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Shootout success earns Reds third qualifying round spot

Worthing Women earned a place in third qualifying round of the Women’s FA Cup on Sunday, after prevailing 4-3 in a penalty shootout against New London Lionesses at a bitter Barn Elms Playing Fields in South West London.

A late headed equaliser from Beth Kincaid in normal time had cancelled out Kiz Fergus’ first half strike for the hosts, with Michelle Lawrence’s side securing safe passage from the penalty spot after neither side could find a decisive goal in normal time.

Both sides began at a steady pace in the opening exchanges, but it was the hosts who had the first real chance on 11-minutes, when midfielder Sam Curran saw her header from a free kick brilliantly saved by Lucy Apps in the Worthing goal.

Tammy Waine then went close for the away side five-minutes later, when she headed over Sara Tubby’s excellent delivery from close range. Alice Walford also went close for the visitors on 18-minutes, when her speculative long-range drive flew narrowly over the hosts crossbar.

Worthing were made to pay for their missed opportunities on 20-minutes, when Lionesses forward Fergus stole possession from Waine and calmly slotted low under the onrushing Apps to give her side a precious lead.

Lawrence’s side responded well to that setback and went close again on 25-minutes, when Caroline Hodgson tested home keeper Sarah Sackett with another low drive after she had been picked out by Tubby. Moments later, Sophie Grimson produced a superb block to deny Charlotte Herbertz from close range at the other end.

Hannah Hewlett and Gemma Worsfold also went close for Worthing late in the first period, with both seeing their powerful strikes well saved by Sackett as the home side took their slender lead into the second half.

Worthing came out with the same positive energy after half-time and began to push the home side further back into their final third. Rebecca Thompson-Agbro was next to try her luck for the away side on 53-minutes, her powerful volley sailing high and wide after the hosts had only partially cleared a Reds corner.

With the visitors searching for an elusive equaliser, manager Lawrence introduced Kincaid and Sophie Humphrey for Tubby and Walford as she looked to give her side added attacking energy going into the late stages of the contest.

Humphrey almost had an instant impact when she burst into the box on 68-minutes, however the home side were able to recover quickly and prevent the Worthing substitute from getting a shot away.

Worthing finally found the goal their pressure warranted on 75-minutes, when Kincaid rose above her marker to guide a precise header past Sackett and into the roof of the net from yet another Reds corner.

With the score now level, Worthing went in search of a late winner, and they were given a fantastic opportunity from the penalty spot on 81-minutes following a controversial handball decision. Worsfold stepped up but saw her powerful drive brilliantly kept out by Sackett as the hosts maintained parity.

Despite spending the majority of the half of the back foot, New London had a fantastic chance to make it 2-1 on 85-minutes, when Fergus headed narrowly over from close range to the relief of the Worthing rear-guard.

Neither side was able to find a second goal in normal time, so the game would be decided from the penalty spot.

With the shootout score at 2-2, Apps produced a fantastic save to her left after Thompson-Agbro had earlier missed Worthing’s second shootout spot kick. Waine and Hodgson then confidently converted their spot kicks to make it 4-3, before Kendal Drake blazed over her sides final spot kick as Worthing prevailed in the shootout to progress to the third qualifying round of The Vitality Women’s FA Cup. The Reds will discover their opponents for the next round in Monday’s draw.

Following that victory, shootout hero Lucy Apps was delighted with her team’s mental toughness, particularly after going behind. On the win, she said “Credit goes to the defence, whose solid performance meant I didn’t have much to do. Taking the penalty was definitely more nerve-wracking, there’s less pressure as a goalkeeper in penalty shootouts and I’m just lucky I guessed right. I love a cup run, so to get through to the next round against a good side feels great. The next round draw will be exciting, as will the challenge that comes with it”.

Manager Michelle Lawrence was also impressed with her sides resilience after suffering an early setback. She said “I have questioned my player’s mental toughness in the past, but today I am so proud of the resilience they showed. Everyone showed a fantastic level of desire and commitment. It was far from our best offensive display, but my players were relentless in the second half and eventually found the equaliser. To then win the shootout having missed a penalty to win the game, showed great character. We’re all looking forward to Monday’s draw and to the next challenge the cup gives us”.