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Coventry City 2 Portsmouth 2
A dramatic added time equaliser by Portsmouth's Lucy Quinn denied Coventry City a fourth place finish as the marathon FA Women's Premier League National Division season drew to a close at Stratford Town FC.
Manchester City were the beneficiaries of Pompey's refusal to accept defeat although fifth place for Coventry was still their best ever finish. The visitors fully deserved a draw after a battling performance which was a fitting tribute to Vanessa Raynbird's last game as manager after eleven seasons in charge.
The departing manager was welcomed on to the pitch with a guard of honour and her team started in commanding style, totally dominating the first 25 minutes. Leeta Rutherford gave Pompey a fourth minute lead after Charley Wilson had won a challenge on the right and fed Gemma Hillier who set up the midfielder to finish past Sue Wood. Pompey won a series of corners and forced desperate defending in front of Wood's goal. Wilson nearly added a second as her instinctive effort from a Hillier cross hit the bar on 24 minutes.
With their first threat a minute later, Coventry were level via a defensive mix up which allowed Nicole Dale to shoot past Sadie Blakeley via a defender's leg. Coventry grew in threat as the half wore on, themselves hitting the bar with Blakely beaten but Wilson was very close to restoring Pompey's lead just before the break, latching on to a weak back pass and shooting into the side netting from a tight angle.
Coventry were much more effective in the second half and took the lead on 49 minutes. Jade Formaston won a challenge on the right and crossed perfectly for Courtney Sweetman-Kirk's head. Blakeley made a fine save low to her right but was powerless to stop the second attempt from close range. Although Pompey kept trying to feed the lively Wilson and Hillier up front, the Coventry rearguard, especially Natasha Lynch and Kim Walton, were keeping a tight check. Hayley Ladd was very effective in the Coventry midfield and the better chances were now falling to the home team.
Helen Dermody had moved out wide right to replace Formaston and was seeing plenty of the ball. Sweetman-Kirk set her up for a close range shot brilliantly kept out by Blakeley low to her right at the expense of a corner and lengthy treatment for the Pompey keeper for an injured shoulder.
The value of Blakeley's save was made very clear as the match moved into additional time. By now, Raynbird had made three attacking substitutions with Sarah Kempson, Ai Shindo and Lucy Quinn making an ultra attacking formation in last ten minutes for the visitors. Her changes were successful as Shelly Cox found Quinn centrally and 25 yards from goal. A quick cut to the right and a perfect shot low into the bottom right corner drew Pompey level amid much celebration.
The match was a reminder of the quality and commitment which will continue to exist outside the expanded FA WSL. Neither of the clubs were fortunate in their bids to join the 'summer elite' but Coventry have risen through the pyramid to achieve their best ever finish whilst Pompey, also in their highest ever position, but with only pride to play for on the day, showed the battling qualities which have been their trademark during their departing manager's tenure.
Coventry City: Sue Wood, Natalie Wilcox, Emma Hollingsworth, Hayley Ladd, Natasha Lynch, Kim Walton, Jade Formaston, Callan Barber, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, Helen Dermody, Nicola Dale. Subs: Maz Gauntlett, Nikki Miles, Abi McQuilkin, Kate Ward.
Portsmouth: Sadie Blakeley, Gemma Simmonds, Kaylee Schumann-Edwards, Lysette Russell, Jade Kirby, Leeta Rutherford, Kirsty McGee, Lindsey Roe, Gemma Hillier, Charley Wilson, Shelly Cox. Subs: Ai Shindo, Lucy Quinn, Sarah Kempson, Rhia Cox.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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