Watford Ladies were narrowly defeated 3-2 by Millwall Lionesses in an incident-packed encounter at Harlow Town FC.
The hosts went two-up inside 20 minutes thanks to Naomi Cole and Rosella Ayane, although the Golden Girls might have had the right to feel aggrieved at the penalty award for the first.
Ellie Mason’s spectacular strike gave Watford hope before the break, and then substitute Anneka Nuttall did likewise in the second half – responding to Ashlee Hincks restoring Millwall’s two goal lead.
Only a minute after scoring, Nuttall was given a red card for a clash with Cole. The Lady Hornets battled bravely to try and make it 3-3 but found an equaliser elusive.
It was an entertaining contest right from the start, with Watford having the better of the early stages on the 3G surface.
Having impressed last week, Mason was again causing problems for the opposition defence; the striker seeing a goal-bound effort blocked and a shot just over early on.
Shortly afterwards came one of the game’s big talking points. While the ball appeared to strike Leighanne Robe’s hand, her arms were at her side and it was powerfully hit from a couple of yards away.
The referee seemed to agree, with play carrying on before he spotted his flagging assistant. After consulting with the linesman, the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Cole stepped up to take the spot-kick and sent Shayla Burgess the wrong way, with the penalty going in with a little help from the post.
Seven minutes later and the Lionesses doubled their lead as Hincks’ deep free-kick picked out Ayane who headed home.
Millwall were proving a threat from set-pieces and nearly made it three when Megan Goss hit the bar, with a follow-up effort cleared off the line.
Watford were having some joy from open play, though, with Jenna Dear impressing in the middle of the park.
Some good work from her got the ball to Mason, who with little on unleashed a strike from 30 yards out that arrowed in to the top right hand corner to make it 2-1.
However, only six minutes had gone in the second half before Millwall were again two goals to the good – Hincks with a great free-kick leaving Burgess with no chance.
The response was immediate and it would have been a second for Watford and Mason without some brilliant goalkeeping. Mason’s shot across the keeper was aimed right towards the bottom corner but Quantrill somehow managed to keep it out.
Nuttall was the game’s first substitute and after only two minutes on the pitch, she pulled it back to 3-2. A pass from midfield played her through, and she held off the recovering defenders before keeping her composure and slotting past Quantrill.
Momentum had swung in the Golden Girls’ favour, however less than 60 seconds later it had all changed again.
Nuttall and Cole got in a tangle of legs, with the Watford striker pushing her in the back to try and get free.
The Millwall centre-back went to ground clutching her face. Like earlier on, it was the linesman who flagged first, however this time the referee didn’t consult him, issuing a red card straight away.
Despite being down to 10, the team battled bravely and exerted plenty of pressure on the hosts’ goal in the search for an equaliser.
Watford had their best chance to make it 3-3 with around 10 minutes to play. Dear’s great pass found Mason and, with the angle getting tighter by the second, she tested Quantrill with a stinging effort that was palmed away and agonisingly nowhere near a yellow shirt.
With bodies committed forward, there was always the danger of a fourth on the counter. Ayane was found in plenty of space but Burgess made herself big and kept it a one-goal game with a great save.
After six minutes of stoppage time, the full-time whistle went and a battling display from the Lady Hornets went without reward.
Watford: S Burgess, Heaslip, M Burgess, Robe, Gillard, Wride, Green (Farrow 89), Donnelly (Nuttall 59), Dear, Natkiel, Mason.
Subs not used: Rowlands, Scheffer.
Goals: Mason (37), Nuttall (61).
Red Card: Nuttall (62).