Cheltenham Town Ladies came from behind to defeat high-flying Southampton Saints to return to the top of the league on Sunday, writes Ian Purvis.
On an overcast afternoon at the DN Fire Stadium, Cheltenham continued their excellent form as they showed their fighting spirit once again.
The opening ten minutes was reminiscent of Town’s 2-2 draw with Buckland Athletic last week; with their relentless pressing that was led from the top, troubling their opponents.
However, unlike last weekend, Cheltenham didn’t capitalise on the visitor’s inability to deal with their high pressure.
In fact, Saints took the lead about 12 minutes in, when a corner wasn’t dealt with by the Town defence and at the end of a scrappy couple of seconds – Catherine Browning put the traveling side ahead.
Town’s reaction, though, was superb and their tremendous team spirit came through yet again, when Louise Fensome headed home from an Annie Martin corner.
Fensome’s thumping header was just one of her highlights from an excellent performance from the energetic midfielder.
Cheltenham regained control of the game again after Fensome’s equaliser and they made their possession count when Ella Hitchcox put the hosts ahead.
Hitchcox’s speed on the left-hand side was too much for the Southampton defence as she broke through and rather fortuitously (with a deflection) put Town ahead.
The forward nearly doubled her tally with a clever lob that beat Saints goalkeeper Hannah Haughton, but the ball landed marginally wide.
The second-half saw an intense midfield battle between the two teams, with both managers switching formations at some point to pack the middle of the pitch.
It was a very professional last 45 minutes from Town, who defended well to limit any clear- cut chances from the Saints, who looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
Their closest effort on goal came when Alisha Buckingham’s shot was well saved by Bec Panniers, who got down well in the Cheltenham goal.
The game ended 2-1. Overall, a great result for Cheltenham Ladies, who didn’t reach their full potential this afternoon, but certainly gave it their all.
Assistant manager, Cameron Cheal agreed that they weren’t at their best today but was delighted with the end result.
“In terms of the performance, we’re not happy,” boss Cheal revealed minutes after the full-time whistle.
“We did well to grind out a result in the end. We defended very resolutely in the end. You
have to take the positives from a game like that.
“Louise Fensome's very experienced now, and with our young midfield, it’s great having her in there,” Cheal said regarding Fensome.
“Her goal was really well taken! She often finds herself in those sorts of positions. She’s a very valuable player to the team.”
Cheltenham’s Player of The Match as chosen by junior supporter Annie-May was Naomi Purvis.
CHELTENHAM TOWN LADIES: Panniers, Purvis, Walters, Leask, Durham (Ellis), Fensome, Wilkins, Brown (Robbins), Butterfield (Dance), Hitchcox, Martin. Subs: Hateley, Dolloway.
- Pictures by Will Cheshire
- Words by Ian Purvis