David Brenchley reports
Two late, extra-time strikes from Stef Simmons set up the Charlton women’s team’s third final appearance of the season after they overcame Blackburn Rovers 4-3 in the FA Women’s Premier League (FAWPL) Cup semi final at Sporting Club Thamesmead on Sunday.
All three of those finals will be against Tottenham Hotspur, who dispatched Cardiff in the other semi, with the FAWPL Cup final taking place on Sunday 7 May at a venue to be confirmed.
An end-to-end cup tie, it looked to be confortable for Charlton at one point, two goals up with a penalty but, after Gemma Shepherd missed that spot kick, Blackburn fought back to take the game into extra time.
Head coach Riteesh Mishra made just one change to the team that won convincingly at QPR last week with Charlotte Lee replacing cup-tied Katie Bottom.
Charlton created the first real chance as an Avilla Bergin corner caught on the wind forcing Rovers keeper Danielle Hill to make a smart claim from under her crossbar.
The heavens opened and the driving rain made it difficult for the players and keeper Hill picked up a yellow card for one comment too many to the referee.
A quick break from the visitors saw a cross from Danielle Whitham hit the Addicks’ crossbar before the ball was cleared to safety.
With 36 minutes gone Kit Graham broke the deadlock after a great turn gave her the space to fire a 25-yard strike into the top corner.
And it was Graham’s goal that separated the two teams at the break after an evenly contested first half. She then came within inches of adding a second early in the second half when her free-kick sizzled narrowly past the far post.
A torrential hail storm then followed, amidst which Shepherd swept home Bergin’s cross after 49 minutes to put the Addicks two up.
With almost an hour gone Charlton had the chance of a third as Bergin was sent tumbling by keeper Hill, who was lucky not to pick up a second yellow card. Shepherd wasted the opportunity putting her penalty wide of the goal.
Hill was soon in action again saving a low long range drive from Graham before Rovers began to force their way back into the game and Charlton keeper Alex Baker did well to hold a powerful 35-yard strike before a free-kick from Ellie Stewart flew narrowly wide.
On 75 minutes striker Saffron Jordan put the visitors back in the tie glancing home a right-wing cross.
Rovers then wasted two glorious chances to level, skipper Lynda Shepherd missing the target with a free header before another effort was blasted over the bar.
With five minutes to go the visitors’ pressure finally paid off as Baker brought down Jordan and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Shepherd made no mistake from the spot kick to level the tie 2-2.
Graham almost nicked it for the Addicks deep into injury time but her powerful goalbound effort was blocked.
By now Rovers, having used all their substitutes, faced playing extra time with 10 players after one limped off. Spurred on by this Charlton pushed forward and Bergin forced Hill into a fine fingertip save.
Charlton’s Shepherd pulled the ball back to substitute Simmons who saw her looping effort drift inches over the upright. The first-half of extra time finished with Rovers’ Shepherd forcing Baker to make a superb point blank save.
As both teams slugged it out in the driving rain, all looked set for a penalty shoot out, when, with six minutes left Simmons, close to the touch line, sent a 35-yard effort flying into the top far corner of the goal to put Charlton ahead again.
Just four minutes later Graham went on a mazy run bringing two fine saves from Hill before setting up Simmons to fire home her second and Charlton’s fourth.
The game was far from over as Jordan claimed her second to force a nail biting last few minutes for the home fans. Rovers frustration was completed in the dying seconds as Stewart was shown a second yellow card for jumping up at a Charlton throw in.
Charlton: Baker, Southgate, Flack, Coombs, Sullivan, Dixson, Clifford (Monaghan 94), Lee (Simmons 76), Shepherd (Nash 106), Graham. Subs (not used): Dunne, Okeowo.
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