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Queens Park Rangers clinched a place in the national elite of women's football at Brook House FC on Sunday with a 4-1 win in their crucial clash with Plymouth Argyle.
The win ensured the South West Combination title and a place in the Premier League for QPR who have won 16 of their 18 fixtures and have led the table virtually all season. However, a strong Argyle team had beaten them 3-0 a few weeks ago and anything other than a Rangers win would have given the Devon team the chance to pip the West London club in their remaining fixtures.
Martino Chevannes' team gave a faultless performance on the day, playing with great intensity and winning most of the individual battles to put Argyle on the back foot for most of the match. Eartha Pond struck a fierce 25-yard free kick against the bar early on, before the league's leading goalscorer Cherelle Albert put the home side in the lead on the half hour, nodding a bouncing ball past the advancing Michaela Phillips.
Argyle, lacking star forward Chloe Roberts who was away on England duty as well as the injured Emily Mousley, were kept at bay until the break but must have fancied their chances attacking down the slope in the second half. Indeed, they started brightly and pushed Rangers back with a series of corners. Goalkeeper Emily Bourne preserved the lead when she pushed out a high lobbed shot and recovered to make a fine save at point blank range from the follow up.
The crucial incident came when Rangers were awarded a hotly disputed penalty in the 54th minute which Pond dispatched. Plymouth desperately tried to find a way back, with centre back and captain Katie Middleton moving up front to good effect but Bourne and the back four coped very well, restricting Argyle to two good chances, one cleared off the line and one pushed out for a corner.
Frustration got the better of Laura Perrett, sent off on 79 minutes and Pond extended Rangers' lead almost immediately, pouncing on a defensive error to score from ten yards. The title was sealed when Amy Murphy broke clear and placed a neat finish past Phillips for the fourth, eight minutes from time.
The final minutes saw Plymouth reduced to nine players when centre back Kay Lewis was dismissed for a second yellow card offence and gain a penalty for pushing, which Middleton put away for a late consolation.
Rangers celebrated joyously with their supporters at the final whistle of an amazing season in which long serving players have blended with a number of reinforcements during the course of the campaign to produce worthy champions. Argyle have an abundance of fine young players but, just as last year in their duel with Reading, they have lost out at the last hurdle to outstanding opponents.
Queen's Park Rangers: Emily Bourne, Ceryl Guard, Seun Odeyeni, Simone Dwyer, Mel Bidewell, Tammy Scrivens, Amy Murphy, Leigh Holes, Cherelle Albert, Eartha Pond, Lucy Dewar. Subs: Nikki Crump, Hannah Curnow, Jess Devoti, Carla Williams, Jade Holes.
Plymouth: Michaela Phillips, Nicky Lake, Kate Hine, Kay Lewis, Katie Middleton, Aoife Ahearne, Becky Atkins, Laura Perrett, Chloe Bassett, Becky McMullin, Louise Hurndall. Subs: Carmen Thornton, Chynna Evans, Vicky Barter.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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