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A 2-2 draw with Norwich City was enough for Gillingham to clinch the South East Combination title in front of their home fans on Sunday.
Goals from Danni Farmer and Amy Russ saw the Gills cruising before goals from Nicola Bray and Laura Thatcher got the visitors back in the game. As the final whistle sounded there were scenes of celebration for the Gills who have worked hard to achieve the League title this season.
Manager Ian Varley made two changes from the side that lost at Spurs with Deanna Cooper returning in place of Jodie Mugford. Amy Russ came into the midfield at the expense of Kelly Herrett as Rachel Ahern partnered Becky Lyon in defence.
The Gills came out of the blocks the faster of the two teams and were ahead after just four minutes with the first attack of the game. A long ball from Deanna Cooper found Vicky Ashton-Jones wide out on the right wing and hit a ball across the box. There, lurking on the six yard line, was Danni Farmer who had the simple task of slotting home from close range.
Just a minute later and the Gills could have been two up when Whitney Judd found Ashton-Jones out wide in acres of space. In a carbon copy of the first goal, she swung in her cross but this time Farmer's shot hit a defender and bounced away.
Norwich had their first chance in the sixth minute when Whitney Judd committed a foul just outside the Gills area. The ball was hit into the Gills box and Kate Parsons rose highest but Katie Duffy punched the ball clear. Duffy then pulled off a world class save from Paige Sharten after she hit a speculative effort from distance.
In the 18th minute the Gills were dominating the game when Farmer swung in a free kick that Ashton-Jones touched on to Nat Crinean, but her shot went just wide. Norwich then had a great chance to score even if their striker didn't know much about it. Bex Burton charged down the right wing and mishit her cross into the Gills area where it hit Nicola Bray on the back of the head and went into the arms of a grateful Duffy.
Just a minute later and the Gills put together probably the best passing move of the game but they just couldn't find the back of the net. Ashton-Jones found Crinean who in turn played in Farmer who teed up Ashton-Jones but her shot was well saved by the keeper. After a goalmouth scramble in the 26th minute Amy Russ hammered the ball into the path of Farmer who carried the ball on and found Ashton-Jones. Her pace was too much for the left back but her shot went wide of the far post.
Norwich came into the game as the half progressed towards half time and started to dominate possession but failed to create too many clear cut chances. Their best chance of the half came when Bray smacked a shot off the bar and as the ball fell to them again Rachel Ahern put in a fantastic tackle to keep the Gills' lead intact.
In the 35th minute the Gills almost caused their own downfall when Paige Sharten swung a free kick into the box and Deanna Cooper headed it towards her own goal in an attempt to clear her lines. Only a good save from Duffy kept the ball out of the Gills net.
The Gills kicked on in the second half and in the 50th minute they had the first chance of the half when a free kick lead to an Amy Russ header that was straight at the keeper. Great work from Natalie Crinean almost carved out a great chance for the Gills. She found Danni Farmer after harrying the full back but the Gills just couldn't get anyone on the end of the inviting cross.
On the hour mark there was an early warning for the Gills as to the tactics that were going to be employed by the Canaries. Shorten pinged a long ball over the top that Bray latched onto but hit a tame shot straight at Duffy.
Shortly after and the Gills made it 2-0, a Gills shot was blocked by a Norwich defender and the ball made it to Amy Russ who hit an amazing shot into the top corner from twenty yards.
Norwich started to play their way back into the game as they looked to try and keep their slim chance of winning the League alive. From distance, Shorten hit a free kick straight through a crowd of bodies and wide of the Gills far post. The in the 72nd minute they got themselves back in the game when a long ball over the top found Bray unmarked and she slotted home under the out rushing Duffy.
The Gills could have put the game beyond the reach of Norwich when Crinean outmuscled the centre halves and got a shot away. Her shot was parried away by the keeper, it was followed in by Farmer but the angle was too acute for her to get the shot on target.
With just five minutes left on the clock, Norwich ensured that they set up a tense finish by getting the equaliser. Again it was Sharten who clipped the ball into the area from a free kick and Thatcher rose highest to head home at the far post.
Despite Norwich throwing the kitchen sink at the Gills in the last five minutes, they held on and closed out the game to seal the League title. It is no more than the Gills deserve as they move into the Southern Division of the Premie League next season.
Gillingham: Duffy, Judd, Ahern, Lyon, Kay, Farmer, East, Russ (sub Overton 85mins), Cooper, Crinean, Ashton-Jones. Subs not used: McGregor, Herrett.
Norwich City: Clarke, Larkins, McCrory, Farmen, Parsons, Smythe, Bygrave, Thatcher, Bray, Burton, Shorten. Subs: Drake, Fletcher, Smith.
(Report by Chris Dicketts)
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