Portsmouth’s bid for the Premier League title suffered a major jolt as rampant Charlton Athletic rattled six goals past them to announce their own arrival as serious contenders.
With leaders Cardiff City losing as well, the championship race is wide open, with five teams having a genuine chance of taking the southern division title and the opportunity of a Premier League play-off against the northern division champions.
Pompey’s defeat at Thamesmead was particularly devastating as they surrendered a 2-0 – and then 3-2 – lead before finally going down 6-3 to the division’s top scorers.
To add to their woes, striker Ini Umotong, whose 22nd and 23rd Pompey goals of the season had given them that early lead, suffered a serious finger injury late in the game.
A stunned manager Perry Northeast admitted his players might have been affected by the impact of Charlton’s comeback before half-time, telling South Coast Sports Radio: “Essentially, you’re 2-2, you should be going in the changing rooms with the same mentality as you would after you’ve just warmed up, because it could go either way.
“But psychologically, it’s not like that. I think it’s in that department we need to work now – the psychological element to our game – because… we did put ourselves in two strong winning positions and lost the game.”
Umotong scored her first goals for Portsmouth since February to give Pompey, who started the day second on goal difference, a dream start.
But Emma Harrison and Charlton’s own goal machine, Kit Graham, pulled the hosts level by half-time.
Pompey took the lead again after an hour, when substitute Charley Wilson bagged her 14th goal of the season, but within minutes, they were dealt what proved to be a killer psychological blow when Molly Clark was penalised for a high foot and Gemma Shepherd dispatched the penalty past Sadie Blakely.
On 70 minutes Charlton took the lead for the first time, when Harrison bagged her second. And a few minutes later, Graham scored her second of the game – and her 37th of an outstanding campaign.
In the final minute Shepherd also joined the two-goal club, and to add injury to insult, Umotong then dislocated and broke her finger after another heavy challenge that left Northeast far from happy.
He told South Coast Sports Radio: “Those challenges shouldn’t be going in on Ini. It’s credit to Ini because that’s the only way it seems oppositions can stop her at the moment.”
Charlton’s magnificent comeback keeps them very much in the five-way fight for the league championship – and a play-off for the title of overall Premier League champions.
For Charlton, Portsmouth, Brighton and Spurs, the play-off would also provide them with the chance of a place in Super League 2 next season, although the fifth contender, Cardiff City, are not eligible for the top flight.
It was Charlton’s 17th league and cup game without defeat – their last loss was at Brighton in November. And it marked an end to Portsmouth’s own impressive 14-game unbeaten league run, which had stretched back to the opening day of the season.
Charlton remain in contention for no fewer than five trophies – including the FAW Cup, Capital, Ryman and League Cups – while their reserves are just four points away from regaining the Premier Reserves League title and their development side could still win their division in the South East Counties League.
Top of the FAW Premier League Southern
Cardiff City failed to take advantage of Portsmouth’s setback, crashing unexpectedly to their first home defeat of the season to West Ham United.
Emma Sherwood scored twice for Julian Dicks’ side, who host Charlton tomorrow and Cardiff in the reverse of yesterday’s fixture next Sunday.
Michelle Green got Cardiff’s goal.
Brighton return to the top after defeating Lewes for the second Sunday in succession, winning 1-0 at the Dripping Pan. Charlotte Gurr scored the only goal.
And Spurs are still not out of the reckoning after thrashing Copsewood Coventry 8-0 to stay within touching distance of the four favourites.
Avilla Bergin scored a hat-trick and Wendy Martin two as the Londoners tore injury-hit Copsewood – without seven first-team players – apart. Jenna Schillaci, Lucia Clifford and Sophie McLean also got on the scoresheet as Spurs clinched their seventh win in their last eight league matches.
Copsewood face an almighty challenge to stay in the division, their goal difference taking a hammering yesterday. And they even have a fight on to avoid finishing bottom after improving Keynsham Town won their first league game at the 17th attempt, beating Gillingham 5-3.
The West Country club are now only three points behind Copsewood, who in turn are six points behind Gillingham, who have played three games more than both the sides below them.
But the Kent club are still very much in the battle to avoid the drop after undoing much of last week’s impressive victory over West Ham.
In the league’s other fixture yesterday, Plymouth Argyle and Queens Park Rangers, who both look safe for another season, drew 0-0.