Gillingham 1-4 Portsmouth - We're waiting on other results now, says Gillingham boss Simon Ratcliffe

Thursday 23rd April 2015
Gillingham 1 – 4 Portsmouth
Location Maidstone Road Sports Ground, Bournville Avenue, Chatham, Kent ME4 6LR
Kickoff 26/04/2015 14:00

The FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division
Sunday 26th April 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Maidstone Road

GILLINGHAM manager Simon Ratcliffe says it’s an unpleasant feeling having to wait three weeks to find out whether the club will be relegated.

The Gills put in a spirited resilient first half performance against FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division leaders Portsmouth and led through Lauren Phillips’ 30-yard strike, which was the Kent side’s first shot of only two shots in the entire game.

But Portsmouth brought on 25-goal substitute Ini Umotong six minutes into the second half and the striker netted a hat-trick before strike partner Gemma-Louise Hillier headed home an injury-time fourth.

“I could not ask for anymore from the girls today,” said Ratcliffe, 48, who started his career on the books of Manchester United without playing a first team game before playing for Norwich City, Brentford and Gillingham.

“They worked their little socks off and on a different day the result might have been different.

“It was only towards the end where they got a little bit stronger than us physically but the girls’ played well today.”

Gillingham finished their 22-match campaign in the bottom three with 15 points but are looking over their shoulders as Copsewood (Coventry) have a couple games left to play.

The Kent side were without 22-goal striker Ashlee Hincks and Ellie Manning, who were both away on holiday.

Charlton Athletic did their neighbours a massive favour by beating the Coventry outfit 7-0 at Bayliss Avenue today.  Kit Graham scored twice to take her impressive goalscoring tally to 50 for the season.

Copsewood are just one point behind Gillingham with a worse goal-difference than Ratcliffe’s side and host fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur (10 May), before travelling to already relegated side, Keynsham Town (one win and two draws this season) on the final day of the season.

If Keynsham Town are beaten, then Gillingham will finish in the relegation zone.

Portsmouth, who were supported by a racous bunch of travelling fans, dominated possession during the early stages of the game as Gillingham parked the bus with a five-player backward line.

Portsmouth should have opened the scoring with 02:52 on the clock.

Hillier was released down the left and her left-footed angled drive rolled past keeper Courtney Shanley, but Bonnie Long showed desire to get back on the line and slice her clearance against the top of the left-hand post before Gillingham cleared their lines.

Ratcliffe said: “The crossbar was in our favour. We rode our luck a little bit in the first 20 minutes and then we got stronger and defended very well in the first half – and nicked the goal.”

It had a FA Cup First Round feeling to the game when a non-league side get their players behind the ball to soak up the pressure within the opening 20 minutes in the hope of not conceding against League opposition.

Sarah Kempson drilled her left-footed shot over the Gillingham crossbar from 25-yards, before Shanley came off her line to punch away Molly Clark’s free-kick from the left, before winger Lucy Quinn looped her right-footed shot wide from the edge of the box as the ball dropped down.

Gillingham were putting their bodies on the line and ensuring that dominant Portsmouth would not breach their sea of hardworking blue shirted players.

An example of this was when Gillingham skipper Lauren Williams blocked Kempson’s low drive for a corner.

Portsmouth first called Shanley into action at the halfway point.

Ellie Broomfield clipped a long diagonal into the Gillingham box to give her skipper Charley Wilson a sniff at goal but her right-footed drive from 22-yards forced Shanley to dive low to her left to save the ball beside her left post.

Portsmouth left-back Nadine Bazan advanced and was given time and space to deliver a deep cross but Quinn smashed her right-footed volley over the far post.

Portsmouth right-back Jessica Frampton then advanced and cracked a first time cross-come-shot over the top of the far post from 35-yards.

It was therefore a shock when Gillingham grabbed the lead with 30 minutes on the clock with their first attempt on goal.

In fact it was only the third time that the ball entered the Portsmouth penalty area, such was the leaders’ dominance.

Gillingham kept six players behind the ball when Emma Tune clipped a free-kick forward.  Phillips headed the ball on and Portsmouth cleared the ball back to her and the lone striker lashed her left-footed shot from 30-yards which sailed high over Sadie Blakely’s left shoulder into the top far corner.

It silenced the travelling contingent and Gillingham believed that they could pull off a shock win.

“It was a great strike, great strike, lovely goal,” said the Gillingham manager, who explained why he left so many players behind Tune for the free-kick.

“We deliberately played deeper today because we knew they would try to get the ball in behind us so we negated that and it worked.

“The flip side of that, you need to go forward to give the centre forward support and that was difficult but you need to take the chances when you get them, which was what she did in the first half.”

Portsmouth set-piece specialist Sievwright swung in her third corner of the game and Gillingham failed to clear and Hillier’s right-footed drive deflected just wide.

Wilson was released down the right and the Portsmouth attacker whipped in a cross towards the edge of the box where Hiller cut the ball back for Sievwright, whose left-footed drive from 20-yards deflected off Emma Michelmore for a corner.

The Gills went in at half-time with a 1-0 lead.

Shanley made a fine save in the opening three minutes of the second half when she dived low to her left to deny Hillier scoring after she was played in behind the Gillingham defence.

But Portsmouth brought on Umotong and the best player on the pitch turned the game in the Hampshire side’s favour.

Gillingham just couldn’t live with her.

Ratcliffe said: “She’s a good player. She’s also physically strong and I think one or two of our defenders possibly reacted negatively towards that and took a backward step where in the first half they defended very well and with strength.

“I think they were possibly intimidated by her, worried with her running in behind and her physical height and presence.”

Portsmouth inevitably equalised in the 57th minute.

Clark swung in a free-kick from the left and central defender Rutherford planted her free header towards goal, which was parried by Shanley and Umotong lashed the ball into the net from two-yards out.

“I question one or two of the free-kicks that were given against us, certainly the one that they scored from their first goal,” said Ratcliffe.

“I didn’t think it was a free-kick – who am I to argue with the referee?

“We didn’t deal with the first ball but I don’t think it was a free-kick in the first place!”

Wilson wriggled her way into the Gillingham box and her ball in from a tight angle was well held by Shanley at her near post.

The Gillingham keeper kept her side in the game with another smart save in the 62nd minute.

Umotong played swept a pass across to put Hillier in on goal but Shanley came off her line to make a fine block with her legs.

SAVES: Gillingham manager Simon Ratcliffe said his goalkeeper Courtney Shanley (above) played well despite their 4-1 defeat to leaders Portsmouth.
Photo: Gillingham Ladies FC

Ratcliffe said: “She’s played very well, particularly one in the second half when she got down low to her left.  That was a great save.

“We knew it would be a bit of a bombardment because they are physically strong and they do try to play in behind all the time.”

Gillingham’s second and last effort on target arrived in the 70th minute when keeper Blakely got down low at her near post as Tune’s inswinging free-kick from the left-flank may have crept into the bottom corner.

But Gillingham failed to create another chance after that speculative effort.

Portsmouth defender Clark swung in another free-kick from the left and Rutherford directed her brave header narrowly over the top of the near post, beating Shanley as she attempted to come off her line to punch the ball away.

But once Portsmouth took the lead in the 77th minute it was game over for Gillingham.

A mistake by Gillingham central defender Michelmore inside her half was latched onto by Hillier, who played in Umotong in behind the defence, who drilled her right-footed shot across Shanley to find the bottom far corner from sixteen-yards.

Ratcliffe said: “Inexperience! She knows she needs to win that ball and she didn’t!

“That’s how games change doesn’t it? Don’t concede the first one and you keep the score at 1-0 for longer and it becomes harder for them and they don’t play with much freedom.”

Gillingham coach Bill Long urged his players to “push up” for the final seven minutes but they were picked off by a very good Portsmouth side.

Portsmouth swiftly made it 3-1 after 84 minutes to kill off Gillingham’s survival hopes.

Clark swung in a corner from the left and Umotong planted her free header into the top left-hand corner from eight-yards.

It was a simple way to score her 28th goal of the season.

Ratcliffe said: “Again, she is a physical presence and we haven’t got players who can compete with her aerially, regardless of ability, just on physical height.”

Wilson played the ball into Hillier’s feet and the striker turned in the Gillingham box and Shanley made a fine low diving save at her near post to turn the ball behind for another corner.

Bazan whipped in a cross from the left which was cleared out to Sievwright, whose first time right-footed drive from 25-yards was comfortably saved by the Gillingham stopper.

But Portsmouth wrapped up a very good day with a fourth goal with 49:41 on the clock.

Gillingham right-back Sophie Brown ducked out of a header on the touch-line close to the half-way line and this proved to be a costly mistake as that released player-of-the-match Umotong down the left.

She reached the by-line and clipped a beautiful cross for an unmarked Hillier to cap off a good game to head home her sixteenth goal of the season.

“We’ve still got to defend better on the flank,” reflected Ratcliffe on the 65th league goal that his side have conceded this season.

“It was a brave header from the girl who scored and that was a good goal as well.”

Gillingham can do nothing now but pray that Tottenham Hotspur and Keynsham Town beat Copsewood to maintain their league status.

“We’re waiting on other results now. It’s not pleasant. I would rather it be different to what it is,” said Ratcliffe, who had to rebuild the side after last season’s runners-up squad left with James Marrs to sign en-mass for Brighton & Hove Albion, who are in second-place tonight, three points behind Portsmouth with two games left for both.

“I would rather have been better. I’d rather everyone finish on the same day and you know your fate. We now need to wait towards the end of May before we actually finally know what our final league position will be.

“In reality it will probably go down to the Keynsham-Copsewood game. It will probably go down to that last game.

“You look back towards the season and certain games where you’ve played and things could have been different.

“We played away to Copsewood and drew when we should have won. Plymouth at home, we should have won. It’s all gone now.”

When asked about his plans for next season, Ratcliffe who made 105 first team appearances for Gillingham between 1995-98, replied: “Let’s get this one over and done with first and then we’ll see where we are.

“Pre-season is pretty much planned but it will just be a question of where we are and what we’re doing.”

Gillingham: Courtney Shanley, Sophie Brown, Lauren Williams, Emma Tune, Emma Michelmore, Bonnie Long (Emily Lyons 87), Louise Lorton, Charlotte Long, Lauren Phillips, Charlotte Thurston, Ashley Loosemoore.
Sub: Rachel Ahern

Goal: Lauren Phillips 30

Booked: Charlotte Thurston 42, Charlotte Long 81

Portsmouth: Sadie Blakely, Jessica Frampton, Nadine Bazan, Ellie Bloomfield, Shannon Sievwright, Leeta Rutherford, Sarah Kempson (Ini Umotong 51), Molly Clark, Gemma-Louise Hillier, Charley Wilson, Lucy Quinn (Eilidh Currie 88).
Subs: Katie James, Chloe Dark, Michelle Beazley

Goals: Ini Umotong 57, 77, 84, Gemma-Louise Hillier 90

Attendance: 63
Referee: Mr Peter Cruise (Rochester)
Assistants: Mr Steve Julian (Gillingham) & Mr Peter Worton (Maidstone)