The fight for the Premier League crown – and that Super League opportunity – continues to thrill, as the leading contenders rack up victory after victory.
On a weekend in which all four of the top five teams who were in action won again, the divide between the two halves of the Southern Division became even greater.
Six clubs remain in the hunt, although the lowest of those – West Ham – suffered a major setback at leaders Brighton, which means they are reliant on their rivals to slip up.
And while there looks little chance of that at the moment, with Brighton recording their fifth successive league win, Cardiff their eighth in an unbeaten sequence of 10 games and Portsmouth their ninth in a similar run, experience suggests the run-in will separate the Super League pretenders from the also-rans.
Brighton‘s 3-0 victory over West Ham United on Sunday preserved their two-point lead over Cardiff City, but the Welsh side have a game in hand, while Pompey – a further point back – have two games in hand after both challengers notched up ultimately comfortable victories.
The leaders’ fine win featured two goals for Fliss Gibbons and another for their top scorer, Lucy Somes and was their second over the Hammers in successive matches, having knocked them out of the FAW Cup with a 6-2 victory a fortnight ago.
Cardiff, meanwhile, eased to a 2-0 win at home to Lewes to keep up the pressure.
A goal in each half, from Laura Williams and Naomi Clipston, sealed the hard-fought victory.
Cardiff and Pompey were in similar positions last season but fell away as the backlog of fixtures caught up with them.
However, this time both sides will have that deflating experience to galvanise them as they bid to fare better in those closing weeks.
Certainly in Pompey’s case, they will consider themselves unfortunate if they experience a similar run of injuries to that which tore their defence to shreds on the home straight last year.
And although they lost influential captain Gemma Hillier to a long-term injury in the autumn, they have shrugged off the blow to continue their astonishing run of results.
Kempson in form
On Sunday Portsmouth hosted Gillingham at a recreation ground 15 miles away, such was their determination to get a league game in, and they continued their fine form with a convincing 3-0 victory.
Ini Umotong, the former Aston Villa forward who has made such an impact since taking Hillier’s place, opened the scoring with her 14th goal of the campaign, and midfielder Sarah Kempson, who has returned to scoring form in recent weeks, bagged a brace with trademark long-range efforts – her fourth and fifth in her last three games.
The win keeps Portsmouth right on the heels of their main rivals and enabled them to move into third place, ahead of Charlton Athletic – who were not in action – ahead of another break in league action, as they travel to Blackburn for an FAW Cup tie next weekend, followed on February 8 by a visit to Nottingham Forest in the Premier League Cup.
Spurs stay in touch
With so many parallels with the corresponding stage of last year’s campaign, it’s interesting to note what happened to the team who led the table heading into the home straight.
Gillingham, managed then by James Marrs – now boss of current leaders Brighton – featured the core of what has become the present Brighton side.
The Gills were denied the title, agonisingly, on the final day of the season when they had played all their matches and Coventry City snatched the victory they required to steal the glory.
Marrs and co, too, will hope to have learned from that experience.
As with last season, Spurs were on the fringes of the title race but faded to finish in the bottom half. They are in much the same position heading into the last three months but – like Charlton – cannot be discounted.
Spurs remain in contention after winning 3-1 at Plymouth Argyle, with goals from Wendy Martin, Jenna Schillaci and Andra Maroci. The home side’s goal came from Mollie Taylor.