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Southampton and Forest win Cup Finals

This season’s FA Women’s National League Cup and Plate finals were both held at the Armco Arena, the home ground of Solihull Moors. Both games were played in sunny, but windy conditions at the venue which was reasonably equi-distant for the competing teams. For both games, it was the southern supporters who were most in evidence as they gave noisy backing to their respective teams. Both games provided plenty of entertainment for those watching.

Southampton FC Women 3 Huddersfield Town 0

Southampton FC arrived as newly crowned Southern Premier Division champions, the title having been secured with two games to spare, while Huddersfield Town, now firmly established in the Northern equivalent of the third tier went into the final in fourth place, some way behind champions Wolves, but well clear of the relegation zone and one of only three teams in the division to have scored more than a half century of goals.

Just when it looked like the teams would go into the interval on level terms, Southampton struck, Alisha Ware netting from close range to meet a cross from the right by Georgie Freeland.

Lucia Kendall rattled the Town bar early in the second half. With both teams pressing for a goal, Southampton to double their lead and Huddersfield to equalise, there was plenty of attack and counter attack before Kendall did get her name on the scoresheet with just under 20 minutes remaining. That left Town with a mountain to climb to force the tie into a penalty shootout but with the game in its final ten minutes, Kendall rifled home from outside the area to seal Southampton’s deserved victory.

One of Southampton’s strengths this season has been a near impregnable defence - they had conceded just 9 in 24 League games. Huddersfield knew they were likely to find chances at a premium and one of their best came several minutes before half time when Brittany Sanderson got into the box, took the ball past the advancing Saints keeper Kayla Rendell, but was then denied by Rosie Parnell at the expense of a corner. Sanderson’s rising shot was blocked by Parnell’s upper body - Sanderson appealed for a penalty, but from stills it seems the defender avoided a handball.

Southampton FC Women: Kayla Rendell, Ella Morris, Rosie Parnel, Laura Rafferty, Georgie Freeland, Ella Pusey, Alisha Ware, Sophia Pharoah, Lucia Kendall, Milly Mott, Leeta Rutherford. Subs: Shelly Provan, Phoebe Williams, Shannon Sievwright, Sara Luce, Ciara Watling.

Huddersfield Town: Bethan Davies, Beth Ibbotson, Kate Mallin, Lauren Griffiths, Katie Stanley, Ria Montgomery, Laura Elford, Brittany Sanderson, Autumn Housley, Georgia Marshall, Mia Parry. Subs: Vicky Abbott, Zoe Laughton, Serena Fletcher, Daniela Kosinska.

Nottingham Forest 2 AFC Wimbledon 1

The game’s first scoring chance fell to Wimbledon’s Ashlee Hincks whose long range effort landed on the netting, though without unduly troubling Forest keeper Emily Batty.

Forest went ahead on 13 minutes when Rachel Brown was put clear by Charlotte Greengrass and she was able to slot a low shot past Faye Baker. Wimbledon had cause to feel slightly aggrieved as they were down to ten, Emily Donovan stood on the sidelines waiting to be signalled back into play after receiving treatment for an injury. Certainly, as a neutral it did seem strange as referees are usually quite prompt in waving players back on.

Greengrass then shot over when well placed and shortly afterwards she saw Baker, at full stretch, do enough to keep out her low shot. Baker came out well to block a shot from Amy West as Forest all but doubled their advantage as they enjoyed a strong spell following their opener.

Wimbledon levelled through Kelly Highman’s superb placed header at a free kick floated in from the left by Ashelee Hincks on 26 minutes.

The game’s third and decisive goal came thirteen minutes before the interval. Forest won a free kick in a dangerous position. Wimbledon keeper Baker spent some time organising her wall, but seemed to have left too much of the left hand side of her goal unguarded and so it proved. Rebecca Anderson scored direct with a fine strike, Baker’s attempt to get across her goal seeing her fall quite short of making contact.

Baker was beaten by a left footed strike from outside the area by Greengrass a few minutes later, but the ball hit the upper part of the post and bounced across the goalmouth to safety.

Wimbledon pressed strongly for the equaliser in the second half, but Forest held out. Anderson was just over with a free kick from 23 yards midway through the half as Forest went close to making it 3-1. Batty then had a busy spell as she turned aside a free kick by Hincks and then got a touch to a strike by Hincks at the expense of a corner from which Siber fired into the side netting.

Wimbledon’s Katie Stanley suffered a serious knee injury in the closing minutes.

There was to be no upset as Northern Premier Division Forest prevailed.  Forest have had a solid season in the FAWNL and, like a few others in the third tier, have their sights aimed at the FA Women’s Championship and to a certain extent history is on their side as three of the Plate’s five previous winners (Coventry United, Lewes and West Ham United) are currently in the top two tiers of women’s football.

AFC Wimbledon: Faye Baker, Rosie Russell, Steph Mann, Kelly Highman, Rebecca Sargent, Ashlee Hincks, Rebecca Carter, Megan Stow, Katie Stanley, Emily Donovan, Hannah Billingham. Subs: Lauren Allen, Angel Fowler, Chloe Sampson, Amy Taylor, Gloria Siber.

Nottingham Forest: Emily Batty, Lyndsey Harkin, Georgia Hewitt, Rachel Brown, Olivia Cook, Amy West, Niamh Reynolds, Gianna Mitchell, Rebecca Anderson, Hayley James, Charlotte Greengrass. Subs: Charlotte Steggles, Grace Walters, Charley Docherty, Aja Aguirre, Naomi Powell.  

(Reports and photos by Julian Barker)