Hatters Ladies held by Gillingham in season opener

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FA Women’s Premier League, South East Division One: Luton Town 1 Gillingham 1

Luton Town Ladies began their FA Women’s Premier League South East Division One season with a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Gillingham Ladies on Sunday.

Hatters, who had Zara Carroll suspended, picked five new recruits in their squad, goalkeeper Jess Devoti making her debut as well as 16-year-old right back Lucy Webster and striker Dionne Manning.

Devoti was called into action early on, saving with her legs, before Luton went close when Jo Rutherford’s header was cleared and Erica Byron saw her overhead kick blocked.

Town’s keeper then made a fine save from distance, as Manning found Byron just before half time, but the chance went begging.

After the break, Luton went ahead when Jess McKay picked out Byron, who fed the ball superbly into the path of Manning and she outpaced her marker to slot into the bottom corner.

Shannon Pratt’s long range effort was off target, while Manning’s attempt flew inches wide, before Gillingham levelled on 56 minutes through Felicity Gibbons.

Both teams went in search of the winner, as Nicola Henman’s effort was saved, Byron’s curler went wide, while Henman couldn’t get enough power into her shot.

At the death, Town skipper Rachel Carter’s fine tackle ensured Luton took a point as manager Nikki Baker said: “It was a tough first game at home to last year’s runners up but we have confidence in ourselves and feel we are ready to take on anyone in this league.

“I have already spoken about last season’s games with Gillingham and we more than deserved a point and could have taken all three.

“We had five new players in the squad and key players missing through suspension and holiday.

“But we had several opportunities especially in the second half, as we opened them up and started to stretch the play.

“We had a game plan and executed it well, but I feel we could have gone on to win the game if we had been more clinical in front of goal.”

This weekend, Town travel to Old Actonians.