St Austell inflict first defeat on league leaders in top-of-the-table clash

St Austell did their South West Women’s Football League title hopes the world of good by defeating previously unbeaten league leaders Ilminster Town 3-0 at Poltair Park on Sunday. writes Matt Friday.

Kaitlyn Harris’ penalty on the stroke of half-time gave Town a slender lead at the break, before two goals in the space of four second-half minutes from Beth Overton and Lucy Solloway secured what could be a vital three points for Simon Parnell’s side.

The win for St Austell, who themselves remain unbeaten in the SWWFL Premier Division this season, moves them to within five points of table-topping Ilminster, but crucially with two games in hand on the Somerset outfit.

It means, despite currently sitting in fourth spot, the Lillywhites – who were promoted from the SWWFL Western Division last season – will be crowned champions if they win their five remaining matches.

Town made one change from the team that drew 1-1 at Torquay United seven days earlier, with Kayley Brown coming in for Isobel Berks. The visitors, meanwhile, made three changes from the side that ran out 2-1 winners at Bishops Lydeard the previous Sunday, with Sam Burnham, Abbie Carslake and Harriet Kelly coming into the side in place of Hannah Billing, Sian Chapman and Georgia Coward.

With both sides undoubtedly aware of the importance of this fixture, it was perhaps unsurprising to see a cagey opening quarter at Poltair Park with the first shot on target coming in the 24th minute, with Lillywhites top-scorer Charlotte Whitmore stinging the palms of visiting goalkeeper Charlotte Johnson.

The game began to open up a little as the first half wore on, with a fine attacking move from St Austell seeing Millie Buist lay it off for Solloway to draw a smart save out of Johnson. Lillywhites stopper Maisie Frickleton then matched her counterpart when Ilminster forward Abbie Carslake scampered down the left flank and delivered the ball to Jodi Cornwall, who was thwarted by the home goalkeeper.

St Austell applied further pressure as the half-time whistle neared and were given the chance to open the scoring in the 42nd minute when they were awarded a penalty. Francesca Thornton went down under the challenge of Burnham and referee Gary Cornish immediately pointed to the spot, with Town skipper Harris rifling the ball past Johnson from 12 yards.

That pressure continued after the turnaround with the hosts looking to put daylight between them and their opponents, with Johnson making a vital intervention to take the ball away from Chev Johanning, who had been put through by Overton.

Town’s deserved second goal soon arrived shortly before the hour mark, although it was a moment the Ilminster custodian will want to forget. Moments after Kayley Brown had rattled the crossbar with a superb effort from distance, Overton looked to emulate her team-mate and took aim from 25 yards, with her strike being spilled by Johnson before dropping harmlessly over the line.

There was little time for the league leaders to gather themselves before the hosts were celebrating a third goal less than four minutes later. Whitmore’s through ball found Thornton inside the box, who marched to the byline and squared it for Solloway, who gleefully stroked the ball home from six yards.

All of a sudden the hosts were rampant and Johnson had to be alert to prevent a fourth a few minutes later. Whitmore provided a cross to Solloway, who took a touch before firing at goal from roughly 12 yards out, with the visiting goalkeeper able to get a crucial glove to the strike.

The visitors knew that if they could get one goal back quickly then they were still in with a shout, but it wouldn’t quite happen for the Somerset side with Harriet Kelly’s effort blocked before Colette Martin rolled her shot narrowly wide, while Cornwall blazed another attempt over the crossbar after bursting through midfield.

With the match well and truly wrapped up, Whitmore spied the chance to add gloss to the scoreline and bag her 24th of the campaign in stoppage time when she spotted space between Johnson and her near post, with her effort from a very tight angle cannoning off the base of the upright.

Match information

St Austell: M Frickleton, T Gray-Roberts, K Harris, M Grist, C Johanning, B Overton, K Brown, M Buist, L Solloway, F Thornton, C Whitmore. Subs: E Clemes, O Trewhela.

Ilminster: C Johnson, S Burnham, S Stuckey, C Pettinger, M Parker, J Cornwall, A Carslake, H Kelly, A Meyer, C Martin, G Mann. Subs: H Billing, D Mann, E Entwistle, G Esperanca, H Bleazard.

Referee: Gary Cornish.

Assistants: Bob Steggles, Leigh Michael.

[Featured image: Matt Friday / Cornwall Sports Media]