Lewes 1 (Carter 28)
Portsmouth 2 (Fulgence 47, 57)
Poacher supreme Lisa Fulgence came out on top in the big Brighton reunion with two second-half goals that might just help turn her temporary club’s season around.
Fulgence, who has missed a huge chunk of her two seasons with Brighton through injury, was shackled for almost the entire game by the outstanding Tammy Waine and Leeta Rutherford. But she slipped her markers twice – and both times found the net as Portsmouth earned their first away points of the season.
In a game that featured five current Brighton players, currently on loan to the two teams before the Super League club start pre-season training, it took a while for either side to put together any cohesive play.
It was Lewes who enjoyed the best of the first half, taking a deserved lead through Rebecca Carter. But with neither side carving out many clear-cut opportunities, it was always going to be hard to hold on.
Portsmouth stepped up a gear after the break, and Fulgence’s double strike in the space of 10 minutes just after half-time turned the game and earned Portsmouth some breathing space in mid-table after a fraught start to the season.
The home side gave debuts to Brighton midfielder Kirsty Barton and had her team-mate Charlotte Young on the bench. Fulgence and Charley Boswell made their full debuts for Portsmouth, with Kate Natkiel making her second start, all three having featured in the visitors’ 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
But it was the other debutant, Leeta Rutherford, playing for Lewes against the team she left last week, who was the pick of the new faces, slotting in on the left side of a back three as though she’d played there for Lewes all her life.
Portsmouth managed to pass the ball better in the opening exchanges but without ever looking like hurting their opponents, who looked to counter with more direct passes towards Kim Stenning – another former Brighton player – and the willing Carter.
The visitors were forced to reshuffle with only 15 minutes gone when Gemma Hillier, who had oozed class in her brief spell on the pitch in an advanced midfield role, went off injured and was replaced by Samantha Quayle.
Natkiel, who was enjoying a titanic battle with Lewes’s Rachel Palmer, moved into Hillier’s role and Quayle took Natkiel’s place on the right.
The home side won the first corners of the game midway through the first half, but they came to nothing. But on 28 minutes they took the lead after a superb first-time pass from Hayley West set up Carter, who just reached the ball ahead of goalkeeper Courtney Trodd and poked home the opener.
The goal seemed to give Lewes renewed confidence, and they strung together the best move of the game so far, Danni Lane combining well with Stenning, who found Carter in space on the left. The striker waited for Katie McIntyre to arrive, but the midfielder’s side-footed shot went straight to Trodd.
Carter was involved again on 37 minutes when she collected Rutherford’s superb first-time ball down the line – the first of many on a terrific night for the defender – and sent over a high cross, which Trodd, under pressure from Stenning, initially fumbled before gathering at the second attempt.
Trodd was in the thick of the action again a minute later when Barton let fly from 30 yards. The goalkeeper saved with her knee, but Carter again just beat Trodd to the foot race before blasting over.
Portsmouth had barely had any quality ball in the Lewes half until five minutes before the break, when Nadine Bazan got away down the left, but her cross was cleared comfortably.
Bazan then suffered an injury in a collision with West, which effectively ended her involvement in the game.
Half-time: Lewes 1-0 Portsmouth
Having failed to threaten for all their neat build-up play in the first half, Portsmouth needed a quick reply after the break and they got it with a typical opportunist’s goal from Fulgence in the 47th minute.
For the first time in the game, she found herself in room just inside the penalty area and angled a neat shot past Trodd to make it 1-1.
Sarah Kempson, who had been Portsmouth’s best player in the first half, was having even more influence as a resurgent Pompey started to stamp their mark on the game.
Lewes manager John Donoghue threw on Georgia Bridges for the limping Carter, and she had an immediate impact, racing on to an ambitious through-ball, but this time the alert Trodd was first to the ball, racing 25 yards out of her goal to clear.
On 57 minutes the hosts went behind in controversial circumstances. Kempson volleyed a superb pass to Fulgence, unmarked inside the box for only the second time in the match. And for the second time, she finished clinically.
Referee Paul Rowe consulted his assistant about a possible offside, but the goal stood, and Lewes’s task grew considerably.
Just after the hour, Lane finally found room to go on one of her trademark runs from midfield, shrugging off the challenges of three Portsmouth players before shooting weakly as she fell.
In the 69th minute, Young, who had had a brief spell at Lewes before rejoining Brighton, came on for her second debut for the Sussex side, replacing the tiring Stenning.
But Portsmouth were still largely in charge, and Shannon Sievwright fired a first-time shot just wide after a brilliant lay-off from Fulgence.
Lewes were fighting hard to find a way back into the game, with Bridges, who brought new energy to their attacking play, the most likely weapon, and Barton found her with an imaginative 30-yard ball, which the substitute took in her stride. But she overhit the cross and Portsmouth were reprieved.
For all the visitors’ second-half possession, they were finding it difficult to carve out clear chances, and much of that was due to the impeccable Waine – yet another Brighton alumnus – who was soaking up everything thrown at her, twice denying Fulgence hat-trick chances with perceptive and well-timed interventions.
With time running out, Lewes spurned a rare opportunity to equalise. Lane capitalised on a mistake by Rebecca Tonks in the Portsmouth defence but shot just wide.
On 76 minutes, Lauren Dolbear rescued Lewes, saving well from Natkiel’s fierce 20-yarder.
Back came the hosts, with Bridges holding the ball up well just inside the Portsmouth half until reinforcements arrived. But Lane couldn’t control Sian Heather’s cross and the chance was gone.
In a late flurry of action, Natkiel blasted over after collecting a superb ball from Kempson, and then Barton shot just wide after excellent work by the lively Bridges.
As the game entered stoppage time, Heather fired in one last shot, but Trodd saved comfortably and Portsmouth held on for a valuable league double over Lewes in the space of three weeks.
With so many new players slotting in, there was a degree of getting-to-know-you on both sides, but Fulgence’s opportunistic double just after half-time turned the game.
For a team who had lost four of their six league games, conceding 17 goals in their last four, Portsmouth played with surprising confidence, neat passing suffusing their play, usually with Kempson at the centre of it.
Lewes played a full part, but had few clear-cut opportunities in a game dominated by the two defences.
John Donoghue (Lewes): ‘We just needed to be a little bit calmer’
“They do what Portsmouth normally do. They worked their socks off, with no little quality. They’ve added to their team, which is obviously significant for them. But so have we, and I think we were very good in the first half.
“We still took the game to them in the second half. We still created more of the opportunities and worked their goalkeeper more than [they did] ours. We just needed to be a little bit calmer in and around the box rather than slashing at the ball.
“Once [Portsmouth] scored the goal, you could see a lot more energy in their game, a lot more confidence in bringing the ball down and passing it. I thought Sarah Kempson was very good the way she dealt with the ball and changed play well. Goals do that – you suddenly get an injection of confidence.
“Leeta Rutherford was superb. A really good start. She just slotted in there and looked like she’d been playing there for ages. Kirsty Barton, again, she knows the role in there, so that’s not a problem.
“If I didn’t know the players and some of the girls didn’t know the players and what their qualities were, that’s always more challenging. But they’ve played against them and with them quite a few times. They know what they’re about.”
Craig Taylor (Portsmouth): ‘Characters did stand up’
“We haven’t picked anything up in the away games, so the first three points away from home is positive. I thought we thoroughly deserved that. I thought we controlled the game. Second half, I felt we played with a bit more of a purpose and we just tightened up in the final third.
“We want the players to go out and express themselves, but when you’re not having the rub of it sometimes, confidence can affect people. But today it was, just go and do what you can do: get the performance right and the result will hopefully take care of itself. And thankfully for us, it did.
“A few things have pretty much gone against us at the moment, but I think that’s when the characters stand up. And that’s why I’m really pleased with the squad that I’ve got at the moment because characters did stand up.
“[The new players] fitted in really well. They’ve blended in with the squad nicely. Obviously, they’ve got undoubted quality. I know a couple of them from before. On the whole the girls played really well.
“I think the girls did everything right. They controlled the tempo. They made sure that they kept each other going. All the good things came from them.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Sarah Kempson (Portsmouth)
Kempo is in the form of her life, scoring goals for fun and running the Portsmouth midfield. She was the fulcrum for turning defence into attack, and Kempson’s all-round game, closing players down, making herself available for the ball and then delivering her own wide range of passes with that wonderful left foot, made a big difference.
Tammy Waine plays with the head of a veteran and the fitness of a youngster. Wherever she plays on the pitch, she never lets anyone down, and at the centre of Lewes’s three-man defence, she was outstanding, anticipating, intercepting, tackling and heading clear.
Alongside her, Leeta Rutherford was the perfect partner, largely nullifying the threat of Lisa Fulgence with her expert positioning and uncompromising challenges. She also delivered some top-quality balls down the line to set up Pompey attacks.
Rachel Palmer enjoyed an excellent tussle with Kate Natkiel, and Georgia Bridges was a constant threat after replacing Carter for the final 35 minutes.
Before her injury, Gemma Hillier posed a big threat, calmly controlling the space behind the attack and sending some dangerous balls for Fulgence and Natkiel to run on to, while Natkiel herself made life a misery for her opponents, with her pace and strength.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 Nothing wrong with the effort, or some of the performances. But the game was a little bitty.