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Gemma Hillier savoured Portsmouth's 2-1 victory over Sunderland in the Premier League Cup and hailed it as the best result in the club's history.
Pompey upset the odds with a shock win against the National Division leaders and the 23-year-old told Women's Soccer Scene: "It was easily one of the best days we have ever had. We played Everton in the cup last year and lost 6-1, so we were well prepared and expecting just as hard a game this time."
After a well contested first half, it was Sunderland who took the lead after the break through a penalty. "The first half was end to end and both sides had patches when they on top," recalls Gemma. "I have to admit we were disappointed with the penalty as we thought Alex [Windell] had played the ball first.
"They actually scored during a spell when we were on top so that gave us a bit of a lift and put in some important challenges. We then managed to equalise within five minutes - Lindsey Roe made a good tackle to set up the chance and it was a great finish from Justine Lorton."
The teams could not be separated for the rest of the half and the game went into extra time. "It was very tense," admitted Gemma. "We knew that our fitness wouldn't been as good as Sunderland's but we showed a lot of passion and fight. It helped that our goalkeeper Louise Worsfold had a fantastic game and made a string of saves, but then she has been brilliant for us all season."
The decisive moment came in the first period of extra time and it was Gemma herself who scored the all important goal. "Lauren Murphy put in a good tackle and Justine flicked the ball through to me," says Gemma. "I ran half the length of the pitch and luckily I managed to finish by curling a left foot shot into the net from the edge of the area.
"We could have scored again but their goalkeeper made a fantastic save from my shot. Then, we were given a penalty but Justine, who is normally so reliable from the spot, put her shot wide."
As extra time wore on, Portsmouth were forced to do more and more defending. "We went down to ten when we had a player sent off and Sunderland threw more players forward. That made it even more tricky for us but luckily we held on."
Portsmouth's reward is a semi final tie against Barnet, who will be familiar opponents to them. "We know that northern teams are very strong so we were hoping to avoid them [in the draw]," says Gemma. "Any draw would be tough though, but we beat Sunderland so we can beat anyone on the day. We have played Barnet in the league for the last four years and know they are a good side.
"Five or six of the squad have been with the club for ten years or more so it is briliiant for them to get to a major semi final. We have never been so far in a cup before so the Barnet game will be our biggest ever.
"We do have plenty of experience at the club, especially manager Vanessa Raynbird who is one of the hardest workers at the club. She has taken us to where we are today and she will know how to handle the occasion. We also have the likes of Justine Lorton and Shelly Cox who have played these games before and that will be a big help."
The week before the Barnet match, Portsmouth will play their Third Round tie in the F.A.Women's Cup against - Sunderland. "They'll be out for revenge in that one," admits Gemma. "But now we know how good they are, we know how well we will have to play on the day."
Despite the euphoria over the Sunderland win, Gemma insists that the league is still the main priority and their feet will be kept on the ground. "We are still hoping to win the league and I think the cup run should give us a lift," she says. "We have to take our cup form into the league. This week we play Colchester who gave us a drubbing earlier this season, so we will have to work hard to get anything from the game.
"We are hitting a bit of form now so hopefully we can keep it going. The squad is looking strong at the moment and we can only get better.
"West Ham have played well this season and they are probably our toughest rivals, while Keynsham and Colchester are strong sides. But the division has been wide open and will stay so as anyone can beat each other, so there is a long way to go yet."
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