Preston North End Women held onto an important three points against their league rivals Stoke City and extended their lead at the top to eight points.
Lagan Makin doubled the lead just 8 minutes later to put PNE in a commanding position, until Jenna Carroll’s slide to intercept a loose ball did not go to plan and the ball fell to Hannah Keryakoplis who finished and set up a nervy end to the game.
Just the one change to Luke Swindlehurst’s starting line-up, Gemma Watson returned to the team replacing captain Laura Walker in midfield.
An excellent opportunity came very early on for Makin to set the tone for the game. With seven minutes on the clock, it was Watson who rode the challenge on the edge of the penalty box before passing to Swarbrick, the latter then unselfishly played it across goal, she found Makin who, with just the goalkeeper to beat, blasted the ball wide of the post.
Abbey Hunt set a counter attack going for Stoke just two minutes later. Her run forward with the ball put North End on the back foot until she played the ball for Kate Asher who snatched at the chance, blazing the ball over Dan Brown’s goal.
PNE came to Wellbeing Park for the three points and their attacking play was evident as Natasha Flint’s ambitious effort on goal was well saved by Megan Jones who then saw Swarbrick’s curling right footed shot fly inches over her crossbar.
Stoke City’s goal was living a charmed life but the home side had chances of their own. Hunt again threatening the PNE defence as she pounced on the loose ball following a poor goal kick from Brown but Hunt’s shot from distance could only find the side netting.
Natasha Lilly’s shot on target with one minute of the first half remaining was equalled by Brown in the PNE goal with her diving save.
It was Stoke that nearly handed North End the lead in first half added time. Cassie Hyde headed the ball down inside her own penalty area for Watson, but Watson could not manage to find the target as she looked surprised after being gifted the ball in the opponent’s penalty area.
After a seemingly quiet start to the second half, Makin dashed forward into the home side’s final third before being hacked down by centre-back Megan Bowyer, leading to a free-kick just outside the penalty box.
PNE’s free-kick specialist, Farrell, stepped up before smashing the ball against the wall and it was deflected onto the bar and ricocheted back to Swarbrick who was left with easy tap in past the helpless goalkeeper.
Stoke were in trouble again as Makin kept the ball in play down the left byline before going one-on-one with Jones, and the winger duly delivered a cool finishing touch past the goalkeeper for 2-0.
Brown denied Hunt from close range following a corner kick from Stoke, Hunt’s shot was quickly palmed away by the PNE goalkeeper, leaving the Stoke players frustrated by their lack of clinical finishes.
Hannah Keryakoplis handed the host’s a lifeline on 90 minutes with a simple finish inside the penalty area. Jenna Caroll’s sliding interception did not go quite to plan as the ball dropped for the substitute Keryakoplis who slotted the ball past Brown.
Seven minutes of added time was not enough for Stoke to find an equaliser despite their valiant effort, but with an eight point gap between the two teams with four games in hand, Stoke still have everything to play for.
Stoke City starting line-up: Jones, Hudson, Atherton, Roberts, Hyde (Ridgway 82), Bowyer, Elson, Lilly, Asher (Keryakoplis59), Hunt, Hayes
Unused subs: Hall, Jones
PNE starting line-up: Brown, Stanfield, Forshaw, Farrell (Savage 84), Carroll, H. Forster, Flint (Westerman 71), Makin (Turner 90+4), Young, Watson, Swarbrick
Unused subs: N. Forster