Gillingham may hold key to former players’ Premier League title hopes

Sent Her Forward round-up as the season nears its exciting final stages

Kirsty Barton celebrates after scoring one of Brighton's three goals against Tottenham Hotspur on April 19 2015 (Photo: Geoff Penn/BHAFC)

Brighton may need a helping hand from Gillingham if they are to win the Premier League (Photo: Geoff Penn/BHAFC)

Gillingham may have to help their great rivals Brighton clinch the Premier League title in order to secure their own survival.

Simon Ratcliffe’s side, torn apart before the season began by a mass exodus of personnel to Brighton, need to win their final fixture of the season on Sunday – at home to top of the table Portsmouth – to be in with a chance of retaining their Premier League status.

But in so doing, they could severely hamper Pompey’s chances of winning the league – and a place in the championship play-off – handing the momentum to Portsmouth’s main rivals – a Brighton side managed by ex-Gills boss James Marrs and packed with those Gillingham players who moved with him to the south-coast club.

The prospect of helping Brighton towards a possible Super League place may not fill a club still harbouring a degree resentment at the close-season activities with joy, but needs must – and the Gills desperately need the points.

After their goalless draw at Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, Gillingham lie just one place off the relegation spots, a single point ahead of Copsewood Coventry, who have two games in hand of the Kent side.

Even an unlikely victory over the league leaders may not be enough to save the Gills, particularly as Copsewood have finally hit a bit of form since returning to full strength.

They beat bottom club Keynsham Town 3-0 on Sunday to record their first back-to-back victories of the season and pile the pressure on Ratcliffe’s team.

Kayleigh Steele bagged two in Copsewood’s biggest league win of the season after they had been given the lead through an own goal.

They have now lost only twice in their last five games – a run that has coincided with a generally stronger, more settled, side as players have shaken off the injuries that have undermined their maiden season in the Premier League.

Manager Ryan Conneely told Sent Her Forward: “I’ve worked out that with a fit squad we have won 60% of our games. I just hope we can keep a fit team until the end of the season.”

Sarah Kempson during Portsmouth's game against Charlton Athletic, September 2014 (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

Sarah Kempson scored the only goal as Portsmouth beat Cardiff to stay top (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

Back at the top, Portsmouth and Brighton have moved ahead of the field, with only Charlton realistically in with a chance of denying one of them the title – and that play-off place.

Pompey have, arguably, the slightly more demanding run-in, hosting Queens Park Rangers after Gillingham before ending the season on May 10 at home to West Ham.

Brighton, too, face West Ham – away – but finish with away and home fixtures against Keynsham, who will end the season bottom unless they can make up a 19-goal deficit and gain maximum points from those Brighton matches and their final-day showdown with Copsewood.

Both the top two won tricky fixtures on Sunday to effectively end any lingering hopes that Cardiff City and Tottenham Hotspur might have had of pipping them to the prize.

Pompey preserved their one-point lead over Brighton with an impressive 1-0 win at Cardiff, who a month back looked on course for a top-two finish.

Sarah Kempson scored the only goal of the game from a first-half penalty, and goalkeeper Michelle Beazley – standing in for the unavailable Sadie Blakely – preserved the points with a couple of crucial saves late in the game.

April has proved disastrous for the Welsh side, who at the end of March headed the league, with just two defeats in their first 16 fixtures.

But after losing twice to West Ham – and now title rivals Portsmouth – they are destined to finish outside the top two.

Premier League March 29

1 Cardiff City 16 12 2 2 59 19 38
2 Portsmouth 15 12 2 1 42 13 38
3 Brighton & HA 16 12 1 3 48 16 37

Premier League April 19

1 Portsmouth 19 15 2 2 52 22 47
2 Brighton & HA 19 15 1 3 56 19 46
3 Charlton Athletic 18 12 3 3 67 28 39
4 Cardiff City 19 12 2 5 60 23 38

Brighton remain right on Portsmouth’s tail after coming from behind to see off in-form Spurs 3-2, with goals from Amy Taylor, Kirsty Barton and debutant Emily Baker.

Wendy Martin and Avilla Bergin had taken Spurs into the lead after Taylor’s early goal, but the Londoners’ run of just one defeat in nine league and cup matches came to an end against Marrs’ own form team, who have lost just once in their last 10 league games – crucially, at Portsmouth, a defeat that could prove costly come the final reckoning.

Charlton Athletic are mathematically still in with a shout, but even if they finish with four straight wins, they are likely to be overtaken by at least one of the top two.

Jeremy Parsons’ incredible battlers, who have already lifted the Ryman Cup and are in the finals of the Capital and Premier League cups, extended their unbeaten league run to eight games – and their record in all competitions to 15 wins and three draws in their last 19 matches – with a 5-3 victory at Plymouth Argyle.

They had to come from 2-0 down at half-time after Jodie Chubb and Mollie Taylor had put the home side in front.

But three goals in eight second-half minutes, from Kim Dixson, Gemma Shepherd and Kit Graham – her 40th of the season – gave Charlton the upper hand.

And although Kayley Lane equalised for Plymouth, late goals from Shepherd and Graham again kept the Londoners on the fringes of the championship race – with the chance to make up three more points in their game in hand tonight at home to Spurs.

One of the most impressive results of the day came at West Ham, where Lewes ended their difficult season on a high, winning 2-1 against the team who had beaten Cardiff twice and drawn with Charlton in their last three games.

Emma Sherwood had given West Ham a half-time lead, but Cherelle Khassal and Clare Trafford – in her final game for the club after 10 years’ service – earned the Sussex side only their sixth win of the season.


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