Saints soar back to second courtesy of a Rendell goalkeeping masterclass

It was an exhibition of great goalkeeping at St Mary’s today as Southampton held on to narrowly beat Sheffield United by two goals to one allowing the hosts to bounce back from their recent defeat in London.

Sophie Pharoah headed in at the far post to put the home side one nil up, before a sensational equaliser by Blades fullback Jodie Hutton from range, looping far out of reach of the Saint’s goalkeeper.

The scoreline stayed level for just a matter of moments until birthday girl, Katie Wilkinson, on the left hand side sailed the ball over a helpless Stenson in United’s goal to cap a dramatic seven minutes.

1745 Saints fans were in fine voice throughout the match and saw their side dominate other than some late nervy moments, but their goalkeeper, Kayla Rendell, showed familiarly fantastic form to protect their lead.

Southampton was fast out of the blocks and dominated early in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, which has seen the recently crafted Saints attack link up to great effect with Wilkinson and Pike cleverly intertwining.

Purfield’s delivery from left-back caused the Blades consistent problems early on, but it was her fullback partner Milly Mott, who played the decisive delivery onto the sixpence of Pharoah, who guided her header back across the goalkeeper.

Their lead was shortlived; however, as sloppy play in the Saints defence granted the away side a corner, which eventually broke back to taker Jodie Hutton, who whipped a strike of astonishing finesse into the far top corner to level proceedings.

Just moments later, as the clock struck 21’, Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side regained their lead as former Blades forward, Katie Wilkinson got the perfect birthday present as her miss-hit cross soared into the Sheffield net. 

Rain began to fall as the half came to a close with Southampton pushing for a third. Stenson was sensational, saving brilliantly from the testing Lexi Lloyd-Smith and direct Molly Pike on a number of occasions.

The Saints saw 61% of the ball and found the target six times, but had to settle for just the one-goal lead at the break.

Southampton kicked off the second half; however, it was Sheffield United who were threatening as deliveries from Hutton and Hodgson just evaded their targets, but the Saints were living dangerously with 55 minutes gone.

Pressure grew as Hutton’s crosses plagued the Southampton box once more, with Rendell initially spilling her inswinging corner but reacting well to claw the ball to safety.

Lloyd-Smith was next the hero when she headed a powerful Blades’ attempt off the goalline to preserve her side’s narrow lead by just inches.

With only fifteen minutes remaining, Sigsworth glided through the home defence and looked certain to score before being thwarted by a terrific save to the right of Rendell, who made herself big in the Saints goal.

Additional time was looming when Hutton snuck around the back to direct a header on goal, but the brilliant Rendell was down to meet it again; she was awarded player of the match shortly after.

Full-time saw elation in the Kingsland stand, on the pitch and in the dugout as Southampton held on to climb back within three points of league-leaders Sunderland, ahead of their Continental Cup clash with Reading on Wednesday.

Next weekend, the Saints are back at home to face third-placed Charlton in what will be a crucial match-up in both sides’ pursuit of Barclay’s Women’s Super League football next season.

Southampton XI: Rendell, Mott (Rafferty, 86’), Parnell ©, Peake, Purfield, Kendall, Peplow (Griffiths, 73’), Lloyd-Smith (Morris, 73’), Pike (Dean 73’), Pharoah (Kraft, 93’), Wilkinson.

Unused substitutes: Howard, Wynne, Thompson, Milne.

Sheffield United XI: Stenson, Newsham, Barker © (Wilcock, 90+2’), Bourne, Sigsworth, Rayner, Goodwin, Hodson, Hutton, A.Brown (Kinzett, 67’), R.Brown.

Unused substitutes: Docherty, Graham, Page, Heeps, Sugden-Brook, Connolly-Jackson, Adebiwale-Arnold. 

Referee: Levi Gray.