Ladies: Portsmouth 0-2 Watford
It was a winning opening to the campaign for Watford FC Ladies as the Golden Girls secured a 2-0 victory away at Portsmouth.
Helen Ward got the Hornets’ first goal of the 2019/20 season in the 15th minute and it wasn’t long before she got her second, doubling the advantage in first half stoppage time.
It took a while to get the first clean sheet last season, but that wouldn’t be the case this time around. Despite being forced into a defensive re-shuffle midway through the game, Watford looked solid throughout and held on to the two-goal lead and the three points.
There were two new signings named in Armand Kavaja’s starting XI. Nina Wilson took her place between the sticks, while Megan Chandler also featured for the first time in the heart of midfield.
The line-up to begin the game still had a familiar look to it, with eight of the team having featured in last season’s final fixture against Plymouth.
An injury had ruled Emily Hill out towards the end of last campaign, but she was back involved at Portsmouth and almost opened the scoring after just five minutes, her header coming back off the cross-bar.
Watford had started the game well and had another opening just before the quarter-of-an-hour mark. Andrea Carid’s initial touch set up the opportunity, but her shot went narrowly over the bar.
It wasn’t much longer until the Golden Girls made the breakthrough. Ward found space down the right-hand side and then calmly placed her shot beyond the reach of Portsmouth keeper Hannah Haughton, and into the bottom left corner.
The hosts had a great chance to level the scores when a long ball from the back found Katie James. Faced with just Wilson to beat, she went for accuracy, but her strike went just past the post.
Towards the end of the half, chances were coming on a much more frequent basis for Watford. Jennifer Kikomeko’s attempt took a deflection and was well saved at her near post by Haughton, while Ward pounced on a loose pass across the back but couldn’t quite get enough contact on it.
The captain was looking increasingly dangerous, she looked to have been played through by Carid, but was flagged offside in what was an incredibly tight decision.
She soon got her chance for a second and took it with aplomb. This time Ward found the other corner of the goal, leaving Haughton with no chance, and ensuring Watford would be two to the good at the break.
Just prior to that stoppage time goal, Elle Richards went off injured, forcing a change to the side. This meant Emma Beckett coming on for her third debut with the club, as she played in a less familiar centre-back position.
The first chance of the second half fell to Portsmouth’s Laura Ingram in the box, but Wilson managed to deal with her effort.
After scoring two in the first half, Ward then almost turned provider, as she held the ball up and eventually set up Leanne Bell, who shot over from what was a difficult chance.
Just after the hour mark, Haughton made arguably her best save of the game as she got across quickly and denied Carid from close range.
Even with the enforced change, Watford were looking incredibly secure defensively. Beckett showed great composure to win the ball with a sliding tackle and then play it back to Wilson, while Hill’s positioning was spot on as she stopped Jade Widdows from picking out her teammate at the back post.
With the match entering the closing stages, the Hornets almost sealed the deal with what would have been a stunning goal. Beckett’s long pass picked out fellow debutant Ocean Rolandsen down the left, she smartly played it inside to Ward, who manoeuvred the ball into a good position and then chipped an effort that beat Haughton, but which came back off the bar.
It wasn’t to be an easy end to the game though as Portsmouth went close on a couple of occasions. Tamsin de Bunsen’s strike went wide from the edge of the box, while Jade Bradley went closer with a shot that hit the post.
Pompey almost managed to get a consolation in the final moments of the game. Widdows’ header looked destined for the net, but Wilson made a superb stop to keep the clean sheet intact, getting down low to her right to keep it out.
A good performance and three points to begin the season for Watford. The two teams will meet again this upcoming Sunday, as they face off in the Determining Round of the FA WNL Cup.
GOLDEN GIRLS: Wilson, Kettle, Hill, Richards (Beckett, 45), Johnson, Kikomeko, Chandler, Bell (Rolandsen, 67), Carid (Scanlon, 72), Ward (C), Fatuga-Dada
Goals: Ward (15, 45+1)
POMPEY: Haughton, Tonks, Rowe (C), Ingram, Widdows, James, Bath (de Bunsen, 53), Younger (True, 68), Lee-Stewart, Bridge (Bradley, 53), Currie