PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies drew 2-2 with Portsmouth on Sunday in the Dockyard Derby that was played in front of 846 fans at Home Park.
Argyle had to come from behind in the FA National League Southern Premier Division match, with fit-again Natasha Knapman scoring an equalising goal just four minutes after coming on as a substitute following six months out with an ankle injury.
The match was moved to Home Park to celebrate Plymouth and Portsmouth’s military heritage.
The teams were led out on to the field by the British Legion flag and a contingent of army and navy cadets.
Unfortunately the gusty wind circulating around the stadium denied spectators from seeing Argyle at their best, but a draw was a fair result.
Argyle chairman Simon Hallett was at the game and said afterwards: “Everyone who attended were entertained.”
The Pilgrims fielded an unfamiliar 4-1-4-1 formation and it took both teams a while to get comfortable in the large stadium and to the conditions.
Argyle’s first chance came when Kayley Lane headed an Amber Pollock cross wide before Zoe Cunningham took a free-kick which captain Katie Middleton headed back inside but no-one was able to connect with it.
Jones and Middleton had further chances before the hosts were then caught out in the 20th minute by a short corner which went to Katie James, who fired in a terrific shot from outside the penalty area to beat goalkeeper Sarah Prior.
Argyle responded within two minutes when Portsmouth failed to deal with a Becky Dandridge corner and Lane controlled and shot into the net in one movement.
Portsmouth then shook the Pilgrims when a terrific strike from Becki Bath rebounded back off the Argyle crossbar.
The hosts went behind again in the 34th minute when a Jade Widdows cross-cum-shot from the right flew into the top corner of the net.
This goal stunned Argyle, who eventually worked themselves back into the game, with Leah Burridge and Jones seeing efforts saved before half-time.
The Greens came out for the second half much the brighter and the speedy Amber Pollock went on a great run but her cross to Lane was hacked clear. A Jones run then came to an abrupt end before Cunningham saw a shot saved.
Although Argyle looked the more likely to score, Portsmouth were still able to give the defence some problems.
Visiting goalkeeper Hannah Haughton, though, had to be at her best to deny Dandridge after also saving from Jones.
Argyle continued to search for that all-important equalising goal and Knapman was brought on in the 67th minute to rapturous applause.
And it did not take long for last season’s top scorer to show just how much she has been missed when just four minutes later the striker appeared at the back post to volley in another great Lane cross much to the delight of team-mates and Argyle fans.
The hosts now had their tails up and Jones had a shot saved before Lane just missed out on a great Cunningham through ball.
Argyle, though, had a lucky escape when a long James free-kick rebounded back off the crossbar.
The final 10 minutes, thought, belong to Argyle but they were unable to find a winner. A terrific surging run by Mollie Taylor came to an abrupt halt with Cunningham also going on a great run only to shoot narrowly wide. Argyle’s last chance came when a Taylor free-kick was headed on by Middleton only for Haughton to withstand a brave challenge from Knapman.
Plymouth’s joint manager Trevor Rodd said afterwards: “Although disappointed with the result I would like to thank Argyle for the use of the ground and a terrific thanks to the 846 fans who came to support us it was greatly appreciated.
“I think the girls were emotionally drained and were not mentally prepared and the occasion got to them. But saying that, we had a great second half as we didn’t mince our words at half-time and they came out with a spring in their step.
“It showed the fortitude, guile and effort put in but the girls and I hope all who came went away happy with what they saw.”
Captain Middleton added: “Would like to say a massive thanks to everyone who came and supported us. All of the players and staff really appreciate it.”
Argyle: Sarah Prior, Leah Burridge, Kate Middleton, Ebony Dover (Darcey Hepworth), Mollie Taylor, Becky Dandridge, Kayley Lane, Jessica Jones, Zoe Cunningham, Amber Pollock (Natasha Knapman), Steph Beck (Kelly Vinnicombe). Substitutes not used: Fasye Ivall and Panagiota Papaioannou