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Portsmouth 0 Coventry City 1
An early Natasha Lynch goal was enough to earn Coventry City the Premier League Southern Division title as their 1-0 away win over Portsmouth allowed them to overhaul long time leaders Gillingham.
However their road to the final day triumph included a nail biting 80 minutes in which the Sky Blues were forced to defend for long periods against a skilful and highly motivated Pompey outfit. As so often this season, the Champions came through the test with determination, solid defence and a threat on the counter attack. Having missed several chances for a crucial second goal, there is no doubt that the Coventry players and management were relieved as well as delighted when the final whistle blew as Pompey looked capable of levelling the score throughout a tense encounter.
Needing a win to overtake Gillingham, Coventry got off to the best possible start. They had already threatened from a deep right wing corner which Jess Frampton cleared for another, this time from the left. Helen Dermody's delivery fell to skipper Lynch eight yards from goal and her low finish was instant and precise.
Portsmouth's response was sustained pressure on Sue Wood's goal for the next half hour. A succession of crosses rained in on the Coventry penalty area, mainly from Lucy Quinn on the right, and were well defended by Lynch and Kim Walton. Sarah Kempson controlled the midfield with Gemma Simmonds and series of corners added to the bombardment.
Nadine Bazan, who had an excellent match up and down the left, nearly levelled with a powerful effort tipped over by Wood and also hit the side netting whilst Liz O'Callaghan fired a shot inches over after a clever turn. Literally nothing more had been seen of the Sky Blues attack until 41 minutes when a fine Destiney Toussaint run set up a half chance which was scuffed wide. Undoubtedly Coventry were the happier team at the break having absorbed a great deal of pressure and escaped unscathed.
Clearly Coventry needed the comfort of a second goal and they looked more likely to obtain it after the break. Still operating largely on the counter attack, they at least looked threatening with Ashleigh Neville becoming increasingly influential in midfield. Sadie Blakely had to be quick from her line to foil Neville from a clever Dermody pass on 49 minutes. However the chances still fell mainly to Pompey. Gemma Hillier was a constant threat, having a close range effort blocked whilst Bazan had another shot well held by Wood.
Natalie Brace nearly scored an excellent goal for the visitors, intercepting a ball on halfway before driving into the box and shooting against the post. Becky Anderson also went very close from distance as Coventry gained a better grip midway through the half. However it was heart in mouth time again when first Simmonds from a Hillier lay off, then Hillier herself shot inches wide with Wood beaten.
As the clock ran down and the title grew closer, Coventry were again very close to a nerve settling second. Blakely was acting as a sweeper as the home team pushed on and was caught out trying to head a through ball clear. Neville sent a snap shot over the open goal from 20 yards and play was brought back for a handball by the Pompey keeper, who was booked.
Wood produced a telling save to grab the ball at the second attempt from a Bazan through pass and Maz Gauntlett missed a chance to seal the win by dragging a shot wide.
The final crucial action involved a Pompey penalty claim as Hillier turned on a pass into the area in added time, but Coventry saw out time with the same strength of purpose as they had displayed all afternoon and the final whistle of a marathon nine month battle saw the Sky Blues' players, management and travelling support celebrating long and loud.
Unbeaten away from home, eight wins with only six goals conceded in ten matches and only 14 conceded overall in all FAWPL matches, it is clear that quality defending and goalkeeping has been the bedrock of Craig Nicholls' team's success. Equally though the constant threat of Toussaint, Gauntlett, Dermody and Neville amongst others has grabbed goals at vital times, none more than in the crucial win at Gillingham last week which set up today's title clincher.
Portsmouth: Sadie Blakely, Jess Frampton, Nadine Bazan, Kaylee Edwards, Zoe Saunders, Sarah Kempson, Gemma Simmonds, Gemma Hillier, Liz O'Callaghan, Lucy Quinn, Molly Clark. Subs: Rhia Cox, Lysette Russell, Naomi Greene, Katie James, Julia Moulton.
Coventry City: Sue Wood, Annabel Johnson, Nikki Miles, Hayley Ladd, Natasha Lynch, Kim Walton, Ashleigh Neville, Becky Anderson, Destiney Toussaint, Helen Dermody, Natalie Brace. Subs: Kaz Clough, Maz Gauntlett, Beth Poppleton, Libby Piggott, Stav Williams.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Natasha Lynch scores the title clinching goal for Coventry City
(middle) Liz O'Callaghan is challenged by Annabel Johnson
(bottom) Coventry City celebrate after the final whistle
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