Following on from the disappointment of narrowly missing out on a place in the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup Final to higher-league Crawley Wasps last week, it was the same sixteen that returned to league action at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Millwall.
It was the visitors who, initially, made the brighter start, albeit without being able to breach the host’s defensive barrier.
Something that the home side very nearly did not once but twice inside the opening ten minutes.
After Rachel Palmer’s throw-in on the left was played back to her by Captain Gemma Worsfold, her subsequent cross was only half-cleared; allowing Georgia Tibble to pick up the loose ball, turn, look up and find Chloe Winchester who headed against the near post.
A short while later, good work in the middle of the park by Katie Cooper saw her fend off a couple of challenges before spreading play out to Sophie Humphrey on the right. Soph’s delivery was so nearly converted by a sliding and stretching Worsfold, who came within a bootlace of breaking the deadlock.
The two teams then largely cancelled each other out, as chances proved hard to come by.
Although, a Palmer corner did cause concern in the Blues six yard box, with Katie Young doing her best to put the finishing touch to a Winchester flick-on. Until a calm-looking nod back to her ‘keeper, Serena Hand by Ella Bailey maintained the equilibrium.
Palmer’s persistence soon paid dividends however, when her next set-piece had Hand flailing in her attempt at keeping out the left-back’s twenty-plus yard free-kick, as it dipped delightfully under the crossbar. What a way to open your account for the Club!
Tibble’s twisting and turning then put Skipper Grace Seely in a spin; the influential midfielder going one way, then t’other, once she’d pounced on a misplaced clearance by top scorer Otesha Charles, to lob into Hand’s hands, during a screw-turning performance now being enjoyed by the Reds.
More uncertainty amongst the guest’s rearguard almost led to Humphrey capitalising on Hope Welsh’s attempted pass to Jasmine Auguste. Sliding in bravely to beat Hand to the ball, only for Welsh to recover well and disperse the danger.
Winchester and Bridge linked up nicely for the latter to slip in Soph through the inside-left channel, where she was held up by Welsh prior to Tibble taking over and lashing a shot into the side-netting.
Further fine approach work between Tibble, Bridge and Winchester culminated in Worsfold being set-up to eventually leave Julia Moulton floundering on the floor, via a devious drag back but Hand saved by her front stick.
Nothing the netminder could do in virtually the same breath though, when Cooper sent Humphrey scurrying into the eighteen yard box to send over a delivery that Hand could only parry into the path of the predatory Worsfold, arriving on time at the far upright to double the advantage.
Jade Keogh curled a free-kick harmlessly over the top, as the South Londoners searched for a route back into the game and Niamh Andersson’s effort just lacked the power to trouble Hand, with Humphrey’s left-wing ball in creating pandemonium in the penalty area.
Little more half-an-hour to go and Humphrey moved into double-figures for the season by taking Bridge’s pass and drifting away from her marker Moulton, before bending a beauty beyond a well-beaten Hand from the eighteen yard line.
The Double Digits Club then acquired it’s newest member, thanks to Tibble continuing, despite a prone Young and releasing Winchester on the right who broke into the box, kept her composure and drilled low and hard across Hand to put the result beyond doubt.
Undeterred, Millwall pulled one back, courtesy of Auguste’s throw to Seely ending with Shannon Drewe breaking free from the shackles of Andersson and preceding to arc a stunning finish out of Lauren Dolbear’s reach, right on the left-hand edge of the penalty area.
The warning signs had been there though when Tibble, ideally placed to do so, was forced to avoid an earlier riposte off the boot of substitute Millie Connell.
A counter-attack from a Lionesses corner might have put the icing on the cake, when Worsfold headed out for Andersson to embark on a lung-bursting run that started a few yards outside her own penalty box. Now in defensive mode, Connell was powerless to stop Niamh getting the better of her but not her custodian, with a final flourish flashing across the face of goal.
Alertness shown by the recently-introduced Keavy Price resulted in a headed interception giving Worsfold, in her own half, the ideal opportunity to utilise the pace of leading marksperson Becs Bell, approaching the dying embers of a now chilly afternoon. Surging past Sophie Chapman, Becs was ultimately frustrated by Hand at close quarters.
Auguste then drove Connell’s right flank dead ball wide of the target for the travellers in stoppage time but the lid had already been sealed on an outstanding afternoon’s work.