BY MO SHER
Substitute Bianca Baptiste scored a last-gasp winner for Crystal Palace as they edged a hard-fought FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Group F encounter 2-1 at the Dripping Pan.
A moment of magic from Emma Jones put the hosts in front just before the hour mark, before Palace replacement Baptiste struck twice in 14 minutes to snatch victory from their FA Women’s Championship rivals.
Despite enjoying the bulk of possession in the opening 45 minutes, Palace couldn’t breach a compact and organised Lewes side, led by their skipper Rhian Cleverly.
Both Palace strikers – Amber Gaylor and Amy Taylor – drew smart stops from Laura Hartley in the Lewes goal, with the hosts struggling for any outlet of their own.
With this particular group containing three Championship sides, the incentive to be more positive was clear right from the outset of the second period, resulting in a much more engrossing contest.
Jones broke the deadlock with a brilliant half-turn and curled left-foot strike from the edge of the penalty area, cleverly using the bodies in front of Palace goalkeeper Emma Gibbon as a weapon – but the lead was short-lived.
Dean Davenport made a trio of changes at the same time, and the switch worked. A whipped delivery right into the middle of the Lewes six-yard box wasn’t dealt with, and Baptiste was first to react, toe-poking home.
Lewes had their moments, Katie Rood forcing Gibbon to tip the ball round the post with a 20-yard drive, while Jones should have had a second when played in by Sarah Kempson, only to hesitate before getting her shot away.
As it transpired, they were made to pay. Another dangerous in-swinger was missed by everyone but Baptiste, with the mazy forward, as she so often does, nodding into the net to give Palace all three points and an early foothold in the competition.
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