CRAIG Nicholls believes his Coventry City Ladies side have defied all odds after being crowned champions of the Premier League Southern Division.
An early first half goal by skipper Natasha Lynch combined by a brilliant defensive display ensured the Sky Blues came away from Portsmouth on Sunday with all three points which was enough to overtake Gillingham at the top of the table.
It brings to an end a superb debut season for manager Nicholls who also won the Birmingham County Cup and enjoyed a run to the Fifth Round of the Women’s FA Cup.
“Sunday just epitomised our season and we are deservedly standing here as champions after a brilliant season.” said Nicholls, who led the club on a record breaking run of 17-game unbeaten run from the beginning of October through to the end of March.
“Nobody tipped us to win the title and we have well and truly proved our doubters wrong.
“Hard work has been put in from everyone involved with the club.
“I’d like to say a special thanks to Andy Frampton and his medical staff, Joe Robinson and Dave Tedds for their constant support, Tim Kalns and Andy Stickley for work off the pitch and of course Tom Stack for giving me and Joe the opportunity to manage such a brilliant group of players.
“They are the ones I must thank the most, they are all fantastic and fully deserve this. Roll on next season, and the next chapter in our journey.”
Nicholls’ side travelled to Portsmouth University knowing that three points would be enough to secure the title following the 3-0 win over league leaders Gillingham the previous week.
But the hosts were seeking for a third-place finish themselves almost went ahead early on when Gemma Hillier headed a Lucy Quinn corner just wide of goal.
Helen Dermody saw her flashing shot sail just wide of the post before Lynch scored the only goal of the game on four minutes.
Dermody drilled a low corner into the box which Portsmouth were unable to clear and Lynch was able to stick out a leg to divert the ball past the goalkeeper.
Portsmouth created several chances in search of an equaliser but Sky Blues goalkeeper Sue Wood was in fine form between the sticks. She denied Molly Clarke before Liz O’Callehan and Gemma Hillier failed to get their efforts on target before the break.
Wood denied Lucy Quinn shortly after the re-start but Portsmouth could not find a breakthrough.
In fact the result perhaps should have been put beyond doubt when Natalie Brace outpaced the defence before striking the post and Becky Anderson was inches away with a long range effort which nestled onto the roof of the net.
Goalscorer and captain, Natasha Lynch was delighted with the result, adding: “Firstly I’d like to say fair play to Pompey who made us work extremely hard for the win.
“We were on edge in certain parts of the game but every single one of us dug deep to keep the clean sheet and claim the three points that ensured our league success.
“Everybody involved within the club deserves this success, this is what you get if you put the graft in.”
It’s been an incredible debut season for Craig Nicholls. (s) Photo by Marc Evans