Brighton blew the race for the Super League wide open with a sensational 5-0 win over Premier League leaders Cardiff City.
James Marrs’ players responded in the best way possible to their home defeat against fellow challengers Portsmouth last week with a comprehensive victory over the other side above them.
There is now just one point between the top three, with Cardiff and Pompey locked together on 35 points and Brighton just one behind them.
And although Portsmouth have a game in hand of both, their shock home draw today with struggling Copsewood Coventry exposed the vulnerability of even the high-fliers in this division and reinforced how quickly things can change in this tight, competitive league that has been revitalised by the prospect of a possible Super League place for the champions of both regional Premier League divisions.
Perry Northeast’s team blew the chance to go clear at the top. They were caught cold by two early goals from Copsewood, who had travelled half the length of the country for the game with just 11 players, and managed to preserve their 13-game unbeaten league run only thanks to a last-gasp equaliser by Tiffany Taylor.
While the destiny of the title is still in their hands – and Cardiff’s heavy defeat will have eased the pain of dropping two points – they will now be looking nervously over their shoulders at Brighton as well as at Cardiff.
Having beaten Brighton last week, Portsmouth could have gone top today following the East Sussex club’s victory over Cardiff.
But they had to settle for a point after another brave performance from Ryan Conneely’s Coventry battlers.
They travelled to Portsmouth with only 11 players – two carrying injuries – and no goalkeeper.
Defender Hannah Jones volunteered to don the gloves and played a blinder, making a couple of stunning saves to deny Pompey the victory they craved – and, in all honesty, must have expected.
Nicola Foskett, Copsewood’s top scorer with eight goals, struck twice in the first seven minutes, leaving a strong Pompey side chasing the game.
Gemma Hillier pulled one back after half an hour, but it took until the 90th minute for them to find an equaliser, Taylor firing home.
Conneely paid tribute to his battlers after the match, telling South Coast Sports Radio: “Each and every one of the girls has got heart and desire, which other teams can’t match.”
And he confessed: “If you had given us 2-2 at the beginning of the game, I would have ripped your hands off. Today has proved that any team that takes us lightly… we’ve got a chance.”
Brighton back with a bang
While Pompey were licking their wounds after what was possibly only a minor setback to their title ambitions, Brighton were forcing their way right back into contention with a superb victory over the top team, albeit one that was missing all three of their 56-goal strike force.
The victory was the perfect response to last week’s 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth, where the performance drew criticism from head coach James Marrs and no doubt from his own players, who are never slow to acknowledge their own shortcomings.
— Faye (@flbakes) March 22, 2015
However, there was no stopping them as they faced the other side above them, building up a three-goal lead in a one-sided first half before sealing it with two more midway through the second.
Charlotte Gurr opened the scoring from close range on 13 minutes, and Charlotte Owen and Deanna Cooper added further headed goals before half-time.
Owen again and Jay Blackie sealed Brighton’s joint-highest league victory of the season to put a dent in Cardiff’s formidable goal difference and take the Sussex side to within a point of their two big rivals.
Cardiff even missed an opportunity for a consolation goal late in the game when Naomi Clipston fired her penalty over the bar.
Clipston, who has scored 13 goals for Cardiff this season, was not fit enough to start and appeared as a substitute. But the leaders were also without Kelly Aldridge, who has 23 goals this term, and 20-goal Cori Williams, who was injured playing for Wales.
A little of the gloss was taken off Brighton’s success when Amy Green was taken to hospital after sustaining a knee injury during the first half.
Top of the Premier League Southern
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Gills in Copsewood’s sights
Copsewood’s draw had potential ramifications at the other end of the league, too. While the Coventry side remain second-to-bottom, they are now only three points behind Gillingham with three games in hand following the Gills’ 5-1 setback at West Ham United on Thursday.
Lily Mellors and Emma Sherwood (2 each), and Vicky Kinsman scored the goals after Ashlee Hincks had given Gillingham an early lead.
Queens Park Rangers pulled further away from the foot of the table with a last-gasp victory at Lewes. Kasha Petit scored an 89th-minute winner after Cherelle Khassal had brought Lewes back into the match following Elly Maggs‘ early goal.
Charlton Athletic continue to fly the Premier League flag into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after beating Premier League Northern title hopefuls Coventry City 2-1 in the Midlands.
Kit Graham bagged both for Charlton, taking her season total to 34. Maz Gauntlett scored Coventry’s.
But the Premier League’s other interest ended when Tottenham Hotspur crashed 4-0 to Super League 1 side Notts County.