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Portsmouth 2 Plymouth Argyle 1
Portsmouth claimed a place in the National Division with a 2-1 win over Plymouth Argyle at Winchester.
A tense and dramatic afternoon saw Pompey reach the top level of the winter leagues for the first time in their 25-year history whilst Argyle returned to the Combination after a single season despite a spirited performance which so nearly gave them the point they needed to stay up.
Portsmouth, playing with a gale at their backs in heavy rain, poured forward to seek the early advantage. An early Shelly Cox cross was misjudged by Argyle keeper Nicky Lipscombe but no-one could take advantage. Leeta Rutherford shot wide and Lipscombe made a good save from Gemma Hillier. Rachel Rigby was just wide from 30 yards and Lipscombe made another fine save from Charley Wilson's header after a near post Cox cross from the left.
Plymouth finally started to threaten and Pompey keeper Sadie Blakely dived to turn away an Emily Mousley effort on the half hour. However, Pompey continued to carve out chances and Hillier was denied by a goal line clearance after forcing the ball past the keeper. As further opportunities came and went, Portsmouth were frustrated at the break
Pompey's Wilson rounded Lipscombe but was foiled by another goalline clearance on 48 minutes as Argyle fought tooth and nail to preserve their Premier League status. The first half gale had subsided and suddenly Plymouth seemed inspired by the improved conditions and the balance of the match shifted in their favour. Katie Middleton hit a powerful 35-yard free kick which was well saved by Blakely and then leading scorer Tash Knapman took advantage of hesitancy in the Pompey defence to give Argyle the lead on 55 minutes with a neat finish.
Stung by this setback, Pompey pushed on, but were frustrated by brave defending. It took an excellent header from Wilson, forcing in Cox's far post corner to bring relief on 62 minutes. Back came Argyle, with a superb move down the middle which left Knapman clear, but she shot wide of goal. Then Mousley hit the bar with Blakely beaten as Plymouth looked the more likely winners..
The fates of both clubs was decided on 81 minutes in a dramatic manner. Pompey skipper Hillier beat the offside trap on the right and centred towards the waiting Cox. Argyle defender Chelsea Easton, in trying to clear, sent the ball wide of Lipscombe for a very unfortunate own goal.
Plymouth, now needing a late equaliser to save their season, pressed forward and threatened right to the end, forcing three corners but to no avail. The final whistle saw a huge contrast in emotions after an exciting contest. Plymouth had fought with great spirit and skill, but were undone by earlier results and some bad luck on the day.
The Portsmouth team dedicated their win and promotion to club chairman David Coyle, involved in club affairs ever since the start in 1987. Manager Vanessa Raynbird's team have been close to promotion for several years and will finally take the step into the National Division after pipping West Ham and Colchester United to the title.
Portsmouth: Sadie Blakely, Rachel Rigby, Jade Kirby, Leeta Rutherford, Lysette Russell, Laura Heron, Lucy Quinn, Kirsty McGee, Gemma Hillier, Charley Wilson, Shelly Cox. Subs: Niamh Rawlins, Shannon Sievwright, Lindsey Roe, Xian Blackman-Price, Jemma Tewkesbury.
Plymouth Argyle: Nicky Lipscombe, Chelsea Easton, Rachael Javan, Bow Jackson, Katie Middleton, Leah Brooks, Rebekah Rose, Aoife Aherne, Jamie Symons, Emily Mousley, Tash Knapman. Subs: Becky Kyle, Sophie Smith.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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