PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies produced a battling performance to beat Gillingham 2-0 at Manadon on Sunday in the National League Southern Premier Division.
With a little more luck in front of goal, Argyle’s winning margin could have been much greater.
Manager Dave Leonard had to ring the changes as influential all-rounder Leah Burridge was away on a UEFA B coaching course.
Ben Kyle was between the sticks, while Greece under-20 international Giota Papaioannou made her first start for the season on the right of the defence, with captain Kate Middleton and Lydia Huntley occupying the central defence positions and Mollie Taylor at left-back.
Steph Beck and Ebony Dover took up the central midfield positions with Bow Jackson operating on the right of the midfield three. Helen Bleazard and Beth Everson occupied the wide positions with Natasha Knapman the lone striker.
Leonard had an extremely young bench with development team leading scorer Nicola Champion being joined by 16 year-olds Dee Newman, Nelinha Barros and Libby Lawton, who had celebrated her birthday the day before.
Argyle, who sit fourth in the table, started on the front foot with Bleazard having her well struck free-kick saved low. She then side-footed wide when well placed.
Gillingham responded with their captain heading wide from a corner with another header going also wide.
A great cross from Jackson found Bleazard who was also off-target with the effort.
Argyle’s pressure was beginning to tell and in the 18th minute they got their reward when, after Bleazard had been fouled, Middleton stepped up to fire in a penalty low to the goalkeeper’s right.
Gillingham missed a great opportunity to draw level before the industrious Bleazard almost doubled the advantage when she spotted the goalkeeper off the her line but her long-range effort went narrowly wide of a post.
There was then a chance for Knapman after Dover did well to win a free-kick which was sent in by Bleazard but Knapman just failed to make contact.
Argyle’s impressive forward play was rewarded in the 29th minute when Bleazard picked up the ball before striding forward and firing low into the net off a post to make it 2-0.
The all-action Bleazard then saw a well struck free-kick saved.
The Pilgrims came out for the second half pushing for more goals with Taylor having a shot saved as did Jackson.
A Gillingham player was sin binned and then Knapman headed another pin-point Bleazard free-kick narrowly wide of the post.
Argyle had an escape when 10 minutes into the half a free-kick bounced off the top of their crossbar.
Although the game was becoming a little scrappy the home side kept pushing forward and a Knapman header from a Bleazard corner went wide. Everson then found Bleazard, who in turn set Knapman free but the goalkeeper made a great save to deny the striker. The unfortunate Knapman then headed a corner over the bar.
Knapman had further chances but just could not find the net.
With 20 minutes remaining Lawton, who was 16 just the day before, came on to replace Papaioannou and become the youngest player to feature in the first team since the age limited was changed a number of years ago.
Afterwards manager Leonard said: “I think there was a lot of positives as that could have been a potential banana skin.
“I thought the girls did really well. I was really pleased with the chances we had and the deliveries we had in the box.
“I was pleased with the 2-0 win but I don’t think we took enough chances as we should have done and I was disappointed it wasn’t more than the two. I just felt we didn’t make good the chances we had to put the game to bed -2-0 is always a dodgy scoreline.
“I was delighted we had four development players on the field as they are the future, but what pleased me most was the adaptability we have in the squad – it is fantastic and I really believe that we will be all right.”
Argyle: Ben Kyle, Giota Papaioannou, Kate Middleton, Lydia Huntley, Mollie Taylor, Bow Jackson, Ebony Dover, Steph Beck, Helen Bleazard, Beth Everson, Natasha Knapman. Nelinha Barros. Subs: Libby Lawton, Nicola Chamopion, Dee Newman.