Gillingham Ladies came off best in a highly anticipated top of the table clash with Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday afternoon.
A polished performance from the home side with goals from Amy Taylor, Charlotte Gurr and Lisa Fulgence gained the Kent club three valuable league points.
Gillingham continued the tempo from the previous weekend’s victory against West Ham away to make life uncomfortable for the visitors from the off.
Emma Tune tested The Seagulls keeper with a stinging long range effort. Gills pressed as a collective enforcing Brighton to put lots of players behind the ball to limit the Gills attacking force.
A poor clearance almost granted Brighton the lead however as they were gifted the ball within the six yard box. Gillingham Ladies keeper Faye Baker reacted remarkably, pulling off a double save to deny Brighton a lead.
Gillingham orchestrated play with the midfield trio of Tune, captain Jay Blackie and Danielle Carlton overseeing proceedings, supported by lots of attacking movement around them.
Gills’ tenacity and willingness to get on the ball was almost rewarded when ex- Brighton striker Charlotte Gurr released Lauren Williams down the right. Williams held the ball up well, forcing Brighton into conceding a corner.
Gurr whipped the resulting ball in, testing the keeper on her inside post. Brighton were able to clear, momentarily averting danger on their goal.
Gills loanee Fliss Gibbons made a welcome return to the Gills starting line up alongside defender Rachel Ahern, with both players slotting back into play with tremendous effect.
Gibbons made her impact felt in attack all afternoon, making life difficult for the Brighton players, both on and off the ball as she picked up several loose passes following good tracking down.
Gibbons was played a pivotal part in the build up for Gills’ first goal as she smartly controlled the ball to feed Taylor whose stunning effort on the edge of the box curled beautifully into the back of the net.
Brighton had an opportunity to test Gills’ defence after a foul was committed in the right hand corner. The ball was whipped in and Deanna Cooper was positioned well to clear with a powerful header that provoked a strong Gills counter attack.
Gurr galloped down the right hand side to capitalise on the space available from the counter attack, but Gills were unlucky not to capitalise on a smart through ball.
Cooper and Gurr combined again moments later when the Gills striker delivered a dangerous ball into the box which was flicked onto Cooper by Gibbons but the Gills centre back shot over the bar from close-range.
Gillingham Ladies begun to dominate play, producing attack after attack on the Brighton goal. Carlton came close when she made space for herself in the area, her smart right footed shot produced a good save from The Seagulls keeper who fumbled the ball. Gillingham were unable to capitalise on the error as the follow up shot was blocked by a Brighton defender.
Gills were nearly their own worst enemy after a short back pass forced Baker off her line to make a crunching tackle to prevent the Brighton striker from capitalising of Gills’ mistake.
Brighton were able to win a corner as a result but Gills stood firm to the inswinging ball as Blackie cleared well. Jade Keogh was able to pick up the ball in midfield and slickly turn her marker to find Blackie again. The Gills skipper executed a perfect pass into the path of Gurr who finished smartly to put Gills 2-0 up.
As Gills sought to snatch a third before the break, Gurr picked up a poor Brighton pass to find Gibbons who charged on goal forcing Brighton into conceding another corner.
Gillingham applied pressure in the box before the ball came out to Carlton who unleashed a powerful strike that whistled just wide of the side netting.
Gibbons pinched possession from a back pass to drive the ball down the right before cutting back to Gurr, who positioned perfectly to place the ball, was denied a brace by the back-tracking Brighton goal-keeper who pulled off a remarkable reaction save.
Gibbons was quick to another loose ball in midfield, this time side footing to Gurr who was bundled off the ball. Gills were thus rewarded a free kick 25 yards out from goal in a very worrying position for The Seagulls.
Carlton produced another testing long range shot to sting the keeper’s glove. The Brighton goalkeeper couldn’t pacify the shot and fumbled the ball into a sea of players, Blackie made sure she was first to the ball and Gills came within inches of making it three goals to the good before half time.
The home side showed their credentials as league leaders as the first half drew to a close, applying great attacking pressure to their visitors half, whilst demonstrating great poise and maturity in defence to limit Brighton’s chances on goal.
Half time: 2-0
League leaders Gillingham continued to show their class in the opening exchanges after half time, as a slick one two between Carlton and Blackie carved open the Brighton defence. Carlton placed the ball on target from a tight angle, but The Seagulls keeper had her goal covered and was able to gather easily.
Brighton responded well, coming out to test Gillingham much more thoroughly in the second half.
The Seagulls sought to patient unlock the Gills defence but couldn’t carve a way through to test Baker. They did however win a series of corners which required Gillingham to defend as a unit.
Brighton could have drawn one back after some good work down the left hand side lead to a fizzling delivery into the area. Brighton’s attack managed to make good contact to steer the ball towards the back of the net, before a brilliant goal line clearance from Taylor preserved the home side’s clean sheet.
Within 30 seconds, Gillingham Ladies were inches from getting a goal after a swift attacking turnaround presented a floating cross for the onrushing Gibbons to connect with. The Gills attacker came agonisingly close to turning the ball in.
Brighton continued to contain Gills into their own half but the home side worked hard to minimise the visitor’s time on the ball and were able to disperse Brighton’s most dominant period with attacks of their own.
One of which was lead by Keogh whose shot rattled the side netting after a cross ball was delivered from a determined run by Gibbons.
Brighton were able to expose the Gills defence after some patient passing play down the right managed to work an opening for a Brighton attacker within the area. Cooper and Baker worked well together to create enough pressure to force the The Seagulls player’s shot wide.
Manager James Marrs made a series of substitutions that gave Gills fresh impetus to see the game out.
Ahern produced a fine cross field pass to Gurr who in turn found the run of substitute Lisa Fulgence who sliced her shot just off target.
Fulgence’s speed exposed a slightly tired back line and caused many problems for the Brighton defence to deal with.
Brighton had another quality chance after a set piece delivery escaped everyone, except for Baker who was well positioned to see the ball through and collect authoritively.
Down the other end and Fulgence collected a crisp pass to switch feet and drill the ball towards goal making the Brighton keeper parry the ball for a corner.
Cooper and Fulgence rose highest to produce attempts on goal and Brighton prevented Gills getting a third with a goal line clearance.
Gillingham were eventually rewarded with a third after the tireless Tune fought for possession back from the Brighton keeper meaning Fulgence was able to slot the ball into an empty net.
The Gills got their third but continued to hussle for another and a ball whipped in from Carlton almost collected a fourth goal for the Kent side as Blackie and Fulgence escaped their marker to run across goal, Fulgence in again on goal but the keeper recovered well to smother the ball.
Lauren Davis and Nikitta Whinnett were troublesome for the Gills down the wings and Davis made a forceful run down the right before cutting the ball back to Tune but Brighton defended bravely throwing bodies to block the ball for a corner.
Minutes from full time, Whinnett’s quick feet left her marker in the dust and her turn towards goal could only be stopped by a foul. Gills were rewarded a free kick on the edge of the box but couldn’t quite capitalise to extend their league.
The game concluded 3-0 as the Gills unbeaten run continued. A professional and accomplished performance for the Gills against a solid and hard-working Brighton side. After much build up in the press, the battle between the league’s top two sides was an entertaining advertisement for women’s football, but the league leader’s class shone through and they earned three deserved points.
Gillingham Ladies: Faye Baker, Danielle Carlton, Rachel Ahern, Deanna Cooper, Amy Taylor, Lauren Williams (Lisa Fulgence), Jay Blackie (c), Emma Tune, Jade Keogh (Lauren Davis), Fliss Gibbons (Nikitta Whinnett), Charlotte Gurr