Brighton take Reserves title after unbeaten campaign

Focus on the South East’s Premier League clubs

While Brighton  move into the second half of their Premier League season a little lower in the table than they might have expected a few months back, their reserves are celebrating an outstanding title-winning season.

They won the Premier Reserves (Southern) championship by one point from Charlton Athletic, completing the 10-game season unbeaten and dropping only six points.

They clinched the title last Sunday, drawing 1-1 with Spurs. But the crucial result came the game before when they beat the only team who could have pipped them – Charlton.

Premier Reserves League table

P W D L F A PTS
Brighton 10 7 3 0 24 5 24
Charlton Athletic 10 7 2 1 28 12 23
Portsmouth 10 3 3 4 14 25 12
West Ham United 10 2 3 5 14 21 9
Tottenham Hotspur 8 1 2 5 10 15 5
Gillingham 8 1 1 6 12 24 4

It was a fine achievement by the side, which has also supplied players to the first team, and some of whom featured in the club’s run to the County Cup final, and is reward for the efforts of the players and backroom staff, under the tutelage of coaches Ed Stimpson and Dan Wright.

Stimpson told the club’s website: “My aim at the start of the campaign was to just develop the players we had and get a couple of players into the first team.

“We knew that we had a decent squad but still had to compete against the likes of Charlton, West Ham, Tottenham and Portsmouth. So it underlines just how well the girls have played this season.”

While the reserves can bask in well-deserved glory, the first team has plenty more work to do before they can consider themselves entirely safe at the bottom of the Premier League.

Shortcomings

Since beating Sunday’s opponents, Spurs, in the FA Cup on January 12, Albion have lost four and drawn one league game and surrendered the County Cup to Chichester City.

Manager John Donoghue remains optimistic, though, having been buoyed by his team’s performance against one of the division’s form teams, Coventry City, in their last league game.

However, he says the players are aware of the shortcomings that have contributed to the recent run of results.

He told the club’s website: “The players have thought about their recent performances and understood that they played at a high level, but any good team has to be effective in both penalty areas.

“If we look at the statistics from the previous match, we can see that we kept possession well in the centre of midfield, but needed to be quicker going forward and produce better clearances at the back.”

The progress of the reserves, though, and especially those who have made it to the first team, gives Donoghue cause for optimism.

He said: “The younger players have done wonderfully well in recent matches and this is a great sign for the future. Our main priority has to be preparing these players for senior football and ensure they develop a sufficient understanding to play at this level.”

Brighton currently lie eighth in the 11-team Premier League, just two points ahead of second-to-bottom West Ham.

But they have already beaten Sunday’s opponents – 3-2 in the FA Cup – and drawn with them in the league.

However, Spurs got the upper hand when the two teams met in the League Cup back in December.

Their task on Sunday is not helped by long-term injuries to Becky Merritt and Charlotte Owen, and doubts over the fitness of Tammy Waine and Cally Beaumont.

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Goal action from Portsmouth v Cardiff C Sep 2013 (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

Pompey beat Cardiff 2-0 at the start of the season (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

At the other end of the table Portsmouth again feature in the match of the day, visiting leaders Cardiff with the enticing prospect of ending the day on top of the league.

Pompey have won their last nine games in all competitions, including five in a row in the league.

The run has seen them soar to second, level on points with Sunday’s opponents, but with an inferior goal difference from a game more.

It’s a crucial fixture for both clubs, and one from which Pompey really need at least a draw to maintain momentum in their push for the title.

In such a tight league, a defeat could see them drop to fifth by Wednesday, when Charlton Athletic host Spurs.

But confidence is high after such a fine run, and joint-managers Perry Northeast and Katie Poore have been preaching the one-game-at-a-time mantra all season.

Pompey are the only team to have beaten Cardiff in the league this season – way back in September.

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Hot on Portsmouth’s heels are Gillingham, rejuvenated by their FA Cup win against Preston last weekend and the prospect of a visit to the legendary Arsenal in the next round.

The Gills have suffered an indifferent run since Christmas, when they were top of the league, but they could return to the summit if they beat Lewes on Sunday and the top two draw.

With an excellent goal difference – a legacy of their fine early-season form – and a game in hand of Pompey, the Kent side, who are in the finals of both the Kent Cup and Ryman Cup, are still in with a great chance of scooping a handful of trophies this season.

But they won’t under-estimate Lewes, who became the first team to defeat them this season when they won 3-1 at the Dripping Pan back in December.

The Sussex side’s fortunes have also declined a little since then, and they now lie seventh, a point ahead of Brighton, but from a game more.

Sent her Forward will bring news from these games on Sunday.

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