WOMEN'S FOOTBALL: Swindon Spitfires finish on a positive note

First published in Sport

SWINDON Spitfires drew their top-of-the-table clash with Cheltenham Town 2-2 in the South West Women’s Footall League Premier Division on Thursday.

The game lived up to the pre-match expectations - a very combative encounter ending in controversial fashion as Cheltenham managed an equaliser in the seventh minute of stoppage time from a disputed corner.

With Cheltenham electing to kick down the slope in the first half the expected onslaught never materialised, with Spitfires having the better of the play. It was the home team who opened the scoring in the 11th minute when a 25-yard drive from skipper Emma Skinner eluded the back-tracking Martha Seymour-Hyde in the visitors’ goal.

Cheltenham had a couple of opportunities to restore parity before the break, but the Spitfires’ defence held firm; the best chance coming when Chenise Austin ran onto a ball over the top, only for Laura Stallard to nick it off her toe as she was about to shoot.

Spitfires began the second half strongly, with the front two of Karyn Coombs and Sarah Uzzell putting Cheltenham under pressure without finding the killer blow. Hayley Huckin came close when a curling shot just cleared the far post and rippled the side-netting.

Cheltenham were pushing desperately for the win that they needed and were finally rewarded in the 79th minute when Austin headed home from a corner.

But the home side were not in the mood to make it easy for the visitors and came back strongly, with Sammie Smith testing the keeper with her free-kicks.

From one such set-piece in the 86th minute Seymour-Hyde did well to tip the ball round for a corner that was delivered for Debbie Rose to head home.

There was still time for Cheltenham to level, however, with Charlie Griffin stabbing home after a scramble in the six-yard box after the referee awarded a corner which Spitfires believed should have been a goal-kick.

Spitfires then travelled to Bristol Ladies Union on Easter Sunday for their last game of the season and emerged with a 3-2 win.

Spitfires could have taken the lead as early as the second minute when Sara Uzzell crossed only for keeper Katherine Howells to firstly parry Hayley Huckin’s shot and then save Ria Salleh’s follow up at point blank range.

But it was the Bristol side who drew first blood in the sixth minute. Smith got caught in possession on the right and Alyta Norman was on the end of the resulting cross.

After steadily getting to grips with a changed formation Spitfires deservedly drew level on the half-hour when Salleh and Skinner combined to set up Huckin, whose well-placed 20-yard shot gave Howells no chance.

The goal gave Spitfires renewed vigour and they took the lead three minutes later when Huckin beat Howells at her near post.

BLU thought they had equalised on 41 minutes when, after Kellett tipped a free-kick onto her bar, the rebound was slotted home but the assistant referee’s flag came to Spitfires’ rescue.

And five minutes later Spitfires doubled their advantage when some great footwork from Skinner saw her trick her way through the defence before sliding the ball under the diving Howells to make it 3-1. Coombs could have added to Spitfires’ tally before the break after breaking free, but dragged her shot wide of the far post.

In the second half, BLU had some early pressure with Kellett called into action to save from Natalia Debek and then Toni Hemings fired high and wide from a corner.

Spitfires had opportunities to add to their tally, through Coombs and Kayleigh Reeves, and Huckin should have done better than fire wide with only Howells to beat on 77 minutes.

Then with 10 minutes to go, BLU pulled a goal back when Sarah Gregory headed home unopposed from a corner but Spitfires rode out the last few minutes of pressure to secure the three points.

Also in Easter action were Spitfires’ under 13s, who chalked up a 16-1 win against Derry Hill United thanks to goals from Gipsy Viveash (7), Georgia Brown (4), Maddison Huntley (2), Iona Kamugisha, Lucy Scrannage and Charlie Tinson.

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