Ladies: Chichester City 2-3 Watford
Watford Ladies returned to the top of the table with a hard-fought 3-2 win away at Chichester City Ladies on Sunday afternoon.
Katie O’Leary put the Golden Girls in front early on, but Chichester responded immediately through Megan Fox. A goal from Gemma Simmonds just past the midway point of the half then gave the hosts the lead.
Helen Ward’s strike meant they wouldn’t hold on to that going into the interval. The Hornets then stepped up the pressure in the second 45 and eventually found a way through, as a great goal from O’Leary ensured Watford returned from the South Coast with all three points.
Head Coach Clinton Lancaster made four changes to the side that had won 4-0 at Gillingham a fortnight ago.
O’Leary returned up front, while Hattie Kettle featured in the centre of defence. Danielle Scanlon and Katherine Huggins were both handed their first league starts of the season.
Lancaster’s side have been scoring for fun recently, although much of it has been coming in the second half. That wasn’t the case here as Watford got off to the perfect start.
Ryah Vyse put in a good ball to O’Leary and she connected with it well first time, beating Isobelle Foster in the Chichester goal.
If there was hope that would set the tone for the afternoon, the hosts had other ideas. They were back on level terms only a minute after the opener, their captain Fox getting the equaliser.
The Golden Girls were threatening to restore the advantage, with Foster coming up big on a couple of occasions, first she denied Megan Chandler and then Andrea Carid.
Chichester came into this game without a league win, but you wouldn’t have known it by their performance on the pitch. Suddenly the game had been turned around when Simmonds’ chip gave her side the lead.
It looked like Watford would also immediately respond to going behind, but some brilliant defending from Nicky Lake prevented Ward’s effort from going in after she had rounded the keeper.
When the skipper got another chance though, it was taken. Ward pounced on a poor pass at the back and showed good composure to slot the ball past Foster and make it 2-2.
Watford have excelled in the second 45 so far this season, averaging 2.5 goals per game. Backed on by vociferous travelling support, the Hornets were peppering the opposition goal looking for the go-ahead goal.
A raised flag had already disallowed an effort from centre back, Hattie Kettle, before Ward had an opportunity which went just wide of the left-hand post.
O’Leary then came even closer, as she beat Foster, but her strike came agonisingly back off the crossbar.
Plenty of looks were falling to Ward, she shot wide from a tight angle and was then stopped by the opposition keeper, with no rebound given.
Eventually, the pressure told. It was a particularly fine goal from O’Leary, as she curled it into the top right-hand corner for her second of the afternoon and what proved to be the match winner.
It could have been more comfortable in the closing stages, but Watford just couldn’t get the fourth. O’Leary was denied her hat-trick by Foster and then Ward hit the post, with it bouncing back into the keeper’s arms.
Despite not being able to add to the tally, Watford looked assured in the final stages, closing out the game and securing the three points that saw the Golden Girls return to the top of the Southern Division.
GOLDEN GIRLS | Wilson, Hill, Kettle (Beckett, 57), Huggins, Rolandsen, Scanlon (Stojko-Down, 61), Chandler, Vyse, Ward (C), O’Leary, Carid (Fatuga-Dada, 68)
Goals | O’Leary (3, 72), Ward (39)
LILLYWHITES | Foster, Lake, Burke, Phelps, Simmonds, White, Capel-Watson, Bloomfield, Cook (Webster, 80), Fox (C), Wild
Goals | Fox (4), Simmonds (26)
Attendance | 75