Promotion-chasing Oxford United maintain pole position in the race for the FA Women’s National League Southern Premier Division title with a 2-1 win over promotion rivals Portsmouth, with their winner coming deep into second-half injury time.
After the torrential rain of my last trip to Westleigh Park on Tuesday, today’s setting was the polar opposite, a sunny spring afternoon and a large crowd has turned out for this top of the table clash on the last day of the school holidays.
Liam Gilbert’s Oxford were handed an early chance to go ahead from the penalty spot when Carly Johns was tripped in the Pompey box in the first minute. Former Blue, Daisy McLachlan, stepped up to take the spot kick. Hannah Haughton guessed correctly and saved well.
Haughton again came to Portsmouth’s rescue after ten minutes with a save from Johns. Saves of this calibre are why the home crowd adore her, and they sang about her being ‘England’s Number One,’ in reference to her status as England Beach Soccer’s goalkeeper.
Portsmouth were playing some neat stuff and Sophie Quirk on the Pompey left was keeping her counterpart Jamie Gotch on her toes.
Oxford thought that they went ahead on thirty minutes when Taome Oliver slotted in after great work from Johns on the byline, however, the referee’s assistant flagged to imply that Johns had taken the ball out in the build-up. Based on the players between the assistant and the ball, for me, it was a complete guess and one that the Oxford fans nearby said he got wrong.
As both teams went in for half time Oxford were the more dissatisfied. Portsmouth were well in the game and showing glimpses of the threat that they pose.
It was Pompey who scored the first goal of the game ten minutes into the second half when Danielle Rowe floated in a lovely free kick for her namesake, Danielle Lane, to head in, much to the delight of the home fans.
This led to some worried faces on the Oxford bench, although this didn’t last too long as they found an equaliser a few minutes later when Oliver was able to get a touch on McLachlan’s cross.
Nicole Barratt and Quirk were connecting well on the Pompey left-hand side but they were also met by some determined defending Gotch and Tash Stephens, both former Pompey players.
With fifteen minutes left, there was a long delay while Oxford captain Riva Casley received treatment. She was able to carry on and both sides restarted their battle to find the winning goal.
News filtered through that Ipswich Town and Watford were both leading against MK Dons and London Bees respectively leading to nerves on the Oxford bench. Although those nerves were settled in the ninety-second minute when Johns, arguably my player of the match, was able to curl in a superb winner passed Haughton.
The referee eventually blew the final whistle in the ninety-ninth minute!
This result means that Oxford sit top of the division by one point and with a game in hand on Ipswich and Watford, their nearest rivals. Pompey are now four points behind in fourth place.
While this result has extinguished Pompey’s promotion hopes this has still been a superb season for Jay Sadler’s side. They turn their attention to the PDFA Cup Final next week against tier four side Moneyfields.
Portsmouth: Haughton, Rowe, Younger, Gane, Barrett, Hall, Lane, Rolf, Humphrey (Scott 72’), Harney (Jones 72’), Quirk
Oxford United: Kite, Provan, Casley, Goddard, Gotch, Legg, Burridge, Oliver (Cole 76’), McLachlan, Johns, Stephens (Liggett 83’)