Valiant Portsmouth suffer injury-time heartbreak as Sheffield head for Super League

Sheffield FC celebrate as Portsmouth are stunned by Giampalma's late goal (Photo: Clive Jones)

Joy and despair: Sheffield broke Portsmouth’s hearts with a goal in the 93rd minute of a captivating match (Photo: Clive Jones)

Portsmouth’s Super League dream is over for this season after they were beaten by an injury-time goal in a pulsating Premier League champions’ play-off against Sheffield FC.

Helen Mitchell’s side, who had dominated for long spells, looked like they might be ruing their failure to score when on top, as Pompey staged a late rally that frightened their opponents.

But Lisa Giampala‘s composed finish two minutes into the five added on at the end of the game shattered Pompey’s resistance and earned the Northern Division champions a 1-0 win and an almost certain place in WSL2 in 2016.

The consequences of the Premier League’s ruling that players with fewer than three league appearances for their clubs this season could not take part were evident in the team sheets.

Portsmouth, who gave a full debut to 16-year-old development goalkeeper Courtney Trodd, named only three substitutes, including Jodie Goodall, who had not featured for some time.

Sheffield were without only one of the side who started their final Northern Division match last weekend – Jess Heald replaced by Giampalma, who was to go on to have such a dramatic impact in the game – but they, too, did not have a full bench.

In addition to the enforced absences, Pompey were also without Ini Umotong, their 30-goal striker, who is in Canada with Nigeria’s Women’s World Cup squad, and Leeta Rutherford, their only player with experience of the Super League, who was unavailable.

Both sides had plenty of chances to seal victory in the regulation 90 minutes, but a combination of doughty defending, wayward finishing and superb goalkeeping at both ends kept the game goalless until that fateful moment.

And while she was in tears at the final whistle, Trodd, Portsmouth’s 16-year-old debutant, plunged into her full debut because of Sadie Blakely’s suspension and Michelle Beazley’s ineligibility, can take great pride in having played her full part in that 90-minute stalemate.

She looked confident from the start and made a couple of outstanding saves in the first half to deny the dangerous Jodie Michalska.

But her opposite number, Claire Wallhead, who has been one of Sheffield’s outstanding players this campaign, was equally crucial to the outcome, performing heroics to keep out second-half efforts by Lucy Quinn and Charley Wilson in the space of four minutes.

Sheffield had the better of the opportunities in the first half, captain Carla Ward, Amy Beanland and Michalska all spurning chances, even before Trodd’s heroics.

Wallhead had to save a Sarah Kempson header from a Molly Clark cross, but generally, Sheffield’s defence was able to cope with what Portsmouth threw at them, although a late first-half rally caused panic – and produced appeals for a handball in the Sheffield box.

Action from Portsmouth v Sheffield FC, May 24 2015 (Photo: Clive Jones)

Both sides gave total commitment, reflecting the quality of the Premier League and the enormity of the prize at stake (Photo: Clive Jones)

Pompey were put under the cosh again at the beginning of the second half, Michalska firing a free-kick just over and then being denied by Eilidh Currie, another of Pompey’s teenagers performing like a woman (which, as anyone who has watched the women’s game will know is very much a compliment).

But when Perry Northeast’s players finally found a foothold back in the game, midway through the second half, it was Wallhead’s turn to take the plaudits.

After denying Pompey captain Charley Wilson, she pulled off a terrific stop to keep out Quinn’s effort, and then brilliantly kept out Wilson again as the striker bore down on goal.

There was still time for Sheffield substitute Abbie McIver to shoot over when looking certain to score, and the game looked destined for extra-time.

But Giampala’s late goal, latching on to Michalska’s pass and rounding Trodd, gave the match – and a compelling Premier League season – its final twist.

Portsmouth’s Super League dream was cruelly shattered; Sheffield will surely realise theirs now, and the FA got a spectacle of a showpiece that it could only have dreamed of.

Match details based on commmentary by South Coast Sports Radio and tweets from clubs, FAWSL, Girls on the Ball and Darren Gilham.

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