WOMEN'S TEAM | Addicks suffer spot-kick agony in League Cup final

David Brenchley reports

The Charlton women’s team suffered the agony of a defeat on penalties to Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Women’s Premier League Cup final at the Lamex Stadium on Sunday.

It had been an epic four-match series between the two sides thus far, with two wins and one piece of silverware apiece showing they were extremely closely matched. And that’s how it proved throughout in match five, with a hard-fought, tight goalless 120 minutes that set up a grandstand finish.

The first chance wasn’t long in coming but fell to Spurs when Lucia Leon lashed an effort towards goal, but Grace Coombs was well-positioned to block on the line and Alex Baker collected the rebound.

The Addicks hit straight back, with Kit Graham’s quick feet causing problems for the Tottenham defence. The striker was brought down inches outside the penalty area and thundered the resulting free-kick on goal that Wayne could only push back into the danger area. A number of Charlton players followed up but Spurs managed to scramble the ball  to safety.

Graham then slid in a delightful ball to Bergin, who saw her shot parried wide by Wayne. Up the other end, Baker could only punch a Jenna Schillaci free-kick to the edge of the area, but was glad to see Ronnell Humes’ lobbed effort go well off target.

The always dangerous Bianca Baptiste was quieter on the day and fairly ineffective, though she did manage to get away a few early sighters, shooting wide twice after cutting in from the left flank.

Charlton, again, hit back, with a nice licked touch from Nicole Pepper finding Bergin. The Northern Ireland international in turn found Graham, but Wayne got the slightest of toes to it and deflected it wide.

It was a pulsating game but, for once, devoid of actual goals – Spurs tried a few more times before the break but Baptiste and Sophie McClean both wasted long-range efforts. The last shot of the game, this time in the form of a Wendy Martin header, once again found Coombs in the right place at the right time and the centre back headed off the line.

Whilst most spectators would have been surprised at the scoreline, there were no surprises the two closely matched sides went in level at the break. And Baker had to be at her very best to keep the scoreline that way five minutes into the second period when Humes met a cross from the left well only to see her goalbound effort brilliantly saved at point-blank range for a corner.

The set piece came over and Charlton yet again had to dig in deep defensively to hack clear before they asked a few questions of their own as the game approached the hour mark.

A swift counter attack by Graham, surging forward on the right, ended in an almost inch-perfect cross-field pass for skipper Kim Dixson, who was drifting into contention, but Spurs centre half Renee Hector was alert to cut out the danger. Dixson then returned the favour, swinging in a dangerous free kick. Graham found herself unmarked on the penalty spot but could only head straight into the arms of Wayne.

More crosses that deserved more of an end product came and went for both sides, with a Leon centre just evading both Maya Vio and Baptiste at the far post; while substitute Charlotte Lee headed a Bergin cross straight at Wayne.

It was the North Londoners who finished the 90 minutes with their tails up, and Coombs was yet again to thank when she diverted a Baptiste cross away from the onrushing Spurs attackers. There was a touch of fortune also to thank, as her intervention took the ball onto the outside of the post and wide – but that luck was deserving for the Addicks.

Normal time ended with chances falling to Baptiste, McClean, Martin and Hector, but neither troubled Baker and we marched into extra time – as the previous two renewals of the FAWPL Cup had.

With both sides tiring, the amount of chances dropped in the extra half an hour, but it was no less an enthralling encounter, with Baptiste having the one real clear-cut effort of the first period but her shot cannoned back off the crossbar and Charlton yet again cleared.

After the short break, Leon had a guilt-edged chance after nicking the ball off Dixson deep in Charlton territory but shot straight at Baker. The stopper was straight back to work, diverting a potentially dangerous cross from Baptiste that looked to have Martin’s name on it.

After a long stoppage as Leon received treatment bang on 120 minutes, there was still time for one more chance for each side – both through free kicks. But Dixson’s set piece was cleared by the Tottenham defence, and Hector’s similar set piuece was blocked wide and the referee blew her whistle, taking the clash to penalties.

After Hector had converted the first spot kick, Dixson saw her penalty saved, giving Spurs an early advantage. After McClean and Southgate had both scored the next two, Martin seemed almost too confident and her one-step run up yielded a weak penalty straight down the middle that Baker stood up to and kept out. After Graham netted her kick, we were back to level pegging at 2-2.

Substitutes Eartha Pond and Katie O’Leary then scored for Spurs and Lee for Charlton, leaving the final penalty to Coombs. Unfortunately for the defender, Wayne saved, giving Spurs the win.

And it was tough on Coombs because, had it not been for her numerous clearances off the line and commanding performance at the heart of Charlton’s defence, the tie probably would have got nowhere near the lottery of penalties.

Charlton: Baker, Flack (Nash 107), Dixson, Sullivan, Coombs, Clifford, Bergin, Pepper (Simmons 66), Graham, Monaghan (Lee 66), Southgate.

Subs (not used): Dunne, Cooper.

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