Hampshire FA Challenge Cup final: Portsmouth (Sievwright, Dark, Umotong 2) 4-1 Southampton Saints (Tewkesbury)
Portsmouth bounced back from their weekend setback to achieve their expected victory in the Hampshire Cup final against Southampton Saints.
It was just what they needed after twice surrendering the lead against Charlton Athletic on Sunday, eventually losing 6-3 to dent their Premier League title hopes.
And, as important to manager Perry Northeast as the cup glory was the fact that there was no sign of any lasting damage to morale or performance.
Youngsters Shannon Sievwright and Chloe Dark put Pompey in the driving seat before half-time, but it was international striker Ini Umotong who stole the show with a 30-minute cameo as a substitute, scoring twice and scaring Southampton’s previously solid defence to death.
Umotong, who was left out of the starting line-up as a precaution after breaking a finger near the end of Sunday’s defeat, looked quick, strong and sharp as she powered her way to a couple of goals and also hit the bar on her way to scoring her first.
It was enough to trigger a change of heart among those choosing the official player of the match, and she left the field not only with her cup-winner’s medal but also the trophy for star player.
But it was an excellent all-round team performance that earned Portsmouth the county cup for a seventh successive season, matching the record held by their opponents.
There were star performers all over the pitch, with 17-year-old Eilidh Currie immaculate in central defence, Jess Frampton a constant menace on the right flank and Gemma Hillier displaying the quality that sets her apart from so many others at this level.
And Southampton, too, a division below Pompey, played a full part in a cup final worthy of the name. Inevitably under the cosh for periods, their defence held up well, with goalkeeper Hannah Haughton making some spectacular saves and Becki Bath rock-like at the back.
Up front, super striker Jemma Tewkesbury was generally too isolated to trouble Pompey’s defence, but she showed her predatory instincts to pounce on an error by debutant goalkeeper Michelle Beazley to fire Saints back into the match shortly after half-time.
And behind Tewkesbury, the pace of Krystal Whyte was a constant threat on those occasions when she was allowed to get forward.
Hours before the game, Beazley was in London, blissfully unaware that she was to figure in the game, having been brought in by Northeast as cover for Sadie Blakely a week ago.
But Blakely failed to shake off illness, forcing the late change of plan and getting the former Lewes keeper – who hasn’t played a game since November – registered as an emergency replacement.
Pompey hit the bar for the first time in the second minute, when Tiff Taylor struck a shot sweetly from the edge of the area, having already tested Haughton.
But despite having the huge majority of early possession, it took them nearly half an hour to get the breakthrough goal. Sievwright was given far too much time to bring down an awkward ball, which she volleyed perfectly over Haughton from just outside the area.
The second came just five minutes later, in the 31st minute, Dark finishing equally clinically with a low shot beyond Haughton’s reach from a similar position.
Within a couple of minutes Saints had their first corner, former Southampton player Currie initially allowing Whyte to get away from her before recovering well to block her effort. The flag kick found Leah Shave, but she was unable to control her volley as well as Sievwright had.
Saints were forced to make their first change before half-time, Jess Lewry replacing the injured Kat Littleboy.
But it was Bath who was the prominent figure in the closing minutes of the first period, brilliantly stopping Hillier after good work by Dark and then, seconds later, making an even better tackle to deny Charley Wilson after a superb pass from Leeta Rutherford.
Beazley had had little to do in the first 45 minutes, and had dealt with everything that had come her way confidently and comfortably.
But six minutes into the second half, she endured a personal nightmare when she misjudged her pass, which was pounced upon by Tewkesbury, who calmly slotted the ball past her.
If memories of Charlton’s comeback from two goals down on Sunday was on the Portsmouth players’ minds, they didn’t show it as they continued to play confident football against a side showing plenty of quality of their own.
However, although Saints were looking more solid in midfield, Tewkesbury was becoming increasingly isolated up front, with Whyte frequently having to make her threatening runs from much deeper.
Cranking up the pressure
On a rare occasion that she broke through, she was brilliantly stopped by Leeta Rutherford, who then proceeded to beat two players on her way to setting up a counter-attack.
When Umotong entered the fray, for Dark, on 64 minutes, Pompey were looking comfortable. The Nigerian international immediately cranked the pace – and pressure – up a gear, twice powering past two challenges, firstly laying the ball off to Wilson and the second time getting in a weak shot from 20 yards.
Then Umotong turned provider, sending over a superb cross from the left to Hillier, whose header was brilliantly saved by Haughton at point-blank range.
And in the 78th minute, she capped a magnificent move with Pompey’s third goal. The striker twice exchanged passes with Wilson before powering forward and blasting a rising shot that hit the underside of the bar and bounced out.
Southampton defender, Kerri Why was injured in the ensuing scramble, and when Taylor sent the ball back into the penalty area, Umotong was on the spot to score with a diving header.
The restart was delayed for several minutes while Why received treatment in the goal, eventually being stretchered off and replaced by Emma Whitlock.
Worse still was to come as Tewkesbury went down clutching her calf, with no-one near her and almost simultaneously, Bath needing treatment for cramp.
Still Pompey piled on the pressure, sensing a fourth, and deep into injury time, they got it. Umotong brilliantly turned Shave and bulldozed her way into the area, leaving defenders in her wake, before calmly clipping the ball over Haughton.
A detailed report – with reactions from the two managers and Sent Her Forward’s choice of player of the match – will appear later.