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Cheltenham Town 2 Swindon Spitfires 1
Cheltenham Town got their FAWPL Division One South West campaign off to a successful start win a 2-1 victory over league debutants Swindon Spitfires.
A well contested and enjoyable match gave plenty of encouragement to both teams, the victors creating the majority of chances and the league newcomers showing plenty of resilience after a shaky start and remaining competitive throughout.
Swindon Spitfires, founded in 1967 and with a proud history but playing at this level for the first time, were behind in only the fourth minute when Charlie Griffin ran on to a through ball and fired past keeper Tamsin Kellett.
Things got worse for the newcomers when, after good work on the left by Adele Brown, the ball was neatly cut back for Rhona Donaldson to finish crisply for Cheltenham's second on seven minutes. Further good chances for Brown and then Rosie Herbert were well saved by Kellett as the hosts dominated the early exchanges.
Spitfires were handed a lifeline on 20 minutes when Emily Sparkes netted after a defensive slip left her clear on goal and the visitors started to move the ball with confidence to threaten the home defence at times.
Cheltenham still had their own chances, Herbert getting clear on goal but shooting wide on 23 minutes, but Spitfires were becoming more assured at the back with Laura Stallard and Beth Turner in particular making a number of good tackles and interceptions.
A super turn and cross by Brown gave Cheltenham's Donaldson the chance to shoot just wide on 43 minutes but the one-goal margin meant that both teams went into the break with hope.
Two early corners for Spitfires reflected their early pressure on the restart, the first saw Ria Salleh's corner met by Debbie Rose's header deflected wide, the second brought a header wide by Morgan Whitaker. Cheltenham responded with a dangerous break down the right and a cross from Brown then Griffin had a header well held. Another Griffin header went narrowly wide as the home side sought to extend their lead.
Spitfires went very close to an equaliser on 59 minutes after great work by Salleh, turning and firing in a cross shot which was cleared for another corner by a good defensive header.
The arrival of substitute Amber Lawrence gave Cheltenham a new attacking threat. Running in behind the Spitfires' defence, the sub went close to adding to the home side's lead, only to be denied by a fine save low to keeper Tullett's left on 69 minutes.
The game remained in the balance as the clock ticked down. Spitfires pressed where they could, with Salleh and Hayley Huckin working well down the wings and Sparkes seeking to move on to through passes. Cheltenham looked the more likely to score, with Lawrence going very close to sealing the result on 88 minutes but were probably happy to hear the final whistle after a hard battle.
Cheltenham's new home ground at Cheltenham Saracens FC was therefore christened with a first day victory and many good individual performances whilst Swindon Spitfires will also have plenty of positives to take from their debut outing in the FAWPL.
Cheltenham Town: Rebecca Panniers, Jade Wiltshire, Anna Dennis, Katie Walker, Natalie Berry, Jennifer Brown-Wealls, Libbie Herbert, Rhona Donaldson, Adele Brown, Charlie Griffin, Rosie Herbert. Subs: Hannah Bingham, Emily Shipp, Naomi Purvis, Amber Lawrence.
Swindon Spitfires: Tamsin Kellett, Beth Turner, Victoria Parry, Laura Stallard, Debbie Rose, Ria Salleh, Morgan Whitaker, Gabriella Menghini, Cara Costello, Hayley Huckin, Emily Sparkes. Sub: Hannah Gulliver.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Charlie Griffin takes on Morgan Whitaker
(middle) Rhona Donaldson clears away from Ria Salleh
(bottom) Rosie Herbert battles with Beth Turner
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