Lilywhites joy in top-of-table women’s clash

Preston North End Women took on title rivals Stoke City
Preston North End Women took on title rivals Stoke City
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Preston North End Women’s team held on to a 2-1 lead – and an important three points – at league rivals Stoke City.

The victory extended their lead at the top of the FA Women’s Premier League North Division to eight points.

Both Lilywhites’ goals came in the space of eight minutes during the second half.

Yasmine Swarbrick popped up inside the Stoke penalty area to tap in the opening goal, after a Charlotte Farrell free-kick.

Lagan Makin doubled the lead to put PNE in a commanding position, until Jenna Carroll’s slide to intercept a loose ball did not go to plan, and the ball fell to Hannah Keryakoplis who finished and set up a nervy end to the game for PNE.

There was just the one change to Luke Swindlehurst’s starting line-up, Gemma Watson returned to the team replacing captain Laura Walker in midfield.

An excellent opportunity came very early on for Makin.

With seven minutes gone, Watson rode a challenge on the edge of the penalty box before passing to Swarbrick, who unselfishly played it across goal.

But Makin – with just the goalkeeper to beat – blasted the ball wide of the post.

Abbey Hunt set a counter-attack going for Stoke just two minutes later. Her run forward with the ball put North End on the back foot, until she played the ball for Kate Asher who snatched at the chance, blazing over Dan Brown’s goal.

Natasha Flint’s ambitious effort on goal was well saved by Stoke keeper ,Megan Jones who then saw Swarbrick’s curling right-footed shot fly inches over her crossbar.

Stoke City’s goal was living a charmed life but the home side had chances of their own. Hunt again threatening the PNE defence as she pounced on the loose ball following a poor goal kick from Brown.

But Hunt’s shot from distance could only find the side netting.

Natasha Lilly’s shot on target with one minute of the first half remaining was equalled by Brown in the PNE goal with her diving save.

Stoke nearly handed North End the lead in first-half added time. Cassie Hyde headed the ball down inside her own penalty area for Watson, but she could not manage to find the target.

After the break, Makin dashed forward, before being hacked down by centre-back Megan Bowyer, leading to a free-kick just outside the penalty box.

Farrell smashedg the ball against the wall and it was deflected on to the bar and ricocheted back to Swarbrick, who was left with easy 
tap-in past the helpless goalkeeper.

Stoke were in trouble again as Makin kept the ball in play down the left byline, before going one-on-one with Jones, and the PNE winger duly delivered a cool finish for 2-0.

Brown denied Hunt from close range following a corner kick from Stoke.

Hannah Keryakoplis handed the hosts a lifeline in the 90th minutes with a simple finish inside the penalty area.

Seven minutes of added time was not enough for Stoke to find an equaliser, despite their valiant efforts.

But despite an eight-point gap between the two teams, Stoke – with four games in hand – still have everything to play for.