Pompey Ladies were denied a place in the FA Women’s Super League in the most cruel of circumstances at Stratford Town yesterday.
The Premier League southern division champions, who were robbed of key players in the run-up to the play-off with Sheffield, were beaten 1-0 by an injury-time strike.
It was heartbreaking for Pompey, who had battled so hard throughout the 90 minutes to keep their chances of joining the game’s elite alive.
Boss Perry Northeast was without centre-back Leeta Rutherford, Nigeria international striker Ini Umotong and keeper Sadie Blakely for the crucial showdown with the northern division champions.
But it was Pompey who had the first sight of goal – as Charley Wilson raced on to a loose backpass to challenge Sheffield keeper Claire Wallhead.
But despite Wilson blocking Wallhead’s clearance, the ball was hacked clear by Danielle Cox.
Sheffield defender Aimee Johnson then found midfielder Lisa Giampalma whose strike from the edge of the box flew just over the Pompey bar.
Pompey counter-attacked and won the first corner of the play-off showdown but it came to nothing.
The Yorkshire outfit started to enjoy the better of the play now and they went close again when Amy Beanland steered an effort just wide.
Ellie Gilliatt then delivered for Carla Ward but she could only volley over the Pompey crossbar.
Johnson then teed up Beanland with a dummy but the Sheffield midfielder was off target with her effort.
Ward again went close – with a free-kick – as the northern division champions pressed for an opening goal.
Jodie Michalska fired their next attempt wide before 16-year-old Blues goalkeeper Courtney Trodd, who was playing in place of the suspended Sadie Blakely and ineligible Michelle Beazley, pulled off a stunning save to keep out a 30-yard strike from the Sheffield attacker.
Gemma Hillier was felled by Billie Murphy, the tackle earning the Sheffield defender the tie’s first booking.
And soon Northeast’s outfit began to grow in confidence, finishing the half on the front foot.
They won another corner which – as it was swung in – prompted appeals for a handball and Sarah Kempson then forced a fine stop from Wallhead.
The second half began with a yellow card for Blues defender Jess Frampton before Michalska, Giampalma and Johnson all fire wide for Sheffield.
Northeast sent Tiff Taylor on as the game started to become stretched.
Wallhead pulled off another superb stop from a Lucy Quinn half-volley as Pompey had their chances.
Liz O’Callaghan also came on as the Blues searched for a late winner.
But disaster struck in added time when Michalska played a ball through to Giampalma, who rounded Trodd to tuck home the decisive goal.