It was a last minute trip to Portsmouth FC for Gillingham Ladies. With the fixture confirmed during the week, Simon Ratcliffe prepared his side to face their FA WPL rivals for the second time this month.
Having been on the receiving end of a 5-0 defeat in the New Year, Gillingham Ladies produced a markedly improved performance on Sunday afternoon, despite the scoreline perhaps suggesting otherwise.
On the back of a morale boosting victory in the Kent Women’s Cup, Gills failed to captitalize on the boost and came out for the first half slow.
Portsmouth exposed this within the opening couple of minutes when keeper Courtney Shanley was exposed and forced to make a good save with her outstretched left foot.
On a lumpy and bumpy surface which made in difficult for either side to get good control of the ball, Gills defence were being posed some questions as Portsmouth tried to thread balls through to Ini Umotong who had scored a hat-trick against the visitors just two weeks previously.
Gills found themselves a goal behind when one such searching pass down the left was picked up and pinged across the Gills area. Despite a good initial save by Shanley, the Gills keeper was unable to deny the follow up header by Umotong.
The goal seemed to spark Gills to life and with Ashlee Hincks, Emma Tune and Sophie Brown at the heart of midfield, began to sprinkle the tie with some crunching tackles, catching their opponents off guard.
With a fresh resurgence, the visitors gained more territory and attacked with purpose to provide the front pairing of Chloe Cavengh and Lauren Phillips the opportunity to enjoy pockets of possession.
Hincks was dictating things in the heart of midfield and managed to pick the ball up for Gills before supplying an inch perfect pass to spilt the Portsmouth defence and set Cavengh running. The Gills 17 year old, who ran the game ragged over the 90 minutes was unable to pinch the ball off the alert home side’s keeper.
With willing running from Phillips and Cavengh, Gills found themselves able to press the Portsmouth back four more than they had enjoyed in their previous encounter.
Hincks nearly headed the Gills back into the game thanks to a Tune corner. The Gills top scorer was then in on the next attack, hooking the ball through to Cavengh who looked to be in on goal but was adjudged to have committed a foul in the build up.
Portsmouth always looked a threat going forward with Umotong spearheading the attack. Emma Michelmore’s clean defending ended up producing an attack for Gills as she fed Brown with the ball, the Gills midfield beat her opponent for pace. Charging towards goal, Brown’s cross was bravely blocked and the Portsmouth keeper was able to gather easily.
Just as Gills seemed to be enjoying a period of dominance, Portsmouth illustrated their ruthless edge in the final third which ultimately ensured the visitors returned to Kent empty handed. A strike from distance curled through a sea of players and past Shanley into the back of the net.
Gillingham Ladies continued to search for their first goal of the game and a nice interchange of passes between Cavengh and Tune unlocked an opportunity. Unlike their hosts however, the Gills were unable to find the final clinical strike or pass to make their good play constitute a goal.
Cavengh, who received another call up to the first team following her hard-working performance against Herne Bay, produced another impressive 90. The Gillingham Centre of Excellence graduate won her team a free kick, turning her body well to run towards goal before being upended by a mis-timed challenge. Hincks took the delivery but Gills were unable to get that crucial goal.
Hincks was alert to a short Pompey pass to pick up possession again for the Gills who were doing well in the middle of the park to reduce their opponent’s time on the ball. Hincks’ resulting powerful shot on target was blocked as the referee blew for half time.
After a good opening 45 minutes Gillingham Ladies came out for the second half hoping to continue to press Portsmouth for valuable FA WPL points.
Sokhara Goodhall playing alongside Lauren Williams in defence formed a solid base for Gills to work off. Both were on hand to hold up Portsmouth attacks and allow Louise Lorton and Ellie Manning to be involved in the better play the Gills were enjoying.
Manning’s determined performance helped set the standard for the team who played with a unity to make it much more of a test for the FA WPL high flyers.
The left-back was sharp to pick up a loose ball and push forward as Gillingham tried to create breakthroughs down the wings with Lorton doing the same over on the right hand side.
Portsmouth were responding in a similar vein after a first half where the battle was won in the middle of the park. Williams did well to shadow an attacking Pompey run ensuring the move ran out of any momentum and Shanley was able to watch the ball go out.
Portsmouth made a double substitution which benefited their hold up play in the final third.
Another strong run from Cavengh found Phillips who layed off a great ball for Lorton who finished the move on the run, blasting a shot on target only to be met by a great parry from the Portsmouth keeper.
Cavengh found herself in a threatening one on one after Tune showed quick feet and great skill to pick out her run. Again, the host’s keeper was on her toes and able to smother the chance.
Gillingham had to endure a period of frantic defending as Portsmouth’s injection of pace up front caused problems. Michelmore and Shanley managed to clear a drilled ball into the area as Gills defender their lines well.
Gillingham won a quick succession of free kicks as they persisted to attack. Hincks produced a good curling set piece which just missed the target. While her later effort was eventually dealt with.
Portsmouth clinched a third goal with a fantastic strike from distance by Sarah Kempson. A powerful shot which licked the underneath of the crossbar before bouncing into the back of the net. The Pompey midfielder secured a win for the robust outfit who battled in equal measure to contain Gills throughout the game.
Gillingham Ladies: Courtney Shanley, Lauren WIlliams (c), Sokhara Goodhall, Ellie Manning, Emma Michelmore, Louise Lorton (Charlotte Long), Sophie Brown, Emma Tune, Ashlee Hincks, Lauren Phillips (Ashleigh Loosemore), Chloe Cavengh