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On a Sunday where only four matches were played at any level in the entire country, one team took another significant step towards regaining some of their previous status in the game.
Southampton Saints moved eight points clear at the top of the Southern Regional League Premier Division with a hard fought 2-1 win at the County Ground home of Shanklin. The hosts were tenth out of eleven in the League but were unbeaten, having only played four League matches since mid-August and provided a real test for Saints, who have dropped three levels since losing top flight status in 2003. It took a superb winning goal late in the game to deny Shanklin the draw which their efforts probably deserved.
Saints had the bonus of taking the lead in the second minute when Misty Makinde raced clear of the defence and finished calmly after her first effort had been well saved by Paula Hill. Shanklin pressed Saints back, Susan Cullen drawing a good save from Hannah Haughton before levelling when the visitors defence misjudged a through ball on eleven minutes, allowing Sarah Wright to finish calmly.
Makinde missed a good chance from Krystal Whyte's cross and Shanklin's Sophie Jackson put a long range efffort just wide as chances abounded at both ends of the pitch. The Islanders gradually took charge and Nicky Briggs had a goal disallowed and put another shot just wide after robbing a hesitant Saints defender.
Despite another Makinde shot well saved by Hill on 43 minutes, Saints had been second best of much of the half and had been forced into desperate defence on a number of occasions.
The league leaders raised their game on the restart and gained a measure of control in midfield as Roxy Lee-Stewart started a number of good passing movements and Saints used the full width of the pitch with captain Whyte seeing plenty of the ball on the right. However Shanklin were always well in the game and the Saints defence needed to be far more decisive than before the break. Chances were now less clear cut as both sides sought to defend their unbeaten status in the League.
On 77 minutes, the match winning moment arrived and it was a beauty. Lee-Stewart was fouled 45 yards from goal but, spotting the intelligent run of substitute Kerri Why, she floated a quickly taken free kick perfectly. Why still had a lot to do as Hill raced off her line to block but she, somehow, lobbed the ball at full stretch over Hill yet with the correct pace to float in just under the bar.
After this blow, Shanklin showed great spirit and moved forward again, forcing several corners, from one of which Shanklin's player of the match Sophie Jackson just missed a great chance to equalise from close in. Saints hit the bar late on but the final whistle blew as Haughton made another good save from Shanklin's Kim Masterton, emphasising what a hard fought victory this had been.
Saints go into the New Year in pole position to return to the South West Combination but they had been pushed all the way by an impressive Shanklin team who will surely move quickly up the league as the proud representative of women's football on the Isle of Wight, along with their successful reserve team, Hampshire Intermediate Cup holders. Shanklin first team still retain an interest in two Cups as well as having 15 league matches to play in what promises to be a busy New Year!
Shanklin: Paula Hill, Sarah Wright, Alice Golding, Sammie Hayles, Louise Wren, Nicky Briggs, Sophie Jackson, Kim Masterton, Susan Cullen, Danielle Merryfield, Nat Romain. Subs: Emma Webb, Kate Ednay, Rachel Cox.
Southampton Saints: Hannah Haughton, Aimee McDevitt, Gemma Simmonds, Hannah Billingham, Harriet Pascoe, Kirsty Spencer, Krystal Whyte, Louisa Castle, Misty Makinde, Roxanne Lee-Stewart, Kirsty Parkinson. Subs: Kerri Why, Kim Betlem.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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