Cheltenham took a trip to high flying Southampton Women's FC in the FA Women’s Premier League South Western Division knowing their hosts give very little away to visiting teams.
Manager Alex Cheal elected to shuffle the pack by utilising right back Sarah Walters through the centre of defence, Jen Brown Wealls in midfield and handed a debut to England Colleges defender Emily Griffiths.
Cheltenham set up to frustrate their hosts and that is exactly what they did by conceding possession high up the pitch and forcing mistakes. The tireless work of Butterfield and Hitchcox added a threat when in possession, but Cheltenham were to ride their luck early on.
With chances missed by Southampton, it was Cheltenham’s first foray into their hosts half that showed they were not there to make up the numbers. Superb hold up play by Holly Kay allowed the striker to turn and drill a magnificent pass out to the speedy Hitchcox. She latched on to the through ball but having been forced wide she was unable to get any shot on target.
It was not until the 43rd minute that Cheltenham conceded the opening goal, in slightly controversial fashion. A seemingly loose ball up into the air was challenged for by debutant Griffiths, however her challenge was deemed overzealous and a penalty was awarded and comfortably dispatched.
The second half followed a similar pattern with Cheltenham working tirelessly out of possession. Southampton were able to create two good opportunities early on but Panniers was able to collect.
Briscoe and Rowlands were introduced for Kay and Amarquaye and it was Cheltenham that had the best chance. Following a superb pass from Hateley, winger Hitchcox found herself through on goal. Having worked hard to get to the through ball, she found herself with too much time and instead of shooting, was closed down by the defender and the chance had gone.
Southampton were the last to have a chance when Cheltenham’s inability to defend corners struck again. A delivery from Southampton landed inside the six-yard box and on to the head of their captain to head home unmarked.
Manager Alex Cheal said: “We are proud of our performance, which is strange to say as we have lost the game. We have an incredibly difficult run in this season and I asked the players to put in their all in these games. They did that by listening to how I wanted them to set up and I could see they started to believe as minutes passed.
“Unfortunately we conceded two soft goals, via a penalty and a free header, at stages of the match where we were comfortable.
“This performance gives me lots of hope that we are on the right track and the players want to learn because I felt a togetherness in the group. The players that came in to the squad looked at home and they were as influential in this result as the senior players.”
Cheltenham Town Ladies: Panniers, Dance, Walters, Griffiths, Brown-Wealls, Berry, Hitchcox, Hateley, Amarquaye (Briscoe), Butterfield, Kay (Rowlands)