Ladies First Team vs. Blackburn Rovers (2 : 4)
FA WNL Northern Division
Sheffield arrived in the north-west knowing that they faced their toughest challenge of the season so far, visiting a Blackburn Rovers side that sat top of the FA WNL Northern Premier division with maximum points from its opening eleven games.
That test was made all the harder as Sheffield travelled with just 11 players, the squad reduced by injury and absence, and reduced further by a couple of late pull outs on the day.
As expected, Blackburn dominated proceedings with Sheffield showing their intentions to reduce the damage, something they managed through discipline execution and very hard work. The hosts were ahead within six minutes through the imperious Natasha Flint, who turned her marker and dispatched a ruthless finish low into the corner with devastating efficiency for 1-0.
The half continued with Blackburn pulling the strings, but also being frustrated by a resolute Sheffield defence that restricted the Lancashire side to snap shots and chances from angles. On 25 minutes, however, a gap was found with the ever-lively Saffron Jordan doing brilliantly after a Sheffield mistake, and then finding Jess Holbrook whose finish was unstoppable.
Sheffield's isolated chances came on the break, with goalkeeper Liz Hobson doing a great job at the other end to keep out Rovers' continued half chances. Shortly before the end of the first half, Holly Housley twisted and turned past two Rovers players before delivering a delightful cross right onto the head of Molly Havard who flicked it past ex-Club 'keeper, Danielle Gibbons, to half the deficit.
But an annoyed and frustrated Blackburn hit back immediately. Alex Taylor did well on the right to beat the tackle of Megan Tinsley, and then to fire a superb left-footed strike which curled into the top corner to restore their two-goal advantage.
Though Blackburn's dominance continued after the break, Sheffield offered more of a threat going forward, and were able to unsettle the hosts as a long ball in from Jade Butcher found Jen Pearson whose flicked volley at the near post was well caught by the alert Gibbons.
It took until just after the hour mark for the next real chance. Kayleigh McDonald turned her marker on the edge of the box and dispatched a good low finish past Hobson to put the hosts further ahead at 4-1.
After that though, Hobson stayed resolute behind a team that continued to work tirelessly to restrict the brilliance of Blackburn's superb forward line, whilst it was on the counter that Sheffield continued to threaten.
Their hard work was rewarded with ten minutes to go when a high press resulted in a mistake in the Rovers' back-line, and Ellie Hawcroft pounced and finished calmly into the bottom corner giving a hugely respectable scoreline against the best in the league.
Assistant Manager, Chris Hames, had this to say after the match:
“We knew the magnitude of the challenge that faced us today, and that we had to be realistic about where we are as a team and what this game was all about. So to come away feeling good about the principles we worked on, the work rate we put in, and the togetherness we showed, is a massive plus from what might have been a very demoralising day."
"This is part of a long process, and if we can take these elements into other games and continue to work like this in training, we will give ourselves the best chance to get the results we want and need now.”
Next up for Sheffield is a first home game in two months as Club welcomes Fylde to the Home of Football, Sunday 3 February, 2pm kick off.
Photos courtesy of John Shirras.