Lewes 1 Southampton 2

Sunday 18th April 2021 – Vitality Women’s FA Cup – The Dripping Pan, Lewes

Ah…the magic of the FA Cup. When is a shock not a shock in football? I’d imagine unless you had some interest/knowledge of the Women’s game you would have said Southampton’s win at The Dripping Pan today in the Fourth Round of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup was a shock? After all, Southampton are a Premier League club on the Men’s side, with investment levels potentially much higher than the means of Lewes. But the Saints play in the fourth tier of Women’s Football, two steps lower than Lewes and in most footballing situations, that would be considered a shock in the cup.

But let’s take a deeper look at this. Southampton FC are putting significant resources behind their Women’s side – why would they? Their Men’s and Women’s sides share the same excellent training and coaching facilities and had it not been for Covid-19 decimating the game below the Elite level in the past two seasons, could have arguably been playing at the same level as Lewes.

Southampton’s win at a sunny Dripping Pan came thanks to two superb strikes, one in each half, whilst the Rooks will rue a missed penalty that would have put them into a first half lead. The visitors got men behind the ball, pressed and closed down the Rooks at every opportunity which meant chances in the first have were at a premium. Whilst the home side had the lion’s share of the ball, they couldn’t get it behind the Southampton centre-backs.

It could have been all so different when Ini Umotong was hauled down when clear through on goal. Law 12 states that if no attempt was made to play the ball when denying a goal scoring opportunity, the offending player should be dismissed. The offence was a clear pull back as the Lewes centre-forward went to shoot – the referee gave the spot kick but just a yellow card. However, that didn’t impact the spot-kick itself which was beaten away by the Southampton keeper.

The visitors took the lead after a free-kick was only partially cleared and Freeland’s volley-hook looped over Saunders in the Lewes goal, despite her getting a hand to it. The Southampton bench (still called that despite being socially distanced in the Main Stand) celebrated wildly, a strange sound in a stadium with just a handful of volunteers inside.

Lewes levelled on the hour as Umotong was on hand to head home after a ball had been flicked on from a corner and for the first time in the game looked like they would control it. The impressive Ashworth-Clifford saw an effort bounce off the bar with fifteen minutes to go, whilst Mollie Rouse continued to probe, looking to get Umotong one on one with the keeper.

With just under ten minutes to go the ball was set up for Southampton’s Panting well over 30 yards out and her strike sailed over Saunders head into the net. It was a superb, controlled strike that was worthy to win any game, which is exactly what it did.

This was Southampton’s sixth game in the competition, to Lewes’s first. Their frustration at having not been able to train, let alone play until recently despite being part of an “Elite” club has been tough on them. Their reward for the win today? £2,000 and a trip to Birmingham City in Round Five. On the same afternoon that their Men’s side would earn at least £450,000 from their Semi-Final against Leicester.

One day it will be our year. One day we will be the ones creating the magic and shocking someone else. But for now we have to lick our wounds and wish the visitors all the best of luck for the next round.

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