CTLFC 3-3p Southampton Women, FA Cup

30th November 2021

Report by Jamie Cameron

Cheltenham Town Ladies were knocked out of the FA Cup in cruel fashion after they were beaten 6-5 on penalties by Southampton Women’s following a pulsating 3-3 draw.

After Kiera Heslam had given the visitors the lead, Courtney Jones equalised for the Robins before Lacy-Jai Liggett (pictured) capitalised on an error to make it 2-1 to Cheltenham at half-time.

Sian Wylie scored against Town for the third time this season to level up at 2-2, and that was how it stayed at 90 minutes.

Liggett’s second gave the Robins a 3-2 lead, but Rachel Okoro equalised less than two minutes later to take it to penalties, where Southampton narrowly prevailed to reach the Third Round.

Tom Davies made a solitary change from the 6-0 win over Downend Flyers, with Sammy Hallsworth replacing Ellie Walecki.

It was Southampton, who sit above Cheltenham on goal difference alone in the league, who made the better start, and Heslam opened the scoring on 13 minutes with an impressive 20-yard free-kick.

They had the ball in the net again soon after, but it was disallowed for offside, before Cheltenham began to get a foothold in the contest as Jade Grove headed wide.

Just after the half-hour mark, Courtney Jones stabbed home for her first goal for the club after Ellie Parker failed to punch a corner fully clear.

The visitors had another strike ruled out on 40 minutes, before Liggett found the empty net after Parker came out to give Cheltenham the advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Rachel Okoro came close to equalising after the break, and Wylie finished clinically a few minutes later to get her side back on level terms.

Aimee Watson made a couple of excellent saves to deny Southampton a winner and help take the game to extra time.

On 101 minutes, Cheltenham took the lead when Liggett continued her excellent form, volleying home from Amy Wathan’s lobbed ball.

However, Okoro levelled almost immediately afterwards when she finished over Watson.

3-3 was how it stayed, so the game was to be decided by a penalty shoot-out in the increasingly heavy snow.

The first seven penalties were all scored with varying degrees of composure, before Abby Bevan’s attempt was saved to allow Southampton the chance to win.

However, Watson continued her outstanding performance with a save to stop Hannah Samuel’s effort, and Jones converted to take it to sudden death.

After Okoro scored, Georgie-Marie Barbour-Gresham made it 5-5 and the visitors went ahead once more at 6-5.

Wathan then missed to end the shoot-out and seal Southampton’s progression.

Cheltenham fell just short of a club record-equalling run, but it was an excellent performance against a side that they may be battling with for the league title this season.

After the game, Davies said: “There was only one way that game was going to go and it was penalties. We were matched in 90 minutes and matched in extra time, so it was one of those pound-for-pound matches with two fantastic teams going at it.

“From a neutral point of view, what a phenomenal game to go and watch. From a manager’s point of view, I think both of us had to sit down for a bit afterwards and calm the heartrate a bit!”

The game was played in difficult conditions, but Davies was delighted with how the Robins conducted themselves. He said: “The way the players adapted to the conditions shows the experience of the group with how we’ve reacted to every situation.

“No matter what happens before them, penalties are a lottery. It’s fantastic to win them when you do and we have done before. It’s horrible to lose them but we’ve played phenomenally well and played our part in a fantastic game.”

Cheltenham: Watson, Hallsworth, Butler, Colley (Rogers 87), Jones, Haynes, Criddle, Liggett (Barbour-Gresham 115), Bevan, Grove (Bowden 95), Wathan.
Subs not used: Hayward, Walecki.

Image courtesy of Jon Harris

For the digital match programme for this game, click here.

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