Seagulls looking bright
Looking for more than just experience from the Spring Series, the Seagulls hit the front foot at home, wanting to put on a show at the Amex. The blue and whites danced around outside the Sheffield box early in the match, prodding for an opening, the possession theirs, the chances not presenting themselves. The best they could show for their advantage, a curler from Sophie Perry that refused to tighten up before drifting wide and an effort from range from Lucy Somes, Juliana Draycott untroubled for the most part.
A long ball found Kate Natkiel, the attacker able to out-run her marker and chase the ball down, drawing Draycott to the edge of her box before finding Alessia Russo with a lay-off. The England youth international spun on the spot before taking aim at the open goal and somehow missing the target from fifteen yards, the visitors with a real let off.
For their part, Sheffield remained disciplined, exposed on their left with Natkiel and Somes wiling to run onto anything over the top but their presence in midfield was enough to keep the hosts just about at bay, Suzanne Davies and Rhema Lord-Mears able to turn defence into attack. Though seeing less of the ball, Hannah Cain still manged to find a pair of early chances, slipping in behind to work the ever-reliable Emma Byrne, the former Gunner unmoved by a skewed shot from Lord-Mears just after the quarter hour.
Natkiel breaks the deadlock
The hosts found their breakthrough at the midway point, Russo able to carry the ball forward before setting up Natkiel, the well-watched ball volleyed home by Natkiel to a chorus of applause from the home fans. Perry came close again minutes later as she whipped a free kick around the wall and towards the top corner, when given the chance at a subsequent free kick she opted to loft the ball into the box. With the ball headed clear for a corner the hosts weren’t done rattling the handle and Kenedy Owen was left red-faced after nodding the ball back across goal and into her own net.
As the half drew to a close, the visitors found a little more attacking intent, a Cain goal from a flicked on set-piece ruled out for offside before Emma Johnson tested Byrne out with a floated shot from outside the box. Life still left in the Sheffield team although they finished the half camped in their own box at a corner.
More of the same
The second-half started with a scramble in the home box, Byrne unable to fully clear one of Hannah Dale’s free kicks, brief pinball wrapped up as the hosts brought the ball clear before finding the front foot once more. Drifting across the pitch, Russo seemed determined to get her goal, first eating up the turf down the left, skipping past two markers before scuffing her shot before popping up on the right, her shot drifting wide of the far post. Russo should have had her goal just before the hour when Perry chased up the right side of the pitch and slipped the ball into the box, Russo unable to take the ball first time, Sarah Jackson sliding in to nibble the ball away.
With Laura Rafferty sent clear, Dale came up big for Sheffield as she slid through the box and knocked the ball away with Rafferty ready to pull the trigger. The game opened up with the away defence pushed higher up the pitch, Draycott had considerably less shielding in the second-half, the ‘keeper with a big hand to stop Russo from scoring when she was one-on-one. The goalie back with more heroics seconds later when she tipped Natkiel’s dipping effort over the bar, the resulting corner of little consequence.
Brighton continued to knock at the door as the match wore down, a last ditch sliding tackle from Danielle Cox all that could keep Natkiel out before Russo saw her header cleared off of the line by Jackson, still the third goal refused to come. The second-half had one theme; Brighton going for a third, Russo looking hungry for a goal at the Amex and with time fast running out Russo finally got her much-deserved goal. Cutting in front the left, she looked for an option before taking aim from the edge of the area, the ball sent soaring through the box before punching into the far top corner, Draycott well beaten.
The goal sparked Sheffield back into life and they suddenly looked like scoring, Natasha Flint and Cain getting stuck-in in the box, Byrne mostly unworked coming up with a pair of big saves late in the day. Faye Baker waiting on the sidelines for her cameo, finally allowed to come on as play was stopped, her first action facing a penalty for a sloppy foul in the box. Baker’s dive to the right a commanding one as Carla Ward clinically put the ball into the bottom left corner with the last kick of the game.
A team that hasn't always had it easy this year the win was a rubber-stamp for Brighton, who've shown their calibre today, thoroughly dominant, Sheffield still looking off of the pace after their own tricky Spring Series.