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Watford 2 Cardiff City Ladies 1
Watford joined Sunderland as the only teams with a 100% record in the National Division of the Premier League after just two games.
A hard fought 2-1 victory over Cardiff City LFC at their new Berkhamsted base carried on the momentum of their amazing escape from relegation last season. Having built up a two-goal lead, the Golden Girls were forced to hang on after Naomi Clipston reduced the arrears.
Watford started slightly the better but Cardiff were soon threatening. Nia Jones headed just over from a corner after eight minutes and Georgia Mays denied Sarah Adams with a fine tackle. A crucial incident in 14th minute saw Kayleigh Green brought down for a Cardiff penalty. An excellent save by Watford keeper Leah Blanchard, diving wide to her right to deny Paige Stewart, kept the score blank.
Watford threatened more and more as the half wore on. Kate Natkiel was starting to find space to run at the defence and skipper Sarah Wiltshire was soon testing fellow Welsh international Rhian Nokes. The best effort was a delightful three-player move from a throw in on halfway which sent Wiltshire clear, only for Nokes to block her drive at point blank range. Nokes then rescued her defence with another save from a Wiltshire drive after a defensive error.
A breathless end to the half saw Cardiff go very close from efforts by Adams just over and a Lauren Townsend free kick headed just wide. Finally, Natkiel broke clear for Watford and hammered a shot against the near post from ten yards. A blank scoreline was the biggest surprise after a half full of attacking intent.
The breakthrough in the 52nd minute came from a free kick awarded centrally 35 yards from goal. Shelby Hills struck a fierce drive which beat Nokes and deflected in off the underside of the bar. Natkiel nearly doubled the lead when another fine move set her free on the right. Nokes did well to block her first shot and the Watford forward shot over from the rebound. The Cardiff keeper then saved at the feet of Jo Wilson after a cross from Natkiel.
Cardiff responded with an effort just over from Laura-May Walkley but it was the home side who struck the crucial blow when Wilson got clear of the last defender to finish clinically on 71 minutes to make it 2-0.
Cardiff responded in spirited fashion, pushing forward to good effect, peppering the Watford area with a succession of crosses and set pieces. The introduction of Clipston brought immediate reward as she beat Blanchard with a 15-yard cross shot. The same player nearly levelled with a powerful ten yard header which skimmed the bar. Kelly Aldridge, a late substitute, nearly found a way through, then Hills rescued Watford with a towering defensive header from under the bar. Meanwhile Watford always threatened a third on the breakaway and Nokes made another smart save to deny Wilson.
An appreciative home crowd greeted the final whistle with joy perhaps mixed with a little relief. Both sides, full of of promising young players, had contributed to an enjoyable contest with plenty of efforts on goal and provided a very good advert for the Premier League.
Watford: Leah Blanchard, Georgia Mays, Shelby Hills, Chloe Gunn, Leanne Jones, Cally Rowell, Emma Beckett, Josie Green, Sarah Wiltshire, Kate Natkeil, Jo Wilson. Subs: Hollie Augustus, Femi Elisery, Katie Knell, Amy Makewell, Kelly Gallacher.
Cardiff City: Rhian Nokes, Lauren Townsend, Louise Hutton, Nia Jones, Ellie Isaac, Kayleigh Green, Paige Stewart, Zoe Atkins, Laura-May Walkley, Nicola Cousins, Sarah Adams. Subs: Naomi Clipston, Kelly Aldridge, Joni Warner.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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