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Earlier this month, Northern Ireland qualified for a major women's tournament for the first time when they completed a 4-1 aggregate victory over Ukraine in the play-offs.
We talked to midfielder Sarah McFadden, who has played a major role in her side's greatest achievement to date and she spoke to us about their successful campaign and hopes for the future:
WSS: Congratulations from all of us Sarah! Has it sunk in yet, what this Northern Ireland team has achieved and in a relatively short space of time?
SM: Not really to be honest and I don't think it will until we are walking out at the Euros next summer. On Tuesday I was walking into work and I forgot the play-offs were over and we won them. I had to pinch myself, it was as if the past few weeks were a dream!
WSS: How big a difference has Kenny Shiels made since he took over the job?
SM: Kenny and his background staff have been amazing, they have just changed the whole mentality of our team and for us all as individuals, winning is the only option no matter who we play. Every training session we do is always related to how we are going to play and every situation that we might face in that game is covered. The detail we are provided on other teams and how we are going to beat other teams is more than I have ever experienced in all my years of football. When we go into matches, I am not even that nervous any more as I know the sidelines will problem-solve anything and I know what my job is, so I just have to do it.
The main difference and why we have been successful though is the improvement of the home-based players training three to four times a week with Kenny and his team. They have all shown so much dedication over the past year and that has shown in their performances, with seven of them starting in the play-off games last month and many others being used throughout the campaign. They have stepped up and it's really showing when you now have such competition across the squad and this improves everyone.
WSS: The group didn't start well with two heavy defeats against Norway, but that turn out to be a blessing in disguise?
SM:We got a lot of confidence out of both games, even though we did suffer heavy defeats. We didn't change our philosophy and it was really early in our journey. We knew if we could play out from the back through the midfield against Norway, we could do it against anyone in our group. Again it was about us not being scared to do anything against them and that has helped us for the remainder of the campaign.
WSS: Do you think that the 2-2 draw away to Wales was a pivotal moment for you, performance wise as well as the result?
SM: At the time we didn't realise how important Ashley Hutton's goal would have been. We played very well and I don't think Wales expected us to play how we did. We went toe to toe with a team of professional players and matched them all over the field and that give us confidence again. Only a few years previously we had played Wales and got beaten well off them twice. They were far superior to us so again the improvement in such a short time was evident for all of us to see.
WSS: After a great win in Belarus, was that the moment that you felt you could get the runners-up spot?
SM: When our keeper got sent off, I am not going to lie, I thought the dream was over but then Furney [Rachel Furness] scored that header at the back post and that's when I thought this is written in the stars for us. After the game - I wish it was filmed - but we all stood holding each other, praying and watching the Norway v Wales game knowing that if Norway beat Wales it was back in our hands. When the result came through, it was when we thought this is our time, we are going to do this.
WSS: Many people have said that your win in the first leg in Ukraine was Northern Ireland's greatest ever win, would you go along with that?
SM: For sure, due to the nature of the game and the pressure that comes with a play-off, the fact Ukraine are ranked 24th in the world and had been to three previous play-offs and we won the game like seasoned pros. At international level we have never played a game at this sort of level and pressure, most of our players are young and inexperienced, we had six squad members injured, of which three of these would have started. With all these things to consider it was by far Northern Ireland's greatest win. It was for sure an underdog story.
WSS: The maturity and control the team showed in the second leg was admirable, did you always feel that everything was under control during that match?
SM: For the majority of the first half I was a little worried, I just felt that Ukraine came out flying and were playing so much faster than the away leg. When we got to half time with 0-0 and rode the storm, that's when I thought I don't think they can play any faster than that so now we can up our game and get a goal. Once Marissa scored I knew we were going to win the tie. Ukraine's heads went, confidence drained from them, even though nothing had really changed we had something else to defend now and we were in control until the end. When you have two experienced and outstanding CB's like Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton behind you it gives you lots of confidence.
WSS: When considering you have also been missing several key players for most of the group matches, let alone the play-offs, does that make it an even better achievement?
SM: There has been such a strong emphasis on the squad from day one and now we know why it has been so important. If you look at Rebecca McKenna she epitomises what our squad has been about. Rebecca didn't even get selected for some squads throughout the campaign. She could have easily given up but she didn't she waited for her chance and when it came in the two biggest games of the campaign and our lives she stood up and was our best player over the two play-off games. Before the last two games, if you had said to us we would have won the play-offs without our best player in Rachel Furness I would have said no chance. Then again our captain stands up, has the game of her life, plays in Rachel's position in the last game of the play-offs and scores the goal to help take us through. So although we had injuries it was so nice to see people step up and do what they could for the team. Everyone was so tuned in on their roles and responsibilities that all of us had every confidence. This is what we have been all about all campaign and it's the reason we have got to where we are everyone has the same goals and willing to do what they can to win.
WSS: How confident are you that Northern Ireland can build on this and qualify for more tournaments in the future, are there many good youngsters coming through at youth levels?
SM: Now with Kenny in charge, the youngsters are improving so quickly and are in the best position to develop and step up over the next 2-3 years. We are only going to improve and the fact we are now in higher pots means we will hopefully have better chance in future qualification. We don't want to stop here, this is only the start, from the outside people probably think we will be happy to make up the numbers next summer in England and happy not to qualify again but while Kenny is in charge, that won't be enough ever. We are all going to work hard this year and continue to build on this. We want to create a legacy in the future for all the boys and girls coming through in Northern Ireland that making up the numbers is never enough.
Other than the five oldies in myself, Julie, Rachel, Ashley and Marissa, the rest of the squad are young and have a great chance to build on this and continue to qualify. For the old girls, there will come a day when we stop playing but while Kenny is in charge, I think most of us will have to be forced out eventually rather than retiring voluntarily. We have learned so much over the past few years and just want to keep playing and improving because playing for Northern Ireland at the minute is the best experience of our lives and we don't want to give it up!
Our thanks to Sarah!
Photo - Irish FA/PressEye
The draw for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying groups has been made.
England, semi finalists in the last two tournaments, will face Euro 2022 qualifers Northern Ireland as well as Austria, who reached the Euro 2017 semi finals. North Macedonia, Latvia and Luxembourg are the other countries in the group.
Scotland will be up against Spain, as well as Ukraine, Hungary and the Faroe Islands, whilst Wales will be up against France, Slovenia, Greece, Kazakhstan and Estonia.
The fixtures for each group will be announced in due course.
Draw in full:
Sweden, Finland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Georgia
Spain, Scotland, Ukraine, Hungary, Faroe Islands
Netherlands, Iceland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Cyprus
England, Austria, Northern Ireland, North Macedonia, Latvia, Luxembourg
Denmark, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Malta, Montenegro
Norway, Belgium, Poland, Albania, Kosovo, Armenia
Italy, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia, Moldova, Lithuania
Germany, Portugal, Serbia, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria
France, Wales, Slovenia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Estonia
Although the various stoppages during the campaign limited the season to just five league games, playing each other once, the division was always a close one at the top with three teams in contention at one stage.
Ellesmere Port opened up their season back in October and defeated Whitchurch Alport 8-0 in their opening match, before sharing a 2-2 draw with Brookvale Utd the following week.
However, they had to wait exactly six months before playing their next league match but made up for lost time on their return, winning 4-0 away to Frodsham Juniors. This was followed by a twelve-goal victory against Malpas Women which set them up for the title showdown against Ashville Youth, who had won their previous four games and went into the match needing to avoid defeat to be crowned Champions, but it was Ellesmere Port who took the honours with a 3-2 victory. "For the neutral, it was an unbelievable end-to-end game with passion, desire and some great football all round," Goalkeeping coach Sam Phillips told Women's Soccer Scene.
Ellesmere Port Town are managed by Nigel Basnett, with Luke Jones as First Team Coach and Sam Phillips undertaking the roles of Goalkeeping Coach and Physio. They play their home matches at Whitby Sports & Social Club in Ellesmere Port.
The team is captained by Lydia Ward and their leading goalscorer is Chelsey Hodgin with ten to her name, including a six-goal haul in their penultimate match against Malpas.
Back Row: Sam Phillips (Coach), Nigel Basnett (Manager), Helen Cann, Keri Sampson, Lucy Carlin, Chelsey Hodgin, Sam Oakes, Sarah Newton, Emily Mcubbing, Lydia Ward, Luke Jones (Coach)
Front Row: Leanne Sampson, Louise Wilson, Lindsey Taylor, Dani Painter, Aimee King, Ella Walmsley, Amy Jones, Claire Hannigan.
Dartford Res 3 Sevenoaks Town 2
The South East Counties league, like many others around the country, is back in full swing for what remains of this stop-start season.
The thriving Kent sections of the SECWFL are engaged in the Spring Round Robin 2021 where 48 clubs are divided into eight groups of six, with the eight group winners contesting a knockout finale.
In Group D, Dartford Women Reserves faced Division One rivals in Sevenoaks Town and gained their first win since the resumption with a well contested 3-2 victory. Dominant in the first half and leading 2-0, the Darts were put under pressure by a transformed Sevenoaks for much of the second period but managed to find the crucial third goal which ensured the three points stayed at Prince's Park.
Dartford started really well and created several decent chances before the 15th minute opener, when a good early pass by Georgia Culpitt sent Alex Foulds clear to finish low past Maddie Smith.
Lizzie Nugent twice went close to extending the lead whilst the same combination which had created the first goal drew a fine save from the Sevenoaks keeper low to her left on 25 minutes.
Just after the half hour, Darts added a second goal when an inviting Aimee Ascott cross was met with a fine volley by Annie White. Nugent struck the post close to the break as the home team completed a very impressive first 45 minutes.
Sevenoaks needed to come out strongly on the restart and they did exactly that, pulling a goal back on 50 minutes with a Natalie Graves penalty. Tackling strongly and moving the ball early to their forwards, Sevenoaks pressed Dartford back for much of the time, although the home defence protected keeper Nasa Eke well and she was quick off her line to collect through balls.
The best chance of an equaliser fell to Luci Dorling whose shot from the edge of the area rolled inches wide on 85 minutes. Dartford seemed to have settled the outcome three minutes later courtesy of another fine finish by White but Sevenoaks replied immediately with the best goal of the match on 89 minutes.
Elizabeth Gregory somehow evaded two defenders close to the left touchline before turning and firing a powerful drive past Eke from the edge of the area for a super finish.
Dartford saw out the match well to claim the three points but the most important thing is that both teams, along with hundreds of players all over the SECWFL, are back out on the pitch.
Dartford Res: Nasa Eke, Lara Botten, Annie White, Jamie-Lee Cartwright, Natalie Summers, Aimee Ascott, Anna MacDonald, Chloe Hall, Georgia Culpitt, Alex Foulds, Lizzie Nugent. Subs: Rhiannon Staggs, Sarah Cole, Hannah Botten, Brittani Rumble, Claire Hylands, Lauren Hockley.
Sevenoaks Town: Emily Orchin, Sarah Gavaghan, Lucy McPherson, Natalie Graves, Sarah Palmer, Luci Dorling, Maddie Smith, Elle Wybrow, Annie-Mai Lucas, Elizabeth Gregory, Shannon Hyner. Subs: Shelley Golding, Caroline Kemp.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Luci Dorling in possession, pursued by Chloe Hall
(middle) Natalie Graves tries to win a header against Claire Hylands
(bottom) Elle Whybrow is challenged by Aimee Ascott
The end of the Barclays FA WSL season will also bring the end of an era in women's football with the news that Fara Williams, England's most capped player of all time, will retire from the game.
The 37-year-old made the announcement on Twitter this week to bring the curtain down on a stellar career in the women's game, spanning more than 20 years and saw her win 172 caps for her country, scoring 40 times - only Kelly Smith has scored more.
Fara in action against Spain (www.jamesprickett.co.uk).
Fara's career began with Chelsea before moving to Charlton Athletic in 2001 and in November of that year, she won her first England cap against Portugal at the age of 17. Her first start, also against Portugal the following February at Fratton Park, also saw her score her first goal via a free kick.
After winning the Premier League Cup with Charlton in 2003-04, she joined Everton at the end of the season and spent eight years with the Toffees, winning another League Cup in 2008 and two years later, she helped Everton win the FA Women's Cup.
In 2012, Fara made the move to Liverpool and the following year - after seven second place finishes with Charlton and Everton - she won her first Championship when the Reds beat Bristol Academy in a title decider in the final game of the WSL season. Liverpool then retained the title a year later in dramatic fashion, Fara having scored a vital goal against Birmingham City from the halfway line in their penultimate game.
A two-year spell with Arsenal was followed by a move to Reading FC Women in 2017, where she remained for the remainder of her career.
In international football, Fara played in an astonishing seven major Finals for England as well as Team GB in the 2012 Olympic Games. She played in the Euro 2009 Final in Sweden, where England lost to Germany, and in 2015 scored a penalty in a World Cup semi final against Japan, where England were beaten before going on to win the bronze medal match 1-0 against Germany - again, courtesy of a Fara Williams penalty.
As well as her record breaking career for her country, Fara has won many awards during her career. In 2002 she was FA Young Player of the Year and was named as FA Player's Player of the Year in 2009, the year Everton narrowly missed out on the title by losing the last game of the season to Arsenal. She was also recognised at England level by winning the FA International Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2009. In 2016, she was awarded the MBE in the New Year's honours list for services to women's football and charity.
A precocious talent as a youngster, Fara could light up a match with a moment's brilliance and often popped up with a crucial goal. Blessed with a great range of passing and a powerful shot on goal, Fara possessed a razor sharp football brain - the aforementioned goal against Birmingham being a prime example - capable of unlocking defences at any moment. It was also no surprise that throughout her career, she gained a reputation for scoring free kicks that she fully justified on many occasions.
Though often shy when dealing with the media, but always polite, friendly and helpful, Fara became a very popular person both on and off the pitch and someone who was always worth listening to.
In December it was announced that Fara would be a part of the FA's Elite Coach Placement Programme and would work with the England Under-17s alongside then Head C0ach Gemma Grainger.
Next season, it is going to seem strange without seeing the great Fara Williams out on the pitch, with that range of passing and shooting. She will be greatly missed. Happy retirement Fara, and thank you.
Photo - Fara in action against Spain (www.jamesprickett.co.uk).
The FA, Premier League, EFL, FA Women's Super League, FA Women's Championship, PFA, LMA, PGMOL, Kick It Out and the FSA will unite for a social media boycott from 15.00 on Friday 30 April to 23.59 on Monday 3 May, in response to the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others connected to football.
The Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also announced a similar stance for the same period as have clubs and media outlets across the country.
This has been scheduled to take place across a full fixture programme in the men's and women's professional game and will see clubs across the Premier League, EFL, WSL and Women's Championship switch off their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
As a collective, the game recognises the considerable reach and value of social media to our sport. The connectivity and access to supporters who are at the heart of football remains vital.
However, the boycott shows English football coming together to emphasise that social media companies must do more to eradicate online hate, while highlighting the importance of educating people in the ongoing fight against discrimination.
In our letter of February 2021, English football outlined its requests of social media companies, urging filtering, blocking and swift takedowns of offensive posts, an improved verification process and re-registration prevention, plus active assistance for law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute originators of illegal content. While some progress has been made, we reiterate those requests today in an effort to stem the relentless flow of discriminatory messages and ensure that there are real-life consequences for purveyors of online abuse across all platforms.
Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight.
Finally, while football takes a stand, we urge the UK Government to ensure its Online Safety Bill will bring in strong legislation to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms, as discussed at the DCMS Online Abuse roundtable earlier this week.
Edleen John, The FA's Director of International Relations, Corporate Affairs and Co-Partner for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: "It's simply unacceptable that people across English football and society more broadly continue to be subjected to discriminatory abuse online on a daily basis, with no real-world consequences for perpetrators. This needs to change quickly, and we continue to urge social media companies to act now to address this. We will not stop talking about this issue and will continue to work with government in ensuring that the Online Safety Bill gives sufficient regulatory and supervisory powers to Ofcom. Social media companies need to be held accountable if they continue to fall short of their moral and social responsibilities to address this endemic problem.
"We have recently seen how powerful it can be when everybody is united for the good of the English game. We are calling on organisations and individuals across the game to join us in a temporary boycott of these social media platforms, to show solidarity and unite in the message that English football will not tolerate discrimination in any form."
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said: "Racist behaviour of any form is unacceptable and the appalling abuse we are seeing players receive on social media platforms cannot be allowed to continue.
"The Premier League and our clubs stand alongside football in staging this boycott to highlight the urgent need for social media companies to do more in eliminating racial hatred. We will not stop challenging social media companies and want to see significant improvements in their policies and processes to tackle online discriminatory abuse on their platforms.
"Football is a diverse sport, which brings together communities and cultures from all backgrounds and this diversity makes the competition stronger. No Room For Racism represents all the work we do to promote equality, diversity and inclusion and tackling discrimination."
Trevor Birch, Chief Executive of the EFL said: "EFL clubs have expressed a clear desire to take a united stand against abhorrent racist, discriminatory, and threatening abuse on social media platforms which we fully support alongside the rest of the football family.
"While we recognise the value and role social media plays in our game, online abuse will not be tolerated and we will continue to strongly pursue all avenues open to us to affect change.
"The boycott is only part of the work being undertaken in this area but further highlights the need for social media companies to take additional responsibility for the inappropriate and unwelcome behaviour that appears on their platforms.
Simone Pound, Director of EDI at the PFA said: "Social media channels represent an extension of the working environment for professional footballers, and as the players' union, we are committed to finding solutions that better protect our membership and the wider community from online abuse.
"As part of our work to address this issue, which started with the 24-hour #Enough boycott of social media channels, the PFA has been pushing for collaboration between the platforms, the game, the Government, police and CPS to find solutions and protect players from the abuse they face daily.
"In 2021, with a collective voice, we can hold social media companies to account and send a powerful message to a global audience - abusive behaviour is unacceptable."
Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out Chair, said: "Social media is now sadly a regular vessel for toxic abuse. This boycott signifies our collective anger at the damage this causes to the people who play, watch and work in the game. By removing ourselves from the platforms, we are making a symbolic gesture to those with power. We need you to act. We need you to create change.
"We need social media companies to make their platforms a hostile environment for trolls rather than for the football family. We need the Government to hold its nerve and keep its promises to regulate. The Online Safety Bill could be a game changer and we aim to help make that happen. There should be no space for hate and everyone can play their part. If you watch, work in or love the game, join in."
Richard Bevan, Chief Executive at the LMA said: "The LMA fully supports the social media boycott across the professional game. A unified silence will send a loud and powerful message to those that perpetrate online abuse that their actions will no longer be tolerated, and to the social media companies that they have a responsibility to do everything in their power to eradicate online hate.
"We also urge Government to understand the significance of this collective action and to ensure that its Online Safety Bill delivers appropriately strong legislation."
Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the Football Supporters' Association said: "The Football Supporters' Association is fully behind the game's efforts to stamp out online hate and discrimination and will join next weekend's social media boycott. Much media attention has rightly focused on the vile abuse aimed at players, managers and journalists in the men's and women's game and we see that aimed at fans groups too. It has to stop.
"Many of our most active fan groups tell us that they have received disgusting abuse when they are doing nothing more than trying to represent their supporter base. It's a threat to the very existence of supporter organisations who are run by volunteers in their spare time. As fans we stand with players, managers, referees and all in the game in calling for the social media companies to step up."
The Football Association wishes to point out that Barclays FA WSL will be available for viewers to watch on the FA Player as usual.
Women's Soccer Scene will be uniting with all of the other organisations and supporting them by joining the social media boycott over the weekend.
Chelsea will be in a remarkably similar position to that after the first leg of the quarter finals, after the first match in their UEFA Women's Champions League semi final against Bayern Munich ended in a 2-1 defeat.
The Blues' bid to be the first English club to win the trophy for fourteen years is in the balance but will take an away goal into the match when the sides meet again at Kingsmeadow on Sunday, just as they did in the quarter finals against another German side, VfL Wolfsburg.
Bayern were ahead with twelve minutes on the clock, when a Hanna Glas cross was palmed away by Ann-Katrin Berger but only as far as Sydney Lohmann, who was on hand to head into the net.
Chelsea's response was a good one, albeit with a slice of luck which brought them a valuable goal. Guro Reiten delivered a free kick into the area where Marina Hegering's clearance hit Melanie Leupolz in the face and looped back over a stranded Laura Benkarth for the equaliser.
Bayern were to score again early in the second half, this time in spectacular fashion. Glas cut in from the right on 56 minutes and unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner of the net, giving Berger no chance.
Chelsea were looking lively going forward though with substitute Beth England going close with a header. Ji So-Yun almost provided a breakthrough shortly afterwards with a powerful strike which came back off the bar.
England headed over from a Millie Bright cross but Chelsea could not break down the Bayern defence and had to settled for a defeat on the day, but still very much in the tie overall.
The other semi final also has everything to play for in the second leg this week, after Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona battled out a 1-1 draw.
The top two teams in the Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League remain level on points at the top after both recorded away victories over the weekend.
Swansea City were first in action on Saturday as they travelled to Cyncoed Ladies for a match which was being broadcast live on BBC Wales/BBC Cymru. Ellie Lake opened the scoring after eighteen minutes, with Emma Beynon and Jessica Williams adding further goals in the second half to seal a 3-0 victory for the Swans, which took them back to the top of the table and extended their unbeaten run to twelve matches.
Cardiff Met Women then went to Abergavenny Women the following day and picked up a 4-0 win which saw them regain the leadership. The Archers led at half time through a goal from Chloe O'Connor, before taking a firm grip when Emily Richards and Shannon Evans scored in a three minute spell. Ellie Preece rounded off the scoring for Met with four minutes remaining to maintain their challenge whilst dealing a blow to Abergavenny's hopes for a top three place.
Port Talbot Town meanwhile boosted their challenge for the top three as they recorded their biggest victory of the season, scoring six times without reply past Cascade Youth Club. Bethan Lloyd and Courtenay Thomas put Port Talbot two goals ahead inside the opening nine minutes, with Thomas netting her second shortly before half time. Port Talbot went on to crown the victory with three further goals in the last five minutes, Jodie Passmore finding the net ahead of further strikes from Lauren Amor and Laura May Walkley. The result takes Port Talbot level on points with third placed Cardiff City Women, who have a marginally better goal difference.
Two of the teams in the bottom three places came face to face and it was Briton Ferry Llansawel who notched up a 1-0 victory over Aberystwyth Town. Sophie Topper scored the only goal of the game, two minutes before half time, to hand Briton Ferry their second win of the season and put them three points ahead of their opponents.
The battle at the top of the SBS Scottish Women's Premier League SWPL 1 hotted up as all three protagonists in the title race recorded victories.
Reigning champions Glasgow City made it eleven wins out of twelve when they triumphed 4-0 away to Hearts. City stormed into a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes, courtesy of Priscilla Chinchilla and Cailin Michie, and they went on to make sure of the points with further goals after the break from Julia Molin and Joanne Love.
Rangers stay three points behind City after scoring eleven times without reply against Forfar Farmington. The visitors may well have caught the backlash following Rangers' defeat in midweek and found themselves two behind after ten minutes, Lizzie Arnot and Zoe Ness were on target. Samantha Kerr and Brogan Hay each netted doubles ahead of the break, with Arnot also completing her double. Ness scored her second goal, early in the second half, before Kerr completed her hat-trick. Sonia O'Neill joined them on the scoresheet and an own goal completed the tally.
Celtic meanwhile overcame a first half scare to maintain their challenge with a 3-1 victory against Hibernian. Amy Gallacher gave Hibs the lead midway through the first half, with Celtic getting back on level terms on the stroke of half time through Kate Nicolson. Chloe Craig put Celtic ahead for the first time, from the penalty spot, early in the second half and Sarah Ewens sealed the victory with the third goal, just ahead of the hour mark.
Spartans completed a good day for the top four as they also won 3-1 against Motherwell, which sees them move six points ahead of fifth placed Hibernian. Sarah Clelland put Spartans ahead in the eleventh minute and after Nicole Pullar had equalised for the Women of Steel, Spartans went back in front five minutes later through Rebecca Galbraith. Substitute Michaela McAlonie wrapped up the win for the Edinburgh side with the third goal, midway through the second half.
All four teams involved in the battle for survival in the Barclays FA WSL picked up points over the past few days, including some vital last gasp goals to keep things very tighty with only two games left to play.
On Saturday, Aston Villa took on Bristol City and looked on course for a crucial win when a Meaghan Sargeant own goal and Natalie Haigh put them two ahead. City pulled one back through Faye Bryson and, five minutes into injury time, an Ella Mastrantonio free kick earned the Robins a 2-2 draw and a valuable point.
Birmingham City got off to a flying start against Reading FC Women when Ruby Mace gave them a sixth minute lead. Reading hit back in the second half with Rachel Rowe equalising just after the hour mark. Neither side could find a winner and had to settle for a share of the spoils, the ninth time Reading have drawn this season.
West Ham Utd also picked up an important point as they battled out a goalless draw with fifth placed Everton. Martha Thomas came closest to breaking the deadlock as she hit the bar with a header in a game which defences largely dominated.
Then on Wednesday night, the Second City derby saw another vital clash, Birmingham City and Aston Villa finishing level at 1-1. It was more late frustration for Villa, who led for most of the match through Freya Gregory, until another injury time leveller, this time from a Veatriki Sarri free kick.
It has been a good week for Arsenal in their quest to secure a top three place. On Sunday they won 2-0 against Brighton & Hove Albion, courtesy of a goal in each half from Jordan Nobbs.
The Gunners followed this up by beating West Ham Utd 2-0 on Wednesday night. Vivianne Miedema put them in front just after the half hour, before Kim Little wrapped up the win with the second goal, twelve minutes from time.
Manchester Utd meanwhile kept their top three hopes alive as they defeated Tottenham Hotspur 4-1. United inflicted most of the damage in the first half, Ella Toone giving them a ninth minute lead with Christen Press and Jess Sigsworth adding further goals. Toone scored her second from the penalty spot three minutes after the restart, before Alanna Kennedy netted an injury time consolation for Spurs.
Photo - Aston Villa's Chloe Arthur battles for the ball with Carla Humphrey of Bristol City (Will Cheshire).
With top and bottom places having been decided in the FA Women's Championship the previous week, the main attention was focused on the battle to finish as runners-up, which is now down to two teams.
Durham Women will go into Sunday's final round of matches with matters still in their own hands, despite going down to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of in-form Charlton Athletic. Beth Lumsden gave Charlton the lead midway through the first half and Jess King secured a third straight win for the Addicks with twenty minutes remaining, despite Lauren Briggs scoring a late consolation for the Wildcats. Durham will still take the runners-up spot if they win at home to Coventry Utd this weekend.
The two other teams which had been in the running for second place met each other, and it was Liverpool who kept their hopes alive by winning an incident-packed match 1-0 away to Sheffield Utd. The Blades could have taken a first half lead but Katie Wilkinson's penalty hit the post, and six minutes later Amalie Thestrup put Liverpool in front. The Reds themselves had a penalty of their own after the break but Kirsty Linnett's kick was well saved by Fran Kitching. That was not the end of the penalty drama though as a third spot kick was awarded late on, this time to the Blades, and for the third time, it could not be converted as Rylee Foster saved from Jade Pennock to give all three points to Liverpool, who play host to London City Lionesses on Sunday.
Newly crowned Champions Leicester City travelled to the South Coast to play Lewes and were beaten for only the second time this season. The only goal of the game came in the 20th minute when, after Lucy Ashworth-Clifford was brought down in the area, Ini Umotong stepped up to score a goal which means that the Rookettes will finish in a highly creditable fifth place this season.
Coventry Utd continue to finish the season well and they notched up their fifth victory, 5-2 against Crystal Palace. Katy Morris gave Coventry a fourth minute lead and after Cherelle Khassal had levelled the scores for Palace, Helen Dermody put them back in front before half time. Coral Haines equalised once more, from the penalty spot, after the break but Morris gave Coventry the lead for a third time and they went on to seal the points with further goals from Dermody and Amy Wathan.
London Bees made sure of finishing what has been a disappointing season on a high note, beating Blackburn Rovers 3-2. Maria Edwards opened the scoring for Rovers after sixteen minutes but goals either side of half time from Nicola Gibson and Melissa Filis turned matters around for the Bees. Saffron Jordan levelled matters once more but the Bees were to have the final say, Bonnie Horwood scoring the winner with seventeen minutes remaining.
East Midlands League
Mansfield Town made it two wins out of two in Group A of the Trevor Clifton Trophy when goals from Harriet Heaney, Natasha Leach, Jessica Parker and Shannon Purdy gave them a 4-0 success away to Sherwood FC Women. They lead by two points from Notts County Development, who defeated Arnold Eagles 2-0 thanks to a double from Sophie Howe.
Derby County Academy lead the way in Group B after Anya Bourne, Isabella Mauro and an own goal gave them a 3-1 win away to Rise Park, who replied through Jessica Waplington. Rosanna Frith-Salem, Larissa Mellor and Amy Pownall scored the goals as Loughborough Students had come from two behind to win 3-2 against Notts County, for whom Nya Chambers netted twice.
Northampton Town hold onto the leadership of Group C, they won 3-1 at Thrapston Town on Tuesday night to stay ahead on goal difference from Peterborough Utd, who defeated Oadby & Wigston 5-3 thanks to a Hannah Pendred hat-trick, Kier Perkins and Hollie Lewis.
The two teams at the top of Group D met each other and the spoils were shared as Chesterfield drew 2-2 with Rotherham Utd. Bradie Wild netted both goals for Rotherham who stay as leaders on goal difference. Oughtibridge WMSC are a point behind after beating St Josephs Rockware of Worksop 7-1. Laura Cain and Millie Kenyon each bagged doubles, with one apiece from Jenny Selman, Jennifer Pearson and Emily Fowler.
Beaumont Park continue to set the pace in Group E and have a three point lead after Carmelina Colangelo and Tahli Spence were on target in their 2-1 success at AFC Leicester. Clair Dolman (2) and Ceara Toal were the scorers for Coalville Town Ravenettes in their 3-3 draw with Leicester City Ladies, whose replies came from Jordan Aitchison, Mary Ann Mason and Megan Thacker.
Group F is the first one to be decided, with Lincoln Utd taking top spot by winning 4-0 at Sleaford Town. Stephanie Powell, Tracey Duxbury-Mead, Lucy Farrow and Lauren Churcher accounted for Lincoln's goals.
Eastern Region League
Harlow Town are continuing to set a hot pace in Group B of the Challenge Cup, scoring eight times without reply past East Bergholt Utd. King's Lynn Town meanwhile notched up their first victory, 11-1 against Wodson Park.
Royston Town have moved to the top of Group C following their 4-2 victory against Bowers & Pitsea. Emma Slater (2), Amy Cooper and Gemma Croucher scored the goals for Royston, with Whitney Locke and Sarah Wilson replying. Royston lead on goals scored from Leigh Ramblers, who made it two wins out of two when beating Haverhill Rovers 5-2. Rhiana Castle, Bethany Cooper, Rebecca Dalgarno, Violet Pearce-Watson and Isabelle Wallings were all on target for Leigh.
There was also a change of leadership in Group D, where Wymondham Town took over after beating Luton Town 2-1, Freya Symonds and Hannah Waters were the markswomen for Wymondham. An own goal earned Colney Heath a 1-1 draw against Needham Market, who scored through Lois Balfour, before Needham triumphed 5-4 in the resulting penalty shootout.
London & South East League
Ashford Town (Middx) head the way in the Spring Round Robin Group A, after Ashley Cheatley (2), Alissa Down (2) and Phoebe Head saw them to a 5-3 victory away to Eastbourne Town. They lead by two points from Dartford who shared a 1-1 draw with Saltdean Utd. Nicha Dyett scored for the Darts, with Saltdean replying through a Naomi Robinson penalty. Dulwich Hamlet and Queen's Park Rangers each opened up their fixtures by sharing a 1-1 draw, Lucy Monkman salving a draw for Dulwich with an injury time equaliser after Ellie Searle had put QPR ahead.
Group B is only in its infancy but has Fulham in top spot after Megalie Mendes and an own goal ensured they defeated Clapham Utd 2-0. The honours were shared in the other group game, Denham Utd battling out a 3-3 draw with Hackney whose goals came from Clara Ould Aklouche, Jade Perrin and Natalie White.
In Group C, Sutton Utd opened up their fixtures with a 3-1 victory away to Whyteleafe. Olivia Watson, Jasmine Buckhurst and Mika Keen all scored to give Sutton Utd a winning start, whilst ‘Leafe's consolation came from Megan Smith.
Crawley Wasps Development Squad made it two 3-1 wins in a row in Group D, this time against Hassocks. Kaisha Lawrence, Priscilla Martins and Valeria Moreno were all on target for Crawley, with Mia Pordage replying. Holly Webster scored the only goal of the game for Parkwood Rangers as they also notched up their second win, at the expense of Newhaven.
Southern Region League
Woodley Utd and Ascot Utd go through to the quarter finals of the Subsidiary Cup after their group match ended in a 2-2 draw. Woodley twice took the lead through Rosie Page-Smith and Rebecca Gooch but Ascot - who are the winners of Group A - replied on each occasion with goals from Kelly Rideout and Alix Todd.
Oxford City join Abingdon Utd from Group B after a huge victory against the unfortunate Tilehurst Panthers which was spearheaded by a nine-goal haul from Jessica Biggerstaff. Alisha Johnson and Ellie White each netted four times along with doubles by Jessica Austin and Maisie Hastings.
Moneyfields are the winners of Group C after they won 4-0 away to New Milton Town, who join them in the last eight. Sheree Bell-Jack was on target twice for the Moneys along with Roxanne Lee-Stewart and Kim Whitcombe.
AFC Bournemouth CST won the Group D decider, 2-0 against second placed Southampton Women Res. Larissa White and Helen Corbin scored first half goals to see the Cherries to top spot.
Lockdown Friendly Cup (South West)
Bristol Ladies Union made sure of winning their group, thanks to a 5-1 victory away to Downend Flyers. Vicky Mundy gave Downend a first half lead which was cancelled out before the break by Hannah Price. Stella Gandee-Morgan then scored twice for BLU, the second of which came from the penalty spot, before Keira Morgan made it four and Madison Price rounded off the scoring with a long range strike. AEK Boco will end up in second place following their 4-0 win at Frampton Rangers. Lucy Atkinson put Boco ahead in the first half with a thumping strike from just inside the area and she added a second after the interval, along with Sasha Ferris and an own goal.
Almondsbury took top spot in the other group after they beat Portishead Town 3-1 with goals from Cydney Ramsey, who scored twice, and Sophie Mitchell.
Post Lockdown Cup (West Midlands)
Crusaders made it two wins out of two in Group A, thanks to a 1-0 success against Solihull Ladies Utd. Sutton Coldfield Town meanwhile made a winning start to their matches, beating City of Stoke 4-0.
Coventry Sphinx have built on their good start in Group B with a 3-1 victory away to Coundon Court, which keeps them on maximum points and three points in front of nearest rivals Knowle.
Manchester City can confirm that Gemma Bonner has left the Club, with the defender joining NWSL side Racing Louisville on a two-year deal with an option for a third year.
The 29-year-old England international joined City in the summer of 2018 after six years with Liverpool and went on to make 69 appearances in all competitions, scoring 11 goals from defence and helping the team to two Women's FA Cup successes and one Continental Tyres Cup during that time.
The centre half will now depart the Academy Stadium however, with her next port of call being the Lynn Family Stadium ahead of the start of the upcoming National Women's Soccer League season.
Speaking about her departure, Bonner said: "After two-and-a-half years in Manchester, I have taken the difficult decision to leave Manchester City and accept an offer from Racing Louisville for a new challenge in my career.
"Manchester City is a fantastic club and I have been grateful to work alongside some great people and players. I leave with some great memories and although the last few months have been very frustrating for me on an injury front, which has meant I was unable to contribute on the pitch, I really appreciate all the support that I received from my team, staff and of course, the fans.
"I believe however that the time is now right for the next chapter in my football journey and I am looking forward to the challenge of playing in the NWSL."
Gareth Taylor, Manchester City Women Head Coach, added: "Gemma is a true professional and has been a great person to work with since I joined as Head Coach last summer.
"She is a real team player and has been incredibly supportive of the squad throughout her time here. She has given her absolute all for the Club since she joined in 2018, but this opportunity with Racing Louisville is a fantastic one for her.
"On behalf of everybody at Manchester City, I'd like to thank her for everything she has contributed to the team and wish her all the very best for the next chapter of her career."
Cardiff Met Women have faced two important matches this week and followed up a victory against Cyncoed Ladies on Sunday with a goalless draw in their top of the table clash with Swansea City.
We talked to Met full back Lucy Finch, who was pleased with the team's performances in both matches, whilst admitting that every game left to play this season is a crucial one as they attempt to win back the Welsh Premier Women's League title:
WSS: It's been a busy week for you, what are your feelings overall after picking up four points out of six?
LF: It has been a busy week and I think some of us are feeling it! I know I certainly am but I feel very pleased with performances this week - I don't think we could have done any more so to get the win on Sunday and then hold a draw off the back of that is very pleasing.
WSS: First of all, you were up against Cyncoed and got the result you needed to take you top, was it a good performance from the team on the day?
LF: With us, we always want to do better so of course there's always room for improvement, but I think overall, everybody put a good shift in which I think reflects the score on Sunday.
WSS: Erin Murray led the scoring with a hat-trick, how important a player has she been for you over the last few seasons?
LF: Erin's a very important asset to the team, she's always in the right places at the right times and also puts the hard work in when it's needed!
WSS: Then it was on to play Swansea on Wednesday night, maybe not quite the result you wanted but it does keep you in the running for the title?
LF: You can't fault the performance we gave on Wednesday night, everybody put a shift in and worked hard until the bitter end. There's still a number of games left to play, so all we can do is keep picking up the three points and focusing on our own performances.
WSS: Do you feel it was a game you could have won or was a draw a fair result on the night?
LF: I think both sides battled end to end and you can't blame external factors, but maybe if the referee had made different decisions it could have gone a different way. But I think we left it all out on the pitch on Wednesday, so a draw is nothing to get down about.
WSS: Annabel Sweeney saved a first half penalty for you, this yet may yet turn out to be a huge moment in the title race?
LF: Absolutely, she definitely kept us in the running. Annabel has saved me on many occasions, she is brilliant and consistently performs well. She also offers us great distribution across the back and as a back line, it's comforting to have trust in her.
WSS: The match against Swansea was broadcast live across the internet, can you see the TV coverage of the league increasing in the future?
LF: Definitely, I think the level both teams showed on Wednesday is a great advert for the Welsh Premier League and the way it is heading in the future!
WSS: This Sunday you travel to Abergavenny, presumably each match now is of huge importance?
LF: Yes absolutely, there's still pressure on us so in every game left, we still have to go out with the mentality that we are going to get the three points.
Our thanks to Lucy!
Photo by Majestic Media
Vitality Women's FA Cup commitments meant that there were no matches played in either the Barclays FA WSL or the FA Women's Championship over the weekend, but two matches have been played in the WSL in midweek, both of which were set to produce significant results at either end of the table.
First of all, on Tuesday night, there was a huge clash in the battle to avoid relegation with West Ham Utd playing host to Aston Villa.
The Hammers made a fast start with Katerina Svitkova's effort going just over the bar and Gilly Flaherty heading narrowly wide, but these were scarce opportunities with both sides looking to keep things tight at the back.
After the break, West Ham almost took the lead but Villa goalkeeper Lisa Weiss pulled off a superb save frrom Svitkova's 20-yard strike, and Weiss also saved well from Cecilie Redisch. Villa dug in and defended in determined fashion and are likely to be the more satisfied team of the two as the match finished goalless. Villa therefore move off the bottom of the table but matters continue to be tight with just two points now covering the bottom four teams.
The following night saw the biggest match of the season so far with leaders Chelsea taking on second placed Manchester City in their top of the table clash which fully lived up to its billing.
Both sides exchanged chances during the opening stages but on 25 minutes, it was Chelsea who took the lead. Erin Cuthbert floated a corner on the right into the area and Sam Kerr rose highest, powering home a header inside the near post for her eighteenth league goal of the season.
Chelsea's lead was to last for just three minutes though, Lauren Hemp being released down the left and her low cross by swept home by Chloe Kelly from four yards out.
This time it was Chelsea's turn to respond to a setback and they were to strike a blow of their own. Following a run from the halfway line, Kerr was brought down by Ellie Roebuck in the area and a penalty was awarded, Pernille Harder stepping up to send Roebuck the wrong way from the spot and Chelsea were back in front again.
After the break, Kerr was unable to take a good opportunity to increase Chelsea's lead when she shot wide but City began to step up the pressure as the half wore on. With fifteen minutes, they got the break they needed as Fran Kirby's loose pass was seized on by Kelly whose low centre was miscued by Millie Bright and Hemp pounced on the loose ball to slot home.
It could have got even better for Hemp as she glanced a header goalwards from a corner, only for Ann-Katrin Berger to pull off a stunning save, tipping the ball onto the bar.
Both sides tried to find a way to conjure up a winner but had to settle for a 2-2 draw at the final whistle, leaving Chelsea still in the driving seat with two matches left to play.
The top of the table clash on Wednesday night ended with honours even as Cardiff Met Women and Swansea City fought out a goalless draw which means that the teams are level on points at the top of the Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League.
Both sides had opportunities in a well fought clash but the biggest moment of the match came in the 31st minute, when Met goalkeeper Annabel Sweeney dived to her right to save a penalty from Swans striker Chloe Chivers.
Swansea are likely to be the happier side with the result as they still possess a game in hand on their rivals.
Three days earlier, Cardiff Met had reclaimed the leadership on goal difference by beating Cyncoed Ladies 4-1. The Archers took an eleventh minute lead through Erin Murray, which they took into half time, with Lauren Townsend making it two from the penalty spot just ahead of the hour mark. Murray then added two quickfire goals to complete a hat-trick, before Rhianne Oakley scored a consolation for the Mighty Oaks.
Cardiff City Women's form continues to improve and they moved back into third place with a 2-0 victory away to Aberystwyth Town. Zoe Atkins settled matters for the Bluebirds by scoring both goals during the second half.
City followed this up on Wednesday by running out 4-1 winners over Cascade Youth Club, which takes them to within six points of the top two. Phoebie Poole gave City a second minute lead which was doubled on the half hour by Zoe Atkins, Abbie Davies reducing the arrears for Cascade on the stroke of half time. After the break, Atkins maintained her excellent recent form in front of goal by scoring her second and substitute Danielle Green headed in the final goal with sixteen minutes remaining.
The result puts City three points in front of Port Talbot Town who kept their own top three hopes alive by defeating Abergavenny Women 2-0 on Sunday. The visitors had gone into the game occupying third place but found themselves a goal behind after five minutes, Laura May Walkley putting Port Talbot in front and they secured the points late on in the second half thanks to Terri Beddows.
The sides in the bottom two places meanwhile met each other and the spoils were shared as Cascade Youth Club and Briton Ferry Llansawel finished level at 1-1. Both goals were scored in a five minute spell just after the half hour with Briton Ferry - who remain one point ahead - taking the lead through Alexie Clayton and Abbie Davies equalising for Cascade.
It has been a good few days for Glasgow City and it has ended with them three points clear at the top of SWPL 1.
On Sunday they went top of the table - on goals scored - after an 8-0 victory over Motherwell at the Broadwood Stadium. City led by three at the break thanks to an Aoife Colvill double and Ode Fulutudilu, who went on to add two more after the break and complete a hat-trick. Lauren Davidson also netted a second half brace before Leanne Crichton rounded off the scoring.
This meant that Rangers were back in second despite winning 1-0 against Hibernian, Lizzie Arnot grabbing the only goal of the game against her former club early in the second half.
On Wednesday night, it was Glasgow City's turn to face Hibernian and they won 2-1, their tenth victory of the season. Eilidh Adams gave Hibs an early lead but City levelled through a spectacular 25-yard strike from Janine van Wyk and Priscilla Chinchilla netted the winner from the penalty spot on the hour.
Rangers meanwhile took on Celtic in the Old Firm derby match at Celtic Park. The game was closely fought with Rangers twice hitting the woodwork after the break but the only goal came with ten minutes remaining, a Celtic counter attack from a corner seeing Chloe Warrington's pass releasing Mariah Lee who rounded the oncoming Jenna Fife and kept her cool to slot home and give Celtic a 1-0 win which completes a double over their rivals.
Three days earlier, Celtic had kept themselves in the title running with a 5-1 success away to Spartans. Sarah Ewens and Sarah Marie Teegarden put the Hoops two ahead and after Alana Marshall pulled one back on the stroke of half time, Anna Filbey restored the advantage before Chloe Craig hit a late double.
The game which hit the headlines on Sunday though was at Hearts where the home side drew 1-1 with Forfar Farmington. Hearts had led through an early goal from Monica Forsyth and looked on course for three vital points but as the match went into injury time, Forfar goalkeeper Lauren Perry remarkably stepped up to score from a 30-yard free kick and salvage a draw for her side.
There was less drama as Forfar met Spartans on Wednesday night, as Spartans picked up a 2-1 victory which takes them back up to fourth. Rebecca Galbraith scored twice inside the opening eight minutes to give Spartans the points, despite Forfar pulling one back ahead of half time through Cheryl Kilcoyne.
Motherwell are back off the bottom after a vital 2-1 win over Hearts. Claire Adams and Nicole Pullar put the Women of Steel two ahead after the break, with Kirstie McIntosh reducing the arrears in the second half.
Cliftonville Ladies have sent out a statement of intent to the rest of the Danske Bank Women's Premiership, snapping up three of Northern Ireland's hottest talents ahead of the new campaign.
Sisters Caitlin and Kirsty McGuinness arrive from Sion Swifts, whilst Louise McDaniel joins from Hearts, having previously had spells with Linfield and Blackburn Rovers.
Kirsty McGuinness comes with the most pedigree given her goalscoring exploits at club and international level. She has nine goals for her country in 47 appearances, including three in the final four games during their qualifying campaign as Northern Ireland reached the Euros for the first time in their history.
She was named the NI Football Awards Women's Personality of the Year in 2020 after captaining former club Linfield to their fourth consecutive league title in 2019, scoring 32 goals in the process.
She made the switch to Sion in the summer along with Caitlin, and both again featured high on the scoring charts as the Swifts finished in third place.
Eighteen year old Caitlin is also a prolific forward, who made her senior bow for Northern Ireland in November 2019.
She scored her first goal for her country in the December qualifier against Faroe Islands, a game in which her and her sister made their own bit of history, becoming the first sisters to share a pitch for Northern Ireland's Women's team.
They are joined at Solitude by former Linfield team mate McDaniel. The winger had a spell in the FA Women's Championship with Blackburn after starring for the Blues, who she made her debut for aged just 14.
McDaniel then moved to Scottish outfit Hearts last February ahead of the SWPL season and was also part of the Northern Ireland squad for the play off games with Ukraine.
She once netted six goals in one game against Derry City in 2018, and will be keen to repeat that feat for her new club next week as they travel to the Brandywell next Wednesday night.
All three signings will significantly bolster the Reds' ranks, as they aim to improve upon last year's fifth place finish. Their manager John McGrady told the club's website: "We are delighted with all three signings. All three have played a big part in Northern Ireland getting to the European Championships. They will add quality and depth to the current squad."
(by Lauren McCann, for the Irish Football Blog)
Oxford Utd 1 Charlton Athletic 2 (aet)
Charlton Athletic moved into the Fifth Round of the Vitality Women's FA Cup with an extra time victory by two goals to one over Oxford United.
A superb 25-yard shot by sub Katie Godden right at the end of the first period of extra time settled the tie in favour of the FA Women's Championship club but they were pushed all the way by the FAWNL Southern Division hosts who fought for every ball and matched their higher tier opponents for long periods.
Charlton started with great purpose and penned the home team back, moving the ball crisply down both flanks. They took the lead with a well constructed move, Charley Clifford releasing a pass which sent Ella Powell clear on the right. A teasing first time cross was pushed away by Oxford keeper Rose Kite at full stretch but Beth Lumsden was on hand to volley home from a tight angle on 16 minutes.
The U's were given a massive boost when Daisy McLachlan pressured the Charlton defence into an error for an equaliser on 23 minutes. This seemed to give the home team greater belief and they started to win more tackles and move the ball more rapidly through midfield to put the visiting defence under pressure. Lauren Haynes sent in a couple of dangerous corners which were well defended and honours were definitely even at the break.
Charlton started the second half as they had the first, threatening through Jess King, Powell and Eisha Sulola whilst Lois Heuchan moved forward effectively from left wing back. Several corners were forced but the Oxford defence, with Gemma Sims and Cat Beaver at its heart, were more than equal to them.
Gradually, the U's began to threaten a little more often, turning the Charlton defence with early forward passes. The Addicks defence was generally comfortable but there was one major scare on 72 minutes when another Haynes corner was helped on and King had to hook a goalbound effort off the line.
Nothing could separate the sides through the final minutes of normal time and indeed well into extra time. Both teams had used substitutes to freshen up their attacks, Taome Oliver looking dangerous for the hosts and Godden proving a lively addition to the Charlton front line.
There seemed little danger when Godden took possession moving from left to right some 30 yards from goal on 105 minutes. However, she produced a clean lofted right foot strike which flew high beyond Kite for what proved to be the winner.
Hard as the hosts tried to find an equaliser in the second period, the ball never quite ran kindly to threaten Eartha Cumings' goal and Charlton saw out the game very effectively for a hard earned victory and a fifth round tie away to Blackburn Rovers. Oxford can be proud of a highly committed display showing excellent fitness and teamwork given the circumstances of their forced absence from competition.
Oxford Utd: Rose Kite, Gemma Sims, Lauren Haynes, Cat Beaver, Kayleigh Hines, Daisy McLachlan, Carly Johns, Emily Allen, Georgia Brown, Georgia Hayes, Hannah MacKenzie. Subs: Paris Sercombe, Emily Wallace, Cheryl Williams, Sophie Baker, Taome Oliver, Lily Stevens, Brittany Jeal, Steph Bent, Billie French.
Charlton Athletic: Eartha Cumings, Alice Griffiths, Grace Coombs, Charley Clifford, Jess King, Ella Powell, Jaime Gotch, Angie Dunbar-Bonnie, Elisha Sulola, Lois Heuchan, Beth Lumsden. Subs: Olivia Smith, Ellie Dorey, Vyan Sampson, Jenna Legg, Simone Eligon, Kara Fordjour, Katie Godden.
(REPORT BY PATRICK HIGGINS)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Hannah McKenzie tries to keep Beth Lumsden at bay
(middle) Elisha Sulola gets past a challenge from Georgia Brown
(bottom) Lois Heuchan tries to block a shot from Billie French
The FA is pleased to confirm that from the 2021-2022 season match officials operating from within the Barclays FA Women's Super League and FA Women's Championship will transfer to the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL).
The move will see England's top referees in the women's game gain access to the same facilities, training and support that those in the men's game receive in the Premier League and English Football League (EFL).
Following the announcement of the Barclays FA Women's Super League's new domestic media rights partnership with Sky Sports and the BBC, The FA Women's Super League and FA Women's Championship Board agreed a new three year investment programme with the PGMOL, to enhance the support and development of officiating in the professional women's game.
The move is designed to further professionalise the environment for match officials, with an increased level of bespoke support tailored to the professional game.
Kelly Simmons, FA Director of the Women's Professional Game, said: "This is a major step for our match officials in their development and I'm confident that PGMOL have the right infrastructure to provide them with the necessary support to ensure they continue to develop, and deliver at the highest standard within the professional game.
"The Women's game has moved on significantly over the last few years and we must ensure that our referees are provided the right environment to move with it. We have a highly dedicated and passionate pool of officials, and the time is now right that their development opportunities align with that of the men's professional game."
Mike Riley, PGMOL Managing Director, said: "We are extremely proud and excited to be in a position to help provide greater support for match officials working in the women's game. The popularity and the standard is higher now than ever before and there is a recognition that match officials should be afforded the opportunities that are available in the men's game.
"This is a really positive step and we are looking forward to working closely with the match officials to support their growth and development."
The agreement with PGMOL will commence from the start of the 2021-2022 season. Officials outside the Barclays FA Women's Super League and FA Women's Championship will remain under the umbrella of The FA.
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