Lewes 1 (Carter 87)
Familiarity may breed contempt, but it can also breed football stalemates – and that was the perhaps inevitable outcome at the Dripping Pan today as a host of former team-mates marked each other out of a disappointingly scrappy game.
Rebecca Carter’s late winner pinched the points for the home side in a game in which they were perhaps the more threatening but still well below what their burgeoning squad of top-class talent are capable of.
It was tough for Portsmouth to take, having lost by a similar score last week against Charlton, to a stoppage-time goal.
But in truth, while they attacked in greater numbers than Lewes for much of the match, they rarely troubled Leah Samain in the home goal, while Lewes had the luxury of debutant Sarah Kempson missing a penalty against her former club.
The proximity of the South’s women’s sides – and Brighton’s elevation to the Super League, which has spawned a search for players with experience at the very top – meant there were at least half a dozen former Brighton players on the two sides, two of whom were part of the club’s Premier League-winning squad two seasons ago.
Added to the intriguing mix were a number of reunions between Portsmouth and Lewes players: Kempson was making her full Lewes debut against her old side, while team-mate Leeta Rutherford also featured, a year after making her own Lewes bow against her former Portsmouth side that then featured Kempson.
On the opposite side, Charley Boswell, surprisingly let go by Brighton last month, made her second Portsmouth debut against her former Sussex rivals a year after making her first start for the club against the same opponents while on loan from Brighton.
And behind her in goal was Michelle Beazley, who spent a number of years at the Dripping Pan before switching to Portsmouth.
If ever there was a match where individuals would know the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents, this was it. And with several more former title-winning players – including Kirsty Barton, Faye Baker, Ini Umotong and Lucy Quinn – watching from the stands, this was a game where the promise far exceeded the product, with the talent on show largely cancelling each other out.
Not that that will worry Lewes manager John Donoghue, who presided over a second successive 1-0 victory that lifts his team into fifth place, within touching distance of all but Charlton Athletic at this early stage of the season.
For his opposite number, Jay Sadler, it was a second successive 1-0 defeat, and while his new squad, like Donoghue’s, are still getting to know each other, the lack of reward for a generally off-key performance left him with little in the way of consolation ahead of Wednesday’s local derby against Chichester City – when that old feeling of familiarity is again likely to surface.
The away side won the game’s first corner, which was half-cleared, as far as Natasha Stephens, whose lobbed volley flew straight to Samain.
On five minutes, Amy Taylor – one of the ex-Brighton contingent – did brilliantly to hook over a cross from the right, but it was easily held by former Lewes goalkeeper Michelle Beazley.
With neither side able to keep the ball for more than a few seconds, Lewes were handed a perfect opportunity to settle nerves when they were awarded a penalty in the seventh minute.
Boswell handled Danni Lane’s cross on the edge of the Portsmouth area and referee Paul Rowe ruled that it was inside the box, giving Kempson – normally lethal from dead-ball situations – an opportunity to mark her first Lewes start with a goal against her former club.
But the midfielder screwed her rather casual kick well wide, granting her old team-mates an early reprieve.
— Barry Haffenden (@BazTheHaff) September 17, 2017
Video courtesy of Barry Haffenden @BazTheHaff
Lewes soon had an opportunity to put the miss behind them, with Taylor heavily involved.
Firstly, on 11 minutes, she sent Kempson away, but she was foiled by a well-timed tackle from Boswell. Then, as Beazley took her time over a clearance, she stole possession before hitting the side-netting from an acute angle.
Portsmouth responded with Boswell making a trademark run down the right wing and sending over an inviting cross that was just too high for Katie James, and Samantha Quayle’s effort on goal was blocked.
But the game still lacked that killer pass, that penetrating run that would set it alight.
With 17 minutes gone, Quayle’s apparent attempted cross landed on the roof of the Lewes net, but Samain did not seem unduly threatened.
And moments later, Pompey were grateful for Eilidh Currie’s masterful intervention when, after being robbed by Lane, she won the ball back with a magnificent tackle as the wing-back was about to cross.
Lewes won their first corner on 20 minutes, and McIntyre’s cross from the left struck the near post and rebounded back to her, and she was penalised as she kicked it without another player having touched the ball in the meantime.
The visitors sensed an opportunity when they were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out, but Currie struck her kick straight into the midriff of Taylor, who took but a moment to recover.
Soon the Lewes centre-forward was back trying to cause pain at the other end of the pitch, outsprinting Amelia Southgate before rifling a vicious shot just over the bar.
On 28 minutes Taylor and Rebecca Carter combined well, but as Carter strode into the Portsmouth box, Currie again timed her tackle to perfection to deny a shot on goal.
Portsmouth went so close to taking the lead in the 38th minute when Samain somehow reached Gemma Hillier’s superb 25-yard effort and tipped it with one hand over the bar.
Another opportunity arose from Stephens’ corner, but Quayle, at the far post, headed into the side-netting.
Boswell was proving a valuable outlet down the right for Portsmouth, but Taylor was even more menacing for Lewes through the middle, and it was fitting that she should be involved in the last meaningful action of the first half, winning a 50-50 challenge and sending Carter away down the right.
Although the striker managed to get in her cross, Southgate was first to the ball and cleared for Portsmouth.
Half-time: Lewes 0-0 Portsmouth
Both managers will have had plenty to say at half-time as each sought that bit of magic that would lift the game.
But there were no changes of personnel at half-time as both sides sensed an opportunity for three points.
Portsmouth won the first corner of the half on 49 minutes, but Stephens’ kick was cleared. Moments later they had another when Quayle turned brilliantly, but Tammy Waine was equal to the challenge and blocked the striker’s effort.
Again, the resultant corner came to nothing.
In the 51st minute Kempson, who had struggled to make her mark, was robbed in midfield and Quayle headed for the Lewes penalty area. But Lane came to the rescue with a robust challenge.
Three minutes later Lewes threatened again. Beazley punched out Lane’s cross, but only as far as Carter, who miscued her volley, which screwed horribly out towards the wing.
Lewes were enjoying a rare spell of sustained pressure in a game where the teams were generally taking it in turns to attack. And when Portsmouth again struggled to clear, Lane tried her luck from 25 yards, but her shot was well over.
Shannon Sievwright had a similar effort from nearer 35 yards on 58 minutes, but her shot had much the same result.
Sadler took the opportunity to introduce the first of his substitutes while the ball was being retrieved, bringing on Rachel Panting for James, and her direct running from the right flank had an instant impact, her cross almost immediately finding Quayle in acres of space, but she was unable to find the target.
Lewes’s turn, and Taylor combined well with the lively Carter, and when the latter laid the ball back to her, she hit her effort high and wide.
On 62 minutes, Kempson sent over only Lewes’s second corner, which was met by Darcey James, but the defender’s downward header bounced up into Beazley’s hands.
The home side were beginning to turn the screw, pressing higher up the pitch and forcing Portsmouth to defend deep, trapped in their defensive quarter.
Lewes won another corner on 66 minutes, but Kempson’s disappointing day continued as she hit her kick straight into the side-netting.
Donoghue sent on Claire Johnson for the impressive Taylor as he tweaked the formation, with Avilla Bergin, who had looked lost out on the right, beginning to squeeze up closer to Carter.
A few minutes later, Molly Clark replaced her former Chichester City team-mate Barron as Portsmouth continued their search for that piece of magic that might open up the game.
Bergin chased after a long through-ball, but was beaten to it by Beazley, who came well out of her goal to control and then clear to a team-mate.
On 77 minutes another Stephens corner caused momentary panic in the Lewes defence, but again the danger was eventually cleared.
Waine had been the model of calm assuredness at the back for Lewes, but no longer occupied by the lively and tenacious Taylor, she conjured up a piece of magic of her own, feinting one way before turning the other, while facing her own goal, before sending a pass up the touchline.
The increasingly threatening Panting tried her luck from distance after creating some room for herself, but like most of the efforts before hers, it sailed over.
On 79 minutes, Kelly Newton replaced Kempson, and moments later her side should have won it.
Her long-standing midfield partner, McIntyre, delivered a superb cross from the left, which Bergin headed over from all of three yards.
Lewes introduced their final substitute in the 81st minute, Rebecca Thompson replacing Rachel Palmer, and slotting in on the left of the back three, while McIntyre was moving farther and farther forward.
They were looking the more likely to score – though in all honesty, not that likely – and Johnson’s high cross from the right, taken comfortably by Beazley with no attacking player within six yards of her, was typical.
As was the Portsmouth response: an excellent break by the increasingly impressive Panting, who found Stephens in the box, but her first-time effort, while apparently off balance proved easy meat for the under-worked Samain.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, came that moment of magic that the game had been crying out for. Thompson collected the ball from Samain and showed a degree of composure rarely matched in the previous 87 minutes, eventually finding Lane on the left touchline, near the halfway line.
The wing-back produced one of her trademark – but sadly all-too-rare in this match – surging runs down the left, beating Boswell, of all people, for pace and cutting into the box before laying the ball back intelligently for the on-rushing Carter, who appeared to get the decisive touch amid a bundle of Portsmouth boots.
Perfect timing for Lewes; a second heartbreaking end to a close game in a row for Portsmouth.
A year ago these two sides enjoyed two close-fought battles for mid-table supremacy, with Pompey coming out on top in both games but struggling later in the season and finishing well short of their opponents in the final Premier League Southern table.
Today the pair clashed again, with much greater expectation in both camps. Both have enjoyed decent starts to the season, and both are now looking up the table rather than over their shoulders after substantial investment in the close season.
But this time it was Lewes who took the points, possibly just about shading a contest that in all frankness probably did not deserve a winner.
As much as Donoghue will know the win does little more at this stage of the season than increase the momentum after their win over Coventry United and creditable draw against C&K Basildon, his opposite number will know that a second narrow defeat in a row does not mean his side is suddenly engaged in a fight to stay clear of the bottom.
But if there were any lessons to be drawn from the match, it was probably that the Sussex side’s strength in depth – which is likely to be increased still further this week – will almost certainly take them closer to the top than bottom, come next May.
John Donoghue (Lewes): “We’re able to say playing football isn’t going to cost you any more”
“It was bitty. We knew their key players; they knew our key players, and if people do their jobs and look after them and stop them, it doesn’t necessarily have a real flow to the game.
“Both teams still tried to play a bit of football, though. It wasn’t just banged forward. I was pleased with that side of things – you’re always pleased with a nil (conceded). I think Leah [Samain] tipped one over in the first half, and that probably was it.
“When you have players that can do something a little bit different, and you have more of them on the pitch, then you’re hoping that one of them will at some point do something. It took until 88, 89 minutes for Danni to get one-on-one down the side.
“She is so quick. Great decision to drive into the box and commit players near post, and Chewy [Carter] has made the box and has got her goal, which was nice.
“It’s those sort of moments.
“The strength now is that you look on the bench and say any of these could be starting. You look in the development squad and there are two or three in there that could be starting.
“You hope that inspires the players to keep stepping up and keep pushing – hopefully, not make them anxious about it but have a competitive spirit about it.
“Kelly [Newton] was superb. She was a big part of why we won against Coventry. Her defensive skills in midfield and making sure the team got into the right shape helped us to win that game.
“[Regular goalkeeper Lauren Dolbear] was away on holiday… during the season, so we brought Leah [Samain] in to play and she’s done fantastically well. She didn’t concede last week. She didn’t concede this week.
“So Lauren has played the last couple of weeks for the development squad because she needs the games to get herself back into contention. She’s trained really well.
“If you are performing in something, why would anyone remove you – unless you are going to bring someone in who you think is going to add value.
“I’m not one for saying I’m not going to change a winning team. That’s a bit foolish at times because you might have to change things for your next opponent. So I’m not going to say it’s not going to change.
“But what I will say is there is a reason why she’s stayed in, because she performed well.
“[The extra investment in Lewes’s women’s team] enables you to have a bigger umbrella to try to identify [potential] players [to bring] in. You’re trying to get players in who live quite a distance away and it’s costing them a fortune to come and play.
“It’s allowed us to spread our wings a little bit… and also to support the current players, who have been doing it for a number of years. We’re able to say playing football isn’t going to cost you money any more.”
Jay Sadler (Portsmouth): “It didn’t feel like a Portsmouth performance”
“It’s obviously disappointing and deflating. You never want to lose a game of football, especially in the manner in which we have over the last two games.
“It’s disappointing in that I don’t feel we’re showing the true Pompey over the last two games – that passion, that togetherness that we show off the pitch, and on it. It’s one of our core values.
“We’re still in a transition period, and we’re still learning. We’ve brought in 10 girls, and you can’t expect them to gel together [immediately]. But today I’m just disappointed with the way we performed – nowhere near the capabilities we can.
“I know that if we did, we could have come away with a different result.
“Against Cardiff, we started off well, we got on the ball and we played our football, and it was brilliant. And we took that momentum away to Coventry: got a goal and showed a lot of resilience and character.
“Today – and even the Charlton game – we never looked like conceding. Both games we looked solid. Unfortunately, it was two mistakes and we’ve put the ball in the back of our own net.
“Maybe on reflection, a draw would have been a fair result. I don’t think either team really created that many opportunities. But they got one at the end and they took it. That’s fair play to Lewes. You’ve got to give them credit.
“I think we gave Lewes too much respect today. Yes, we’re coming into their own back garden and it’s never going to be easy. But we didn’t see the intensity and the press, tempo on the ball. And I think we were a lijttle bit lackadaisical, a little bit lethargic. It didn’t feel like a Portsmouth performance.
“We’re a work in progress. We’re learning as a group. And against any team in this league you’ve got to learn quickly because this is a very good league – [there is] a lot of competition. And if you don’t learn quickly, you’ll get punished.
“There are elements of our game that we can be positive about but there are a lot of things we need to reflect on. We expected a reaction from last week and I don’t think we got one today.
“But if ever there’s a game you need to get up for and react… there’s a game against Chichester on Wednesday, and I want to see that passion, that togetherness and getting the ball down and playing our football, which we know we can do.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Eilidh Currie (Portsmouth, 8/10)
The young centre-back with a left foot that at once can be a wand or a hammer barely put a foot – either foot – wrong in a game strewn with errors. She was up against the outstanding Amy Taylor (7), but she matched her for physicality and generally for pace in what became one of the most fascinating confrontations of the match.
Close behind this pair were Lewes duo Tammy Waine (7) and Katie McIntyre (7), while Samantha Quayle (7) was a constant menace to the Lewes defence and Charley Boswell (7) put the questionable penalty award behind her to show more than a glimpse of the pace and skill she showed during her title-winning season at Brighton.
Praise, too, for Rebecca Carter (7) and Danni Lane (7), who kept the Portsmouth defence occupied, and for Shannon Sievwright (7), Gemma Hillier (7) and Rachel Panting (7), who all had their moments.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 Plenty of effort; some outstanding skill, but far too many errors