Women's FA Cup third round.
(Played at Retford United fc)
This weekend was FA Cup weekend, and there were some truly mouth watering ties about. Arsenal v Blackburn, Manchester City v Leeds, Luton v Millwall etc, but i was at the big one; Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest in the third round of the Ladies FA Cup. And the prize for the winners? A three hour plus trip to Women's Southern Premier League side Gillingham Ladies FC. (The Southern Premier League is the 3rd tier of the Women's game)
The Ladies FA Cup; a brief summary.
At the moment the Ladies game in England is played all year round. At the top end the Super League is played over the summer. All other leagues below this operate in the winter months. The Ladies FA Cup spans over both seasons. As in the men's competition, sides enter at various stages depending on their league status. Whereas in the men's version, the top sides enter in the third round, the big guns in the ladies game join in the 5th round which is the first game of the season for Super League clubs. The final has no set venue (last year's was at Bristol City) and at the time of writing, this year's venue has yet to be announced.
Given the weather we have had recently, some clubs have had a backlog of games to try and get through. One of the games that was badly affected was Nottingham Forest's 2nd round match with Bradford City. Due to this delay they have effectively been a round behind. This third round tie was meant to have been played last week but again the weather put paid to that. Thankfully the weather was much better today so it was game on.
Although i have been connected with Ladies football for over a year now, I haven't much experience of the game below Super League level, so it was high time i changed all that. Sheffield United play their home games in Retford so i didn't really have an excuse for not taking in a game or two at some point. I had planned to watch them in the previous round against Durham Wildcats (a 2-1 victory) But the dreaded night shifts put paid to that idea.
First thing i needed to do was work out where each side sat in the pyramid. At the top of the women's game we have the WSL, then the next step down is the National Premier division. Below that we start to regionalise and have the Northern Premier division and the Southern Premier division. Forest are currently playing their football at this level (in the Northern section). Below this level we have another four regionalised divisions, called the combination leagues and it is at this level we find Sheffield United community FC who are members of the Northern combination (Are we keeping up at the back?). When it all boils down to it, what we had here was a 4th tier side hosting a 3rd tier side with an away tie at a 3rd tier side the prize for the winners. Hope that simplifies it for you. Quite why we need all the fancy titles for Leagues is beyond me.
Entrance to the game was £2 and i don't think anybody can complain about that. One thing that i often hear about Ladies football below Super League level is that the ladies teams aren't that well supplied when it comes to kit and stuff. This certainly wasn't the case here as both sides wore carbon copies of this season's men's side kits. Somebody in the Forest dugout was even sporting an IPad. This isn't something i have seen before at football. It's certainly not something i would want to be wafting about when there are footballs flying around here there and everywhere, but each to their own i suppose. Plus it gives you something to look at if the game is boring.
Thankfully this game was anything but boring. As a neutral when you have a cup tie featuring sides in different divisions you want the lower ranking side to take the lead to really set the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak. And that's what happened after only 4 minutes; Forest had been pushing forward in the opening few minutes and were totally caught out when Tania Marsden latched onto a clearance and outpaced the the Forest defence to then blast a powerful shot past the keeper.
Forest did look a tad rattled by this, but soon found their feet and began to turn the screw. The Blades keeper was kept busy at times, but to be honest it Forest were their own worst enemy, as they squandered a hatful of chances. Sheffield were still happy to sit in and hit on the counter and did have a golden chance to go 2-0, but the effort went over the bar. Sheffield were defending well but on 37 minutes they finally succumbed to an equaliser. As the ball was sent out wide to Aileen Whelan who cut inside and fired home the equaliser.
On 45 minutes Forest took the lead that they had deserved. A teasing cross was lobbed over from the Forest left, which was placed in that danger area between goalkeeper and defender. Whelan just got on the end of it before the defender and poked the ball home.
Forest started the second half in the same vein as they did the first, and put clear distance between themselves and the Blades on 52 minutes. Santoro in the Blades goal had pulled off another smart save at the expense of a corner. The resulting corner wasn't cleared far and Forest's Stephanie Smith picked up the loose ball and volleyed home. Although Sheffield never gave up and kept battling, they struggled to get back into the game. Whelan completed her hatrick with a smart finish before Andi Bell completed the scoring for the visitors. The Blades did have their moments and threatened from set pieces, but didn't quite have enough composure to finish when their chances did come along.
In my humble view they did however have the best player on the pitch. I know that it may sound a bit daft seeing how we had a player who notched a hatrick on show, but for me Sheffield's Demi West at number 5 was a real rock for her team. Her positional play was spot on all day and helped her team mates out on plenty of occasions. No fuss, no frills, and was in the right place at the right time. A defender very much in the Sophie Bradley mould. Had it not been for her, the scoreline could have been much worse. This is the furthest Sheffield United Community FC have ever gone in the competition, and they can hold their heads high.
As for Forest, they played some great stuff at times and i can see why they are going well in the League this season. Gillingham will be a real test for them so it's a result i will look for with interest. Forest are submitting a bid to join the newly expanded Super League for the 2014 season. If you wish to help them then head over to their facebook page and sign the petition.
Overall i must say i was pleasantly surprised by the quality on show here today. The only downside was the crowd or lack of it. Both Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest have supporter's clubs in Retford so it was a bit of a disappointment that only a handful of spectators turned up. If you aren't doing anything The Blades are at home again this Sunday against Huddersfield (1pm KO), the bar and snap huts are both open. Go and watch. You know you want to!