised the whole of her side after their shock F.A.Women's Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
The South West League side knocked out their Premier League opponents on penalties following a 1-1 draw but O'Connell took a modest view on her own performance, which had seen her make a string of saves during the match and a decisive stop in the shootout.
"We worked hard as a team and the girls battled all the way through," she told Women's Soccer Scene afterwards. "We thought we had it won in normal time but they [Spurs] equalised in injury time. We were tired, but we battled hard again as the pressure was on everyone.
"It all went well and luckily I didn't drop any howlers - it all went good in the end."
Nicki heaped praise on Larkhall's back four which stood firm under increasing pressure during the match. "I can't fault them at all, the number of challenges they made," she said. "They do me a massive favour every week by stopping teams coming through to me and all I have to do is pick it up and kick it away."
Of her own saves, Nicki was particularly pleased with one near the end of normal time. "The Spurs player broke through and I got my toe to it," she recalled. "I thought it was the last attack as it was so late in the game but unfortunately they managed to score afterwards. And of course, the penalty save when, luckily, I guessed right as I knew then that we were through.
"There is no pressure on me [for penalties] - all I have to do is stand there and try and guess the right way, the pressure is always on the taker to score. Luckily we've been able to come out winners and now we can look forward to our next opponents."
Larkhall scored all four of their penalties and Nicki singled out Emily Harrington, who had earlier scored Larkhall's goal and took a spot kick despite suffering with cramp and a blow on the head. "'Harry' had a great game today and scored a great goal," she said. "I personally think it was a shot but she's telling everyone it was a cross. All of the girls stood up with no nerves and they were all brilliant penalties."
Larkhall captain Sophie Hamer could not hide her delight following the best result in the club's history. "We knew we were playing a top team that was a couple of leagues above us and I think it was really important for us to get our noses ahead and build our confidence, to prove to ourselves that we could do it and we did that," she said. Obviously we were gutted at full time when they scored at the end but we did it.
"To say I'm tired is a bit of an understatement. It was hard they kept coming at us and at times we couldn't get the ball out of our half."
Wendy Martin scored an equaliser deep into injury time to take the game into the extra period and Sophie admitted that the team needed to lift themselves after that blow. "I'm pretty sure the ref got the time wrong," she quipped, "but we had to pick ourselves up - we hadn't worked our backsides off just to give it away so we just grouped ourselves together and played our hearts out."
Now Larkhall can look forward to more Premier League opposition when they travel to Brighton & Hove Albion for the Fourth Round this Sunday. "We'll do the same - battle as hard as we can and hope we can knock another team down so we're really looking forward to that game now," said Sophie.
Larkhall's squad contains a number of experienced players who have played regular Premier League football in the past. For Nicki and Sophie, who have not played above Regional League level, it is a new experience and one they do not want to end.
"It's definitely a highlight," said Sophie. "It's the furthest we've got in the cup so far. We've got a great squad here and although we are still going for the league, we are definitely up for a cup run and we're having one."
"I think we are the only team from our level left in the cup now so it's a massive achievement," added Nicki. "Myself and Sophie have been playing for years now and we've never got this far before. Everyone is playing for each other and enjoying their football - the priority is the league but we're also in the Somerset Cup Final and now this, so everything is positive right now."
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