By Chris Smith
A remarkable ending to a nine-goal thriller saw Watford FC Ladies take all three points against Portsmouth FC Women in the most dramatic fashion.
The Golden Girls looked comfortable on the hour mark, as two goals from Helen Ward, a strike from Leanne Bell and an own goal had them 4-1 up.
Portsmouth pulled it back to 4-3 and then had seemingly secured an unlikely point with a stoppage time equaliser from Katie James.
Somehow, Watford managed to respond to the set-back. In difficult circumstances, a superb team move was put together as Ward got her hat-trick, and more importantly, a sensational late winner.
With an impressive performance last time out against Manchester City Women, Armand Kavaja kept faith in the same starting-XI from that game.
There was one new face on the bench though, as new signing Jennifer Kikomeko was included in the matchday squad for the first time.
With the pitch at Kings Langley unplayable, the game was moved to the Hertfordshire FA County Ground in Letchworth.
Watford began slowly in the new surroundings, with Portsmouth having the better of the opening 20 minutes. Weronika Baranowska held a stinging effort from James, while Rebekah Tonks should have done better when unmarked at the back post.
While those chances weren’t taken, Watford were clinical when they eventually created something. Ward played a lovely pass to Adekite Fatuga-Dada, she returned the favour and the captain finished high into the net to open the scoring.
That lead would soon become two although there was a slight element of fortune to it. It was good work from Bell as she chased a through ball down and got there first, but, as she tried to round Hannah Haughton, the keeper got a foot to it and it then hit Danielle Rowe and went into the net.
With half-time approaching, the Golden Girls were beginning to look more and more dangerous. Danielle Scanlon, Bell and Andrea Carid all had openings, while Haughton had to be alert to get there before Fatuga-Dada.
Pompey were also starting to look more of a threat going forward again. Baranowska made a good stop to deny Rowe and then made a fantastic double save to stop Rebecca Bath one-on-one.
The timing of the saves looked to be impeccable, but Portsmouth did manage to find a way to get one back before the interval. Shannon Albuery took advantage of a defensive mistake and slotted into the bottom corner to finally beat Baranowska.
It would have been expected for there to be disappointment at conceding just before the break, but the Hornets’ response at the beginning of the second half was fantastic.
The two-goal lead was restored inside the first minute. Kat Huggins played the ball forward to Ward and she showed her class by curling an effort into the corner for her second of the afternoon.
Only a few minutes later it was 4-1 and this time the skipper turned provider, playing a perfect ball across goal and Bell was in the right place, finishing from close range.
The opening fifteen minutes of the second 45 was all Watford and it could have been even more. Amelia Southgate did well to get across quickly and deny Ward a chance at her hat-trick, while Fatuga-Dada had the ball in the net, however the flag was raised.
To their credit, Portsmouth responded in fine fashion just after the hour mark. Rachel Panting scored from the penalty spot and then a good finish from Tonks got the game to within one.
Kikomeko was introduced from the bench and almost had an impact seconds later, setting up fellow substitute Katie O’Leary who hammered a shot against the post.
With Portsmouth committing more players forward, the end-to-end action continued. Albuery could have got the tying goal but was stopped by Baranowska. Down the other end, Haughton made herself big to deny Ward one-on-one.
In the first minute of stoppage time, the away side found an equaliser. The ball in seemed harmless but James managed to get there and got a touch on it to direct it past Baranowska.
It would have been understandable for heads to have dropped, they didn’t. Watford came up with arguably one of the best team goals of the season to somehow get the vital fifth goal.
Fatuga-Dada’s turn bamboozled the opposition defender, she then played a one-two with Alysha Stojko-Down and after getting the ball back, unselfishly squared it across for Ward to tap in the winning goal.
It was an unbelievable ending to an astounding game that will not be forgotten about in a hurry.
GOLDEN GIRLS | Baranowska, Hallsworth, Kettle, Hill, Huggins, Stojko-Down, Scanlon (Edwards 90+1), Carid (O’Leary, 55), Fatuga-Dada, Bell (Kikomeko, 69), Ward ©
Goals | Ward (21, 46, 90+3), Rowe OG (27), Bell (48)
POMPEY | Haughton, Kirby (Perkins 85), Southgate ©, Tonks, Currie, Rowe, Bradley, James, Bath, Panting, Albuery
Goals | Albuery (44), Panting (62 – PEN), Tonks (65), James (90+1)