Gillingham Ladies continued their good run of form on the road with a 3-2 victory against Southampton Saints in the FA WPL Plate on Sunday afternoon.
A young Gills Ladies side, which included nine Centre of Excellence graduates, withstood a comeback from their hosts having gained a three goal advantage after an impressive first half performance.
Jack Wheeler’s side took a break from League action and began the first of four consecutive Cup fixtures with a trip to Southampton.
The visitors got off to an emphatic start, playing the ball well and attacking with intent, posing early questions of the Saint’s defence.
Katie Hardaker was causing particular problems alongside midfield duo Madison North and Emma Tune. It came as no surprise therefore when the three combined for Gills Ladies first goal.
Hardaker provided a great cross from the left which North swiftly dispatched with a clever flick beyond the outstretched glove of the Saints keeper.
The opening goal boosted Gills who continued to attack the Southampton goal. Tune who was enjoying an impressive display, appeared to be hauled down in the penalty area having made a positive drive into the box, the referee waved away the visitor’s appeal.
Tune was involved in Gillingham’s next attack, showing quick feet to get away from her marker before demonstrating great vision to thread a lofted cross to Wills whose header went wide off the mark.
Gillingham’s defence had to be alert to Southampton’s pace and threat on the counter but demonstrated great composure and helped support Gillingham’s attack as they sought to double their lead in the fixture.
April Bowers, who enjoyed another impressive 90 minutes at centre back since her move from West Ham United, came close to grabbing that second goal with a great surging run from defence. Bowers exchanged a neat one two with North of the edge of the box before unleashing a powerful shot which went over the crossbar.
Skipper Lauren Williams was next to join in with the attacking play after latching onto an opportunity smartly laid on for her by Wills, the shot from 25 yards however whistled off target.
Gillingham managed to double their lead through Wills who worked tirelessly leading the line for her team. Wills’ hard work was rewarded when she latched on to a short back pass to slot into the back of the net.
Southampton responded positively and got their first shot on target but were limited to a tame effort from distance which was comfortably gather by Alabaster.
North celebrated a brace with a sublime lob from a difficult angle, ensuring Gills Ladies went into half time with a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Hardaker was still able to craft an opportunity before the break. Some great passing play around the box lead to the Gills midfielder curling a left footed shot which went inches wide of the keeper’s far post.
North was denied a hat-trick by a great save by the Southampton keeper who parried her effort into the path of both Tune and Wills who followed up but were unable to convert.
Half time: 0-3
After enjoying a dominant opening 45 minutes, the beginning of the second period proved to be anything but comfortable for the visitors who found themselves conceding shortly after the re-start.
A wonderful strike 25 yards out fired into the top right hand corner, leaving Gills keeper with no chance and providing Southampton with the ammunition to fire back into the game.
Shannon Redhouse was introduced to play and make a positive impact, enforcing the Saints keeper into a smart save following a threatening run down the right.
The second half proved to be a tighter affair with both teams cancelling each other out and Gills Ladies limited to far fewer clear cut chances.
The visitors made it a tense final 10 minutes exploiting a moment of lapsed concentration from the Gills defence. A skilful chip going over Alabaster and into the roof of the net.
Gills were required to show a more mature side, taking control and operating play to see out the victory and ensure the journey back to Kent would be an enjoyable one.
Gills Ladies line up: Imogen Alabaster, Lauren Williams (c), April Bowers, Charlie Thurston, Georgia Reece (Hollie Musmeci), Emma Tune, Katie Hardaker, Madison North, Ashleigh Loosemore (Fiona Constable), Megan Maslak (Shannon Redhouse), Lydia Wills
Unused subs: Courtney Shanly