NATASHA KNAPMAN pounced to score a last minute goal to secure Plymouth Argyle a 2-1 win at Cardiff City on Sunday in the National League Southern Premier Division.
The Pilgrims were trailing 1-0 with just 15 minutes to go but captain Katie Middleton scored a penalty to equaliser before Knapman secured her side the full three points with time virtually up.
However, it was goalkeeper Becky Kyle who earned all the praise after the game for keeping Argyle in the game against a Cardiff side packed with Wales internationals.
“When we spoke in the huddle I pointed out that if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Becky Kyle who pulled off two worldly saves we would have been 3-0 down at half-time,” said Argyle manager Dave Leonard. “They were two of the best saves I have seen at this level of football.
“I pointed out to the girls she (Kyle) got them the three points. She put in a massive contribution.”
He added: “We had all these reports about how to counterattack them and hit them on the break only to find they changed their strategy to counterattack us.
“It was about our worse performance of the season but you could say it made our performance even better against a team who I reckon are going to be a top four side. They got in our face, they didn’t allow us to play our free-flowing football and we looked a bit nervous and up tight.”
Argyle, who have now won seven games in a row, found life difficult in the first half in Wales and went behind in time added-on when Corrie Williams headed in a corner.
Leonard said: “We got caught out when we struggled to change our shape after Mollie Taylor went off injured. We spoke at half-time that this wasn’t my team and we came out for the second half having made a few changes and that pleased me. I knew we could get something out of the game through our never-say-die attitude.”
Argyle got the lift they needed when captain Middleton converted a penalty awarded for hand ball.
“There was no way I was going to sit back and draw the game,” said Leonard. “I wanted to win the game and this is why I have so much confidence in the girls. We kept plugging away and kept shooting and Pollock had a great effort. But with time running out who should pop up to grab the winner but that predator Natasha Knapman, who headed in a corner from close range.”
He added: “We just weren’t on it, but for me it wasn’t about the performance it was the character and the resilience of these girls who never give up. They are just relentless and hungry with a never-say-die attitude. They don’t know when they are beaten and just keep going.
“From a technical and tactical point of view we just didn’t fire but at the end of the season it will say Cardiff 1 Argyle 2 and that is all that matters.”
Argyle: Becky Kyle, Leah Burridge, Bow Jackson, Jessica Jones, Kayley Lane (Ebony Dover), Becky Dandridge, Steph Beck, Zoe Cunningham (Amber Pollock), Natasha Knapman, Helen Bleazard, Kate Middleton, Mollie Taylor (Faye Ivall). Unused substitute Lydia Huntley.
In the South West League Western Division, Argyle’s development team came from 4-3 down to beat Feniton 9-5 and go to the top of the table.
Feniton were unbeaten this season but the young Pilgrims stunned them with five second half goals.
Argyle knew a defeat in east Devon would almost certainly end their title hopes but with Lucy Solloway helping herself to a hat-trick they got the victory they needed.
But it could not have started worse for the Greens, who found themselves 2-0 early on.
Feniton, with the strong wind behind them, had Argyle on the back foot and a poor clearance was seized upon by Stef Churchill-Matthews whose initial effort was saved by Maddie Walsh but she tucked away the rebound.
It quickly became 2-0 when an unforced defensive error allowed former Argyle player Kate Finch to score.
This goal seemed to wake up the young Argyle team and they started to play and pass the ball around. Unfortunately they suffered a blow when Leah Johnson went off with a groin strain to be replaced by Rachel Javan, who was back from injury herself.
Maisie Williams was causing panic up front and after being brought down in the penalty area she converted the resultant spot-kick.
A minute later a great ball over the top of the Feniton defence by Jodie Randall found Nicola Champion, who made no mistake to level the scores.
But the visitors found themselves chasing the game again when the defence did not deal with a corner leaving Amy Salter to tap in.
The reaction was positive with wide players Beth Everson and Lucy Solloway proving a threat with their pace. It was the latter who latched on to a great through ball from Beth Cowd to level the scores with a fine strike.
However, once again indecisive defending allowed Finch to give the home side a 4-3 lead.
Solloway had a goal ruled out for offside and it could have been worse but for a fantastic Randall goal line clearance.
Argyle attacked from the off in the second half with Champion having a couple of early chances well saved by Caragh O’Brien.
Undeterred the young Pilgrims pushed on and it was a Williams through ball that allowed Ellie Bishop to slot home the equaliser.
And O’Brien could do absolutely nothing about Kiara Robins 35-yard effort that found the top corner of the net.
Argyle were now playing some great football and a Bishop though ball saw Everson fire a fierce shot across the face of the goal for Solloway to finish the move off.
The seventh goal was a mirror image, with an Everson shot being half saved and Williams snapping up the rebound.
Feniton managed to pull a goal back through Churchill-Matthews, but Argyle added their eighth when Solloway followed up a saved Champion effort to complete her hat-trick.
Just before the final whistle Everson rounded off her good performance when she finished off a move between Williams and Bishop to complete the scoring.
Manager Rob Bonney said: “We got off to worst of starts but the girls showed a lot of character to get themselves back into the game. What really pleased me was how the players took ownership of their mistakes. They did not hide or blame anyone else but themselves – that is a great attribute to have.
“Some of our play was brilliant to watch and we were a lot more clinical in front of goal. We know we have to iron out the silly errors but this is a work in progress and we just need to keep improving week by week.”
Argyle Development: Maddie Walsh, Jodie Randall, Leah Johnson, Rachel Heron, Beth Cowd, Lucy Solloway, Maisie Williams, Beth Everson, Kiara Robins, Ellie Bishop, Nicola Champion,,Maddy Leppard, Rachel Javan, Nelinha Barros, Hannah Brock