Cardiff Ladies 1-1 Villa Ladies: Richards on target
Villa Ladies earned a solid point at Cardiff Ladies in their first game of 2013 - but it should have been all three.
Joe Hunt's young, emerging side played with great quality throughout the ninety minutes and dominated proceedings.
Within 60 seconds of the start, striker Natalie Gibson - in for the departed Katie Wilkinson - rattled the crossbar with a stinging drive from 25 yards after good work by Sherry McCue and Maddy Cusack.
Then 15 minutes later birthday girl Emma Follis cut in from the left wing to rattle the same spot on the bar after a wonderful reverse pass from Gibson.
Gibson was at it again on the half-hour mark with a beautiful pass to release Follis who skipped round the stranded keeper only to be pushed wide by the recovering defender. Her snap-shot was cleared from danger by the team in blue.
And so it proved, with Villa deservedly taking the lead just past the hour mark. Gibson drove the ball into the danger area for Richards to outjump her marker and glance the ball into the top corner.
But Villa Ladies couldn't hold on for the win, unfortunately.
A rare moment of Cardiff pressure resulted in a spot-kick on 70 minutes after the referee adjudged that Richards had fouled the forward.
Paige Steward calmly rolled the penalty in past the stand-in keeper Natalie Courtney.
Villa still had opportunities to win it, Gibson having a shot cleared off the line, Follis jinking past three tackles to pull the ball back to Mel Lawley, whose shot was blocked.
Hunt said: "I'm disappointed not to have three points but the girls were magnificent. I can't criticise any of them.
"We dominated the game from start to finish, we looked really good out there. The game plan was executed well by the team, we tweaked the formation to a 4-2-3-1 to start with and we looked solid.
"Once we got a foothold in the game we pushed Fol and Shez higher in support of Gibbo.
"We created so many chances and opportunities so to not win is hard to take. They were gutted after but will bounce back.
"Next week we play Coventry City away in the League Cup quarter finals. It's a huge game for us and we'll prepare properly for it.
"I have some players chomping at the bit to be involved, the squad will be rotated again as we have some huge games in the next few weeks."
VILLA LADIES: Courtney, Vaughan, Mannion, Merritt, Petrovic, Richards, Follis, Moran, Gibson, Cusack, McCue (Lawley, 58) Subs not used - Lowe, Fergusson, Merrick, Stringer.