SAINTS FC Women missed the chance to go to the top of the Championship after a 2-1 defeat against promotion-rivals Crystal Palace at St Mary's.

Izzy Atkinson gave the visitors the lead before Elise Hughes made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.

Saints were much-improved after the break and pulled a goal back through Lucia Kendall but they did not have enough to earn a point.

The result means Southampton have dropped below the Eagles in the table, who are now in third.

Saints are now three points behind league leaders Charlton after they were held to a 1-1 draw against Lewes.

Marieanne Spacey-Cale named an unchanged side after last Sunday's 1-0 win at Sheffield United.

The Eagles went close early on but Kayla Rendell managed to tip Annabel Blanchard's strike over the bar inside the area.

It had been a positive start from the away side with Saints struggling to get out of their half in the early stages.

Palace deservedly took the lead midway through the first period when Atkinson drove into the box before firing across Rendell and into the bottom corner.

Spacey-Cale's side had their first dangerous moment soon after when Katie Wilkinson spun in behind - her cross, though, was just beyond Sophia Pharoah in the middle.

Atkinson was carrying a real threat for the visitors and she again called Rendell into action with a low strike but the goalkeeper was equal to it.

Saints almost drew level on the brink of half-time when Wilkinson's clever pass found Pharoah, whose shot was saved by Demi Lambourne.

Palace made the home side pay seconds later as Hughes tucked the ball into an empty net after Molly Sharpe's initial strike had come back off the post.

It was the Welsh forward's 14th goal in the Championship this season and it left Saints with a mountain to climb in the second half.

A quick break just after the hour mark almost brought Saints back into the game when a combination of Wilkinson and Pharoah set up Jemma Purfield - but her shot was blocked.

With under 20 minutes remaining, Spacey-Cale turned to her bench hoping to galvanise her team as Lexi Lloyd-Smith replaced Pharoah.

The hosts finally broke the Crystal Palace resistance when Kendall got on the end of Paige Peake's in-swinging free-kick on 75 minutes.

Saints almost grabbed a late equaliser but Atlanta Primus was unable to turn the ball in at the near-post, while Lloyd-Smith struck an effort wide minutes later.

Saints: Rendell; Mott, Rafferty, Peake; Collett, Kendall, Primus, Purfield; Pike, Pharoah (Lloyd-Smith, 70), Wilkinson (Wynne, 86)

Unused Subs: Howard, Haaland, Milne, Nohasiarisoa, Kraft, Dean

Booked: Rafferty, Collett

Crystal Palace: Lambourne; Percival, Everett, Nolan, Gibbons; Potter (Arthur, 83), Hopcroft (Filbey, 83), Blanchard (Guyatt, 77); Sharpe (Dennis, 66), Atkinson, Hughes

Unused Subs: Negri, Reilly, Sibley, Watson, Larkin

Booked: Lambourne

Referee: Constantine Hatzidakis

Attendance: 1,941

Goals: Atkinson 22'

Hughes 45'

Kendall 76'