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Cheltenham Town 1 Gillingham 2 (aet)
Gillingham battled their way into the Fourth Round of the Vitality Women's FA Cup with a 2-1 extra time victory over Cheltenham Town to earn a tie with FA WSL giants Arsenal.
The match was a tight, even affair at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium with the FAWNL Division One South West hosts matching their higher tier visitors in every department throughout the match. As with their previous round win over Crawley Wasps, Gills had to retrieve a deficit and, just as last week, it was Otesha Charles who scored the winning goal with seven minutes to play.
Gills keeper Cara Davies was soon in action, advancing from her line to collect as Jade Grove raced towards goal but both defences were generally in charge in the opening quarter. The first serious attempt on goal came in the 20th minute when a Charlotte Criddle corner was met by Mai Butler with Davies tipping over the header.
Gillingham started to exert some pressure around the half hour mark, also through set pieces , Georgia Griffin going close from a Jade Keogh free kick, then Lydia Wills hitting the post with a header from a Griffin corner, but the break arrived with a blank scoreline.
There was once again nothing to choose between the sides on the restart. Both defensive units were tight and alert, quick to block shots and any threat was mainly with shots from distance. Criddle had a powerful free kick well held by Davies whilst at the other end there was momentary danger when keeper Molly Ripley lost a high ball but the Robinesses defence was once again alert to the danger and cleared.
Cheltenham took the lead on 66 minutes when a Criddle free kick was returned into the box by Billie Haynes and was turned past Davies by a defender from close range.
Gillingham responded well and were level on 73 minutes with a lofted shot from distance by Keogh. With substitute Mel Espinosa getting on the ball in midfield, Gillingham were able to exert greater control on the game for the final fifteen minutes but Cheltenham stood firm to deservedly take the match to extra time.
Abby Bevan, with a fine run on goal, nearly restored Cheltenham's lead at the end of the first period of extra time but substitute Lauren Kayll was denied by a last ditch block by Amy Haynes. On the restart, Charles got into a dangerous position on the right and finally was able to work enough time and space to get in a low shot which squeezed past Ripley's dive for the winning goal.
Cheltenham battled to the end to try to force penalties but in defeat, must be heartened that they have taken two higher division teams to extra time and matched the quality and style of play of their opponents on successive weekends. For Gillingham, the reward for two hard fought away wins is another away day against a star studded team of professionals.
Cheltenham Town: Molly Ripley, Sammy Hallsworth, Mai Butler, Rebecca Halford, Charlotte Criddle, Billie Haynes, Lauren Ellis, Abby Bevan, Ruby Scahill, Jade Grove, Sarah King. Subs: Holly Rogers, Courtney Jones, Jess Hood, Kirsten Rendall, Tamzin Hayward, Cerys Dolloway, Sophie Griffiths, Harriet Lambe, Lauren Kayll.
Gillingham: Cara Davies, Jasmine Auguste, Georgia Pearch, Hannah Wheeler, Vicky Ashton-Jones, Georgia Griffin, Jade Keogh, Otesha Charles, Lydia Wills, Lilli Maple, Amy Haynes. Subs: Millie Waud, Mel Espinosa, Daisy Monaghan, Lauren Parsons, Sophie Chapman, Abi Hearn, Trinity Barden, Maddison Chamney-Farrand.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Jade Grove battles for the ball with Georgia Pearch
(middle) Amy Haynes takes on Rebecca Halford
(bottom) Lauren Ellis is challenged by Jasmine Auguste
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