Gillingham Ladies served their title as Kent’s best women’s team with great merit as they beat local rivals Charlton Athletic 3-1 on Sunday afternoon.
109 people turned up to watch the rivals come face to face for the first time since the Gills’ won the FA Kent Cup 2-1 in April.
Gillingham came away from Sporting Club Thamesmead with a deserved three points after another impressive 90 minutes saw them edge out Charlton.
James Marrs’ team set the agenda in the opening minutes showing great determination and teamwork to chase down the ball and press the Charlton defence.
Lisa Fulgence, who worked tirelessly leading the Gills line, won her team a corner after making life very uncomfortable and charging down possession from the Charlton left back.
Whilst nothing came of the following corner, Fulgence was involved in Gillingham’s next attack at the Charlton Athletic defence. The Gills number nine confidently held off her marker before picking out Emma Tune, who chipped the ball from distance to call Addicks keeper Megan Lynch into action.
Gills were rewarded for their razor sharp start as they grabbed the game’s first goal after five minutes. Jay Blackie picked the ball up in midfield before producing a pin-perfect pass into the path of Nikita Whinnett who made a forceful run down the right. Whinnett left her marker Stefanie Simmons in the dust as she sharply turned the left-back before playing a low ball into the box.
Tune gathered the first shot towards goal, which Lynch parried wide. Unfortunately, for Charlton the save fell into the feet of Gillingham loanee Fliss Gibbons, who was given a start by manager Marrs following her debut goal off the bench against Chesham last weekend.
The England Under 19 proved to be the most alert in the area as she showed great composure to place another shot at Lynch. The ball was blocked again before Fulgence got an important touch to push the ball past the line.
Gillingham continued to stifle Charlton out of the game’s early exchanges as the hosts found it increasingly difficult to thread their way through the Gills defence, guarded meticulously by Tune and Blackie.
In the wet and slippy conditions, a break could occur at any moment and Gillingham centre back Rachel Ahern spotted an opportunity to release Gibbons and picked out a beautiful cross field pass. Gibbons nearly snatched the Gills a second as the resulting cross from the far left hand side brushed the crossbar and over.
Playing left back, Danielle Carlton pushed forward to support the Gillingham attack and linked up well with Gibbons on several occasions as the Kent outfit exploited the pace of their two wingers to good effect.
Gibbons produced another dangerous cross that Tune rose highest to head on goal. After a series of clearances, Charlton defended well as they got bodies behind the ball to avert the danger.
Gills continued to play with great confidence, switching the ball across the pitch and it was down the right wing their next opportunity came. Whinnett’s pace persistently caused headaches for Charlton and it took a crunching late tackle from Samantha Pittuck to halt the Gills winger on her first senior start for the team.
From the resulting free kick, Carlton swung a tricky delivery which eventually found its way to Gurr whose spectacular long range effort blasted just centimetres over the crossbar.
Gillingham’s top goal scorer made sure she didn’t miss her next opportunity moments later from 18 yards as her team was awarded a penalty.
It was Gibbons involved in the action again, when her confident run towards goal induced a mistimed tackle from Rosie Paye, leaving the referee with little option but to point to the spot. Gurr buried the spot rick into the right hand side putting Gills 2-0 up.
The home side had a chance to respond from a free kick in an advantageous central position. Simmons stepped up and skillfully curled an effort towards goal but the ball swooped wide for Gillingham keeper Faye Baker to watch go yards wide from the far post.
The entertaining attacking football continued as Gurr and Gibbons exchanged short, sharp passes to unlock the Charlton defence. Having created a gap on goal as a result, Gurr pinged a ball for Fulgence to run onto but her effort fell off target.
Before the break, Carlton produced another powerful left-footed effort for the Gills with a set piece 40-yards out. Charlton breathed a sigh of relief as the effort narrowly missed the target.
Half time: 2-0
The rain continued to hammer down at Sporting Club Thamesmead, but the heated tempo continued as Charlton came into the second half with much more focus and energy.
Kristina Manktelow skipped down the wing to zip a pass into Charlton captain Kim Dixon who failed to produce a save from first half spectator Baker in the Gills goal.
Dixon was leading by example for the Addicks as she drove the team forward in their next attack with a right-footed delivery into the Gillingham penalty area. Jenny Newman got to the ball first but her header drifted wide.
Gillingham Ladies continued to enjoy large chunks of possession but were finding it more difficult to create substantial opportunities for a third goal.
This changed in the most dramatic fashion after 62 minutes when Carlton placed herself on both the score sheet and the early list of contenders for goal of the season with a stunning left footed effort from distance.
After some good build up play, Carlton enjoyed a quick exchange with Fulgence to work the angle opening in front of her and tee up a beautiful shot which curled into the top right hand corner and beyond Lynch’s outstretched palm.
Charlton fought back from the disappointment of going three behind and were handed an opportunity after the Gills gave away possession in midfield. Kristina Manktelow took advantage of the turn of play, and exploited the space around her as a result to loop an effort from 30-yards over Baker.
The conditions were making it increasingly difficult for both teams and Gills next opportunity arose when Tune, who was in and amongst the action throughout the 90 minutes, took a pop from distance. The effort was dealt well by Lynch who gathered the shot comfortably.
Gills Ladies substitute Lauren Davis looked sharp as she came into the play for Gills, playing the ball to Blackie, the Gillingham midfielder put another shot on goal from long range but failed to cause Lynch to make a save.
Charlton Athletic were next to have a shot from distance as Kit Graham drove the ball towards goal but her effort flew wide.
Gibbons continued to be a threat for Gills, twisting and turning Charlton defenders to run towards goal before being upended giving her side a free kick in the final minutes of the game.
Gillingham’s centre back Deanna Cooper, who made several impressive runs up field for the visitors as well as defending the line admirably throughout the game, took the resulting free kick. A clever curling effort, her shot rattled the side netting.
An entertaining 90 minutes given the constant rain that threatened to dampen a good derby atmosphere. Gills came away with another three points, an accomplished performance and remain undefeated in the league.
Charlton Athletic: Megan Lynch, Katie Flack, Rosie Payne, Samantha Pittuck, Stefanie Simmons, Kristina Manktelow, Kimberley Dixson©, Kit Graham, Kylie Manktelow (Charley Clifford 56), Jenny Newman, Emma Harrison (Katie Hardaker 58).
Unused Subs: Athena Yennaris
Gillingham: Faye Baker, Amy Taylor, Danielle Carlton, Jay Blackie©, Deanna Cooper, Rachel Ahern, Nikita Whinnett (Lauren Williams 75), Emma Tune, Lisa Fulgence (Lauren Davis 65), Charlotte Gurr, Fliss Gibbons.
Unused sub: Charlotte Long