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Southampton Women secure promotion play-off berth after winning FA Women’s National League Southern Premier title – Paul Blake reports.

Southampton women made it nine wins in a row as they put local rivals, Portsmouth, in their place with a sublime performance at St Mary’s Stadium tonight. Goals either side of half-time from Sophia Pharoah and Lucia Kendall capped a fine performance from Marrianne Spacey-Cale’s side.

The Saints were understandably nervous in front of a record crowd for a Women’s match at St Mary’s of 5,145. Despite some intricate build up play they were unable to capitalise on their early domination, let down by a combination of poor finishing, inspiring goalkeeping from Hannah Haughton in the Portsmouth goal, and lacklustre final passes.

Portsmouth rarely threatened and when the first goal came it was no surprise. Sophia Pharoah’s stunning drive from 20 yards ricocheted in off the top of the left hand post to bring the St Mary’s crowd to their feet. The goal settled the nerves and will have made Spacey-Cale’s half-time team talk all the more easier.

The second goal came from the mercurial Lucia Kendall who latched on to the ball after Ella Pusey had been thwarted once again by Haughton in a one-on-one situation. Kendall’s powerful shot found the top left hand corner of the net to extend the Saints’ lead.

Shortly after, the tenacious Alisha Ware was tripped as she threatened to dance into the penalty area. From the resulting free-kick, Kendall swung in a pinpoint cross and Haughton was forced into a stunning point blank save to deny the Saints a third.

The game petered out a little until the final ten minutes in which Portsmouth threatened. Substitute, Dani Lane first hit the post with a spectacular long range effort before she was denied again when her speculative effort was tipped over the bar by a relieved Kayla Randell in the Southampton goal.

Southampton fully deserved their victory tonight and go into the play-off match against the winners of the National League Premier North (probably Wolverhampton Wanderers) in fine form. In Ella Morris and Milly Mott, they have two excellent full backs. Mott narrowly edged player of the match for her excellent reading of dangerous situations, timely interventions, and her link up play down the right with Georgie Freeland. Morris caught the eye with some devastating surging runs down the left flank.

Leeta Rutherford showed great composure alongside Pharoah and Kendall In midfield, linking play up well and moving the ball quickly.

Although captain, Rosie Parnell and her central defensive partner, Laura Rafferty, had little to do in the first half, they limited Portsmouth mostly to shots from long range.

At the final whistle, The Saints were presented with the league winners trophy and the players delight was palpable as they took turns to thrust the trophy into the floodlit Hampshire sky.

Saints’ boss, Spacey-Cale, was pleased with the way the team performed in two very different halves of football. “I thought our first half performance was really strong, there was some fantastic football.” In a more defensive second half, Spacey-Cale praised the team’s discipline and resolve.

They can now look forward to the play-off final in about a month, once the league fixtures have been concluded. On tonight’s evidence they are worthy champions and would not look out of place in the Women’s Super League 2.

Saints: Rendell; Morris, Rafferty, Parnell, Mott; Rutherford, Kendall, Freeland; Pharoah (Griffiths, 82), Ware, Pusey (Rood, 88)

Unused subs: Luce, Provan, Watling.

Portsmouth: Hannah Haughton (c), Sammy Quayle, Rebekah Tonks, Evie Gane, Rosie McDonnell, Annie Rolf, Anisha Hill, Ava Rowbotham, Cherelle Khassal, Emma Jones, Shanno Albuery.

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