Crystal Palace Women cruelly fell to a last-ditch 1-0 defeat against Leicester in a historic Continental Cup quarter-final at Hayes Lane on a drizzle-soaked Thursday evening.
- Crystal Palace kicked off their first ever Continental Cup quarter-final
- Aoife Hurley scooped a half-volley narrowly over for the hosts
- Leicester striker Natasha Flint slams a shot straight at Emma Gibbon
- HT: Crystal Palace Women 0-0 Leicester
- Flint again forces a fine reaction stop from Gibbon as Leicester grow in confidence
- Talismanic forward Flint strikes powerfully from an indirect free-kick (88)
- FT: Crystal Palace Women 0-1 Leicester
Crystal Palace had impressed in the previous rounds of the FA Continental Tyres League Cup, coming second in Group F to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time, becoming the first ever part-time side to do so.
Their reward for the historic feat was a meeting with in-form Leicester, who finished top of Group E and lead the second-tier Championship by three points.
But Palace had only lost one of their last five and were far from overawed in the early stages, noticeably pressing high up the pitch and winning several free-kicks in the Leicester half, one of which led to the first meaningful opportunity of the match.
Bianca Baptiste cleverly cushioned a flicked header across the six-yard box from Ashlee Hincks’ testing, lofted ball forward but Aoife Hurley couldn’t capitalise, scooping her half-volley narrowly over the bar.
There was no lack of spark from the visitors despite the freezing conditions, and Eagles goalkeeper Emma Gibbon just about managed to smuggle the ball out for a corner after her attempted clearance rebounded off Lachante Paul.
Gibbon was called into action again moments later as lone Leicester striker Natasha Flint had a pot-shot from just beyond the halfway line, justifiably confident in her own ability as the ball spun a couple of yards wide past the goalkeeper’s full-stretch dive.
Leicester tried several tactical tweaks to break down Palace’s stubborn backline, switching full-backs Lia Cataldo and Esmee de Graaf and wingers Paul and Liv Fergusson, but were restricted to shots from range from Paul and then Flint, although neither troubled Gibbon.
The Foxes had their clearest opening in one of the last actions of the half. Again, it was a set-piece. Palace midfielder Ashleigh Goddard conceded a free-kick despite appearing to win the ball first with a resolute sliding challenge, and the visitors piled forward in anticipation.
A half-clearance fell to Flint, who - in a rare pocket of space - slammed a powerful shot towards goal, but Gibbon was positioned well and parried it away with a strong hand. The rebound sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
In the second-half Leicester fired an early warning shot. Hurley couldn’t control a slightly overhit pass from the otherwise excellent Ffion Morgan, and Paul curled a right-footed effort just past the post.
Following an even first period, the momentum appeared to be shifting to Leicester. Finding more room down the flanks, Fergusson and Paul flashed dangerous balls across the box in quick succession but both came to nothing.
The Foxes continued to make headway. On the hour mark, more good work from the skilful Paul led to a fine reaction save from Gibbon as Flint flicked one goalwards from close range.
Paul then flashed another centre across the corridor of uncertainty between defenders and goalkeeper, but rapid pressure from Morgan clearly affected Fergusson, who could only blast over.
If Leicester were going to break the deadlock, it was most likely to be via Paul’s trickery and directness. Once again, she showcased her pace, bursting down the left flank, but Flint couldn’t direct her shot on target.
Two minutes before the end, the Eagles were dealt a cruel last-ditch blow. Flint, the talismanic forward, stood looming over an indirect free-kick just outside the box.
With midfield general Andria Georgiou off the pitch, injured in the hefty challenge which led to the visitors' set-piece, Palace were one player down.
Four in the wall didn’t prove enough as the ball was touched to Flint, who unleashed an unstoppable, crashing drive which nestled in the postage stamp of the top-right corner. It seemed harsh on a dogged Palace, and particularly Gibbon who could do nothing.
Leicester progress to the semi-finals, while the Eagles fell just short at the death despite a high-quality, battling performance which will give them plenty of encouragement for the rest of their league campaign.
Palace: (4-3-3): Emma Gibbon; Annabel Johnson, Georgia Clifford, Aoife Hurley, Ffion Morgan; Andria Georgiou, Hannah Churchill, Ashleigh Goddard (Coral-Jade Haines 67); Bianca Baptiste, Ashlee Hincks (Kate Natkiel 74), Siobhan Wilson (Lizzie Waldie 74).
Substitutes not used: Chloe Morgan (GK); Amy Goddard, Leeta Rutherford, Amber Gaylor.
Leicester City: (4-3-3): Kirstie Levell; Esmee De Graaf, Sophie Howard, Ashleigh Plumptre, Lia Cataldo; Remi Allen, Sam Tierney, Freya Thomas (Charlie Devlin 58); Liv Fergusson (Hannah Cain 64), Natasha Flint, Lachante Paul.
Substitutes not used: Sophie Harris (GK); Grace Riglar, Aimee Everett, Ruesha Littlejohn, Libby Smith, Millie Farrow.