Charlton Athletic 3 (Sullivan 20; Dixson 24; Graham 79)
Charlton Athletic limbered up for a month of cup finals with a straightforward victory over an enthusiastic and committed – but inexperienced – Portsmouth side who must be sick of the sight of them by now.
It was the Londoners’ fourth win against them in four league and cup matches this season – though their first away from home.
And while today’s came too late to give Charlton anything other than the faintest of hopes of pipping runaway leaders Spurs to the Premier League title, it proved ideal preparation for the first of their three finals against their fellow Londoners, in the Ryman Cup on Wednesday.
Charlton, who have finished thereabouts in the Premier League for the past few seasons, look like they will have to settle for no more than a top-four finish again – with the increasingly coveted championship trophy – a gateway to the Super League – still eluding them.
Their indifferent early-season form has cost them dearly in a campaign where the likes of Spurs have barely surrendered a point.
And while coach Riteesh Mishra says he will be treating all six of their remaining games as cup finals, they know they will have to maintain recent high standards if they are to end another decent season with any silverware – a minimum expectation at such an illustrious club.
On a bobbly pitch at a sunny Privett Park, they again proved they were in a different class from a side they have already beaten 5-0 and 4-2 twice this term.
Yet, as Portsmouth’s young manager, Jay Sadler, pointed out, a bit more nous and support up front could have given their season-long tormentors a shock or two.
The young team – light years away from the all-conquering side that won the Premier League just two years ago – ran Charlton closer than they might have had a right to expect, creating enough opportunities to have got something out of the match.
Yet if it wasn’t for their impressive goalkeeper Emily Paines, they could have suffered an even more comprehensive drubbing.
The visitors enjoyed the bulk of the early possession, most of it well in Portsmouth’s half, where Avilla Bergin was causing the home defence nightmares every time she got near the ball, with smart turns, pacy runs and astute delivery.
Yet it was the home side who won the first corner, on nine minutes. Kit Graham headed the kick clear and when it came to midfielder Alex Iusan, her shot was blocked.
Charlton broke at pace, with Gemma Shepherd looking to play in her fellow striker Graham as she made ground, but Ellie Kirby timed her interception to perfection to clear the immediate danger.
But the ball was soon back at the feet of Graham, and her smart turn just outside the Portsmouth area opened up a bit of space, but she blasted her shot well over.
At the other end Sammy Quayle was proving a handful for Charlton’s defence, with her pace and insistence on chasing every cause. But she was too often isolated, with Gemma Hillier and Katie James often required to help ease the pressure in midfield, meaning Pompey had to rely on scraps up front.
Quayle did well to get away from Rosey Sullivan and Katie Bottom and fed James on the right flank. But goalkeeper Alex Baker claimed her cross before it could reach Quayle.
On 17 minutes it was Portsmouth’s goalkeeper who was called into action, Paines rushing from her goal to deny the dangerous Bergin.
Two minutes later Bergin earned Charlton their first corner – and her immaculate delivery handed her side the lead, courtesy of Sullivan‘s header from six yards.
Almost immediately, Portsmouth had their second, but Eilidh Currie’s kick had less impact than Bergin’s, and Charlton were able to clear.
Bergin was beginning to have a significant impact on the match, stretching Portsmouth’s left side with her skilful footwork and searing pace.
On 23 minutes, she turned brilliantly and played Shepherd, on her 100th Charlton appearance, in on goal. But again Paines was out quickly to smother.
The away side’s growing dominance was reflected with a second goal in the 24th minute, and inevitably, Bergin was at the heart of it. The Northern Ireland winger brilliantly shook off the attentions of two Pompey defenders, forcing her way to the byeline and pulling the ball back for captain Kim Dixson to tap home.
It could have been more on 28 minutes when Paines made up for her poor clearance, which went straight to Graham, 25 yards out, by keeping out the 30-odd-goal striker’s effort with a diving save.
Bergin’s second corner kick landed on the roof of the net, and then her free-kick on 31 minutes, from close to the touchline, found Shepherd, whose header was brilliantly kept out by Paines, but unnecessarily, as the referee had penalised the Charlton striker for a foul.
Kirby again did well to usher Shepherd away from goal after a brilliant flick-on by Graham, and then, on 35 minutes, Paines again denied Graham.
Portsmouth had an excellent chance to force their way back into the contest in the 42nd minute when the effervescent Quayle robbed Grace Coombs and bore down on the Charlton penalty area. But with Hillier in space to her right, Quayle chose to continue on her own, tricking her way past a defender but poking her shot wide of the post.
Fittingly, it was the visitors who had the final opportunity of the half. Ruby Southgate, who had just been booked, played a superb pass to Shepherd on the left wing, and her cross-shot somehow eluded both goal and the incoming Bergin.
Half-time: Portsmouth 0-2 Charlton Athletic
The visitors, who brought on Daisy Monaghan for Bottom, were the quicker out of the blocks after the break, too, winning their first corner of the half within 30 seconds of the restart.
It was immediately followed by another as the referee ignored the Londoners’ appeals for handball.
Bergin delivered an almost identical kick to the one that had earned Charlton the lead, but this time Shepherd’s header from six yards struck the bar.
It looked like 3-0 on 53 minutes, but Graham was again denied by Paines, who reacted brilliantly to keep out the striker’s effort after she had outwitted Currie.
It was looking ominous for Portsmouth, but their young, enthusiastic side were not yet beaten, and on 56 minutes they pieced together a smart move, albeit with a familiar ending.
Lauren Peck, who had shown some nice touches, played a superb pass to Iusan, who found Hillier on the right. But the striker got under the cross and it sailed into touch.
Charlton won two more corners in quick succession in the 57th minute. The first found Shepherd, whose effort was well blocked by Currie, and the second went to Southgate, who poked the ball goalwards, where inevitably, Paines was on hand to save.
The ‘keeper saved Pompey again moments later, despite Shepherd’s efforts to wrong-foot her following another excellent run and pass by Bergin.
It was raining shots on the Portsmouth goal, and on the hour mark, Bergin tried her luck from the edge of the area after more good work by Graham. But it proved one of Paines’ more comfortable saves.
On 62 minutes Charlton’s Charlotte Lee replaced Southgate, signalling the start of a flurry of action on the touchline.
First, Sadler was given a lecture by the referee after protesting about a decision, and then, after Paines had saved a Shepherd snap-shot, Portsmouth made their first change, Natasha Stephens replacing James, quickly followed by Charlton’s final substitution, with Hope Nash coming on for Shepherd.
Portsmouth were limited to occasional forays into Charlton territory, despite playing some neat triangles in midfield.
But in the 69th minute they had two opportunities to pull themselves back into the game.
Hillier almost found Quayle with an incisive pass, but Nash did well to cut out the danger. And almost immediately, Kirby tried an almost identical pass, but this time Nicole Pepper, making her full debut, came to the rescue for the visitors.
Stephens evened up the bookings count after an innocuous-looking shirt tug, and moments later Charlton killed the game off. Dixson, who was having an excellent game in midfield, did well to win the ball and play in Graham, who kept her composure like the consummate goalscorer she is to finally beat Paines with 79 minutes gone.
Ellie Bloomfield joined the fray, replacing Iusan, and almost immediately, Portsmouth were presented with the chance of a consolation goal.
Quayle, who had had a quieter second half, took advantage of a defensive error and shot inches wide from 15 yards.
Another sublime first-time ball from Graham sent Bergin – who had also been a little more subdued since half-time – away down the left. The winger cut inside and unleashed a shot, which went well wide.
Pompey won a rare corner after more good work by Quayle. Stephens’ superb kick was met by Vicky Carleton, whose header from 15 yards missed the post by inches.
With the game lost, Portsmouth’s confidence returned, and they forced a double save from the otherwise under-employed Baker.
Bloomfield crossed from the right, but as Stephens got to her head to it, Baker blocked it almost simultaneously. Then the goalkeeper threw herself in the way of Hillier’s follow-up to preserve Charlton’s clean sheet.
As in the first half, Charlton ended the game in the ascendancy, winning one last corner, which Bergin sent into the side-netting, appearing to injure herself as she kicked it.
It proved another relatively comfortable victory for high-flying Charlton over their favourite opponents. But as in all three of their previous encounters this season, Portsmouth were by no means disgraced.
They spurned a few chances, while Charlton took enough of their plentiful opportunities to ensure a morale-boosting victory three days before their Ryman Cup final against Tottenham.
The Londoners showed their class all over the field, from Alex Baker in goal to Kit Graham up front – and in most places in-between – but, much like their season, there were signs of vulnerability that a more clinical side would surely have exploited.
This Charlton side, with Gemma Shepherd playing her 100th game and Nicole Pepper her first, is a work in progress under their second manager of the season.
But they are heading in the right direction.
Charlton’s six “cup finals”
|April 5||Tottenham H||Ryman Cup final|
|April 9||Lewes (a)||Premier League|
|April 23||Tottenham H (a)||Premier League|
|April 25||Tottenham H||Capital Cup final|
|May 7||Tottenham H||Premier League Cup final|
|May 14||C&K Basildon (a)||Premier League|
Jay Sadler (Portsmouth): “The future is bright”
“We go into all the games quite optimistic. I believe we have got the quality to beat teams like Charlton, to beat teams like Cardiff (to whom they lost 5-1 last week), Tottenham. We’ve got the quality.
“It’s just about putting on a consistent performance, and the previous games we had against [Charlton], although the scoreline didn’t reflect it, we were in those games. We were 1-0 up at half-time, 1-1 (in another) and in the game at The Valley, the first 30 minutes we dominated, we were the best team.
“Overall, on reflection of all four games, it’s about being clinical. They’ve got players who will punish you when they’re in the final third, and they’ve got the movements and they’ve got relationships, which is something we’re trying to build with the young squad, with new players coming in. The girls are learning.
“It’s brilliant for the girls to be in this environment, playing against these players at such a young age. Obviously, a lot of teams have got experience, they know the league and know the little things in the game.
“But it’s testament to our development squad, the coaches and all the people behind the scenes who are working hard with those players to be able to bring up nine players (into the first team) this season. And I think a couple of them did really well today.
“There were a lot of positives, and that’s what we try and draw upon. There were a few positives from Cardiff last week, our second-half performance today – how we came out and how we got on the ball more and looked to shift the ball.
“Emily (Paines the goalkeeper) has come in today for her first opportunity since before Christmas. She made three or four saves to keep us in the game. She was fantastic.
“And we had just as many touches in the final third as they did, but it’s down to decision-making, down to the timing of our movement and being clinical in front of goal. And I think that’s something we need to work on.
“I still felt, with 10 or five minutes to go, the game was still there for the taking if we could just get our chance and believe we’ve got the ability to cross over.
“It’s been a tough season. There’s a lot to reflect on and a lot to look forward to. But the future is bright down here, and we’re excited.”
Riteesh Mishra (Charlton Athletic): “We’ve got to treat each game as a one-off final”
“We didn’t want to come here with any complacency whatsoever, and our planning this week was the same as it has been – to come out here, try and play, get the result and keep a clean sheet, which we did.
“But I was a little bit disappointed in how we performed overall, but we got the result that we wanted, and it leads us into our cup final on Wednesday with a bit of form.
“We’ve got to try and treat each game as a one-off final now. We’ve got six left. Whatever game is next on the agenda, we just plan for that game.
“We’ve got a few fixtures in quite quick succession, so I think we have to utilise our squad. We’ve got quite a small squad, so there is a bit of competition for places within that squad. We’ll try and balance it out.
“We’ve got a few players some minutes today. What’s pleasing is a lot of players have got some minutes under their belt, leading into Wednesday. It’s my job to manage the players, making sure they get the right level of playing time, but treat every game as a one-off final.
“Three cup finals, three league games. We want to finish as high as we can in the league and of course we want to win every cup final we’re in. But we can’t try and overthink and plan too far ahead. We’ve just got to plan for the next game.
“I’ve already been having discussions with the chairman and secretary at the club about planning for next year. We’re already talking about how we want to shape up. We need to be on the front foot.
“If we add a few players to the current squad and give us better numbers and better quality, I think our aim has to be to go and win the league. We’ve got a good reputation in this league, but we’ve not really finished strongly enough to get over that finish line.
“I’d like to do that next year. Since 2017 has turned, I think we’ve played like we can compete for a title. Unfortunately, the start of the year probably has been our downfall.
“We are already planning on what type of profile we want to bring in – not just the type of player but the type of person to make us better.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Avilla Bergin (Charlton Athletic)
Her previous club, Tottenham Hotspur, are edging the title race this season, but Spurs’ loss is certainly Charlton’s gain as the Northern Ireland international enjoys a marvellous first season in south-east London.
She has played virtually every game but looked as fresh as a daisy as she tore into the Portsmouth defence in the first half, creating the first two goals in an impressive display of selflessness, full of pace and flair.
Emily Paines stood between Charlton and a thrashing. She made a series of saves – some routine, some spectacular – to keep Charlton’s lethal strike force at bay for most of the game. She’s one of three young goalkeepers on Portsmouth’s books, and with Michelle Beazley expected to return to the club next season, that position is not likely to be one of their biggest problems.
Sammy Quayle was excellent for Portsmouth, particularly in the first half, where her willingness to chase every cause ensured Charlton’s classy defence was made to work for their clean sheet. She faded a little after the break but could have done with a little more support.
Eilidh Currie also acquitted herself well against Charlton’s twin goal queens, although she did not always get the better of them. And Ellie Kirby‘s interventions saved the team on several occasions.
Kit Graham proved what an asset she is to Charlton, not just for her goal-scoring – she has 17 in 16 league games – but for her superb link-up play. Her first touch is something that sets her apart from many of her contemporaries in the Premier League.
Captain Kim Dixson also played an invaluable role, her chasing and harrying constantly putting Portsmouth on the back foot, and her passing creating chance after chance for the strikers. And when they were being thwarted by Paines, she showed them how it should be done.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 Charlton always looked comfortable without ever threatening to run away with the game.