In a back-and-forth battle with Watford for the top spot in the FAWNL Southern Premier Division, Wasps saw off the challenge of third-placed Cardiff to move back to the top of the table.
In a match that pitted second against third, it was always likely to be a hard-fought contest, however, it took Wasps a matter of seconds to stamp their authority on the game as Megan Stow drilled a low shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards to gives the hosts the lead. Stow’s first goal of the season.
Wasps immediately began to search for a second, with Owen and Pittuck firing wide of Laura O’Sullivan’s goal.
With the game still inside the opening 15 minutes, a battling Tash Stephens won the ball in the middle of the park, dispossessing Isaac, to set up a counterattack. Charlotte Owen picked up the loose ball and looked to feed Heather with a through-ball, but a well-positioned O’Sullivan was able to gather the ball comfortably to snuff out any danger.
Cardiff’s first opportunity came when Russell’s loose pass found its way to Lawrence, who shifted the ball to Isaac on the edge of the area, only for the striker to shoot wide of the target.
A scrappy midfield exchange led to Cardiff’s next attack. The ball fell to Lawrence, who quickly laid the ball off for Williams to play a first-time pass to Turner. Turner bared down on goal, before Darcey James showed great pace to make a recovery tackle and see the ball out for a goal kick.
Twenty-five minutes on the clock, and Cardiff continued to threaten Gibbs’ goal when Nolan released Lawrence with a long ball over the top from her own half, but once again James was able to see off any danger.
Pressure mounted as a Cardiff free-kick was cleared only as far as Isaac 25 yards out, who composed herself and shot towards goal. Isaac’s effort looked to be a routine catch for Gibbs, till the ball spilt as Wasps’ number one was bouncing the ball, almost gifting Jones with a chance to draw Cardiff level.
The first half came to a close with Megan Stow’s first minute goal separating the two sides.
Half-time: Crawley Wasps 1-0 Cardiff City
Stow almost scored her second of the game immediately after the restart as she powered a header wide from Naomi Cole’s corner.
Crawley’s bright start to the half continued as Paul Walker’s side pressed for a second goal. Good interplay by Owen and Stow saw them work the ball to Pittuck, whose shot went narrowly wide.
Cole’s free-kick was calmly gathered in the 59th minute, before Stephens’ cross was met by Ariana Fleischman in area, with O’Sullivan saving well.
Cardiff threatened to score as Isaac cleverly won the ball back and looked to exploit space with a driving run, but was unable combine with Nolan, before Williams headed narrowly wide shortly after.
With fifteen minutes left, the game finally saw a second goal as Tash Stephens’ trickery resulted in the winger being brought down for a penalty. Up stepped Naomi Cole to fire home from 12 yards.
The visitors almost pulled one back late on after working the ball down the right, but James was present once again to thwart their efforts, heading the ball clear of danger to help Wasps keep their third consecutive clean sheet.
Full-time: Crawley Wasps 2-0 Cardiff City
The result means Crawley moved back to the top of the table, a position they’ve been in or around the entire season, three points clear of title rivals Watford, who have a game in hand. The race for promotion is keenly poised, with all eyes likely to be on the 23rd February, when the two Southern Premier heavyweights are set to clash.
Cardiff remain third, and while anything can happen, it’s perhaps more likely that they will find themselves in a battle to retain that position, with at three other sides currently within two points of the Welsh outfit, than challenge Watford and Wasps.