SOUTHAMPTON FC Women kept their slim promotion hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Lewes on Sunday afternoon.

Saints rushed to a two-goal lead through Emma Thompson before Grace Riglar pulled one back and planted a seed of doubt in the hosts' minds.

Lucia Kendall cracked the woodwork early in a second half where Saints had to remain resolute at the back to prevent Lewes from drawing the game.

The south coast side now sit third in the Women's Championship, four points behind Sunderland with just two league games to go.

Second-place Crystal Palace are three points ahead of Southampton and crucially have a game in hand - a home fixture against fifth-place Birmingham. 

All four of Southampton's England under-23 internationals started as Marieanne Spacey-Cale made three changes from the side that lost 2-1 at Blackburn last Sunday.

Summer signing Emma Thompson was handed her first league start while Laura Rafferty and Lexi Lloyd-Smith also came into the starting lineup.

Saints showed their attacking intent from kick-off as Ella Morris stung the palms of Sophie Whitehouse within 90 seconds of the first whistle.

The hosts continued to put pressure on relegation candidates Lewes and found the breakthrough on 11 minutes when Thompson turned Morris' cross in for her first Saints goal.

The Chelsea academy graduate did not have to wait long for her second St Mary's goal; she reacted quickest in the box to prod home after an initial effort was blocked.

Just four minutes separated the two goals and confidence radiated from the former England youth international who then knocked the ball past her marker before spraying a great ball out wide.

Southampton's momentum was halted when Megan Collett was forced off through injury and replaced by Megan Wynne just after Whitehouse denied Thompson her hattrick.

Despite only escaping their half on a rare occasion, Lewes pulled one back five minutes before halftime through Grace Riglar.

Kendall looked to have scored the third, restoring their two-goal lead, just after the restart, but her vicious effort came back off the woodwork.

Saints were almost made to pay for that unfortunate miss as Kayla Rendell was forced into a one-on-one save to deny Aimee Claypole minutes later.

Lewes continued to search for an equaliser and had a weak penalty shout turned down eight minutes from full time, leading to manager Scott Booth being booked.

Lloyd-Smith headed just past the post on 84 minutes after Molly Pike sat her marker down and delivered an inviting cross to the back post.

Saints Women: Rendell; Collett (Wynne, 30'), Mott, Rafferty, Purfield; Kendall, Primus, Pike; Morris, Lloyd-Smith, Thompson (Griffiths, 73').

Unused subs: Haaland, Milne, Nohasiarisoa, Surin, Mallon, Jeffery.

Lewes: Whitehouse, Riglar, Garrard (Hack, 80), Hamilton, Farrugia (Blades, 63'), Olding, Roche (Hazard, h-t), Godfry, Hand, Heuchan (Vassell, 72'), Claypole (Grey, 80).

Unused subs: Moore, Cleverly, Brasero-Carreira.

Attendance: 1,853