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Southampton Saints 3 Larkhall Athletic 1
Southampton Saints got 2011 off to a winning start as they sealed an FA Women's Cup Second Round tie at home to Keynsham Town with a 3-1 win over Larkhall Athletic.
The eight time winners of the competition are having a difficult time in the South West Combination and were given a stern test by their South West League opponents. Both teams had periods of dominance and created good chances in an even first half but it was the home team who forced the issue with a two-goal burst early in the second half. The spirited Larks mounted a good comeback but were knocked out by a fine finish by Gemma Simmonds in the 83rd minute.
The tie was reversed to the BTC ground after two postponements but it was visitors Larkhall who started the better, creating the clearest chances in the first half hour. Jodie Whaley was put clean through on goal but shot wide on seven minutes, Kelly Cripps had a powerful shot well held by Hannah Haughton and Anna Walby put a free header wide from close in.
Saints had a half chance for Krystal Whyte after good work by Lou Castle and Kirsty Garner but Larkhall continued to move the ball around well. Haughton made a crucial block on 34 minutes to deny Kate German and suddenly Saints stepped up a gear. Kerri Why broke clear of the Larks defence twice and was foiled by excellent saves by Nicki O'Connell. Garner fired just over for Saints and Castle twice went close, the second time with a header from a fine Aliss Wheeler cross.
The home side continued their purple patch after the break and this time they made it count. O'Connell denied Chelsea Owton with an acrobatic save from a lob but was powerless to stop a powerful finish after the Saints forward had cleverly turned in the box on 53 minutes. Southampton skipper Whyte added a second with a fine chipped finish three minutes later.
The versatile O'Connell left her goal for a left wing berth and immediately the Larks were carving out a succession of chances. Haughton denied German with a brilliant reaction save, the same player had a shot cleared off the line but it was third time lucky for the Larkhall striker, nodding in a cross on 75 minutes to give the visitors hope.
Both sides were passing well and creating chances in a frantic final quarter but it was Saints who scored the crucial goal as Owton and Why combined well to release Simmonds, who finished very coolly from ten yards past substitute Natasha Miller.
Larkhall kept pressing forward right to the final whistle, passing the ball fluently as they had done throughout, but the impressive young Saints held firm, reinforced by defensive substitutes Harriet Pascoe and Rachel Snow. On the break, Why, Castle, Owton and Whyte continued to threaten but there was no further addition to the score.
Using the usual cliche, Larkhall are free to concentrate on the league, where they have a good chance of gaining promotion to the South West Combination. Saints have almost completely rebuilt the club after they went into free fall from 2003 to 2007 and will renew acquaintances with Premier League opposition in the Second Round next Sunday.
Southampton Saints: Hannah Haughton, Janie Morgan, Aliss Wheeler, Kirsty Garner, Aimee McDevitt, George Hoban, Krystal Whyte, Gemma Simmonds, Lou Castle, Chelsea Owton, Kerri Why. Subs: Harriet Pascoe, Rachel Snow, Nicola Rowswell, Gemma McDowall, Sian Large.
Larkhall Athletic: Nicki O'Connell, Emily Harrington, Sophie Hamer, Amy Scrivens, Carly Symons, Anna Walby, Kate German, Emma Seal, Jodie Whaley, Charlene Rooney, Kelly Cripps. Sub: Natasha Miller.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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