Sheffield FC Ladies completed a great treble with a magnificent win in the FA Women’s Premier League Cup Final at Burton Albion FC’s Pirelli Stadium.
Having secured the FAWPL Northern Division title with five of their 20 league fixtures to spare last month, and also won the Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA Women’s Cup for a third successive season, this triumph was the icing on the cake for Helen Mitchell’s side who, prior to the current campaign, had had a mixed time in the League Cup.
Sheffield took the game to Cardiff from the start. An excellent penalty area tackle by Kayleigh Green prevented Jodie Michalska getting a shot in, and then Suzanne Davies saw her strike saved by Sophie Dando before Sheffield were awarded a penalty after Ellie Gilliatt’s cross hit Louise Hutton’s arm.
Dando, diving to her right, kept out Carla Ward’s 12th minute spot kick, but she was powerless to prevent the Sheffield captain following up to net the rebound.
Cardiff responded and Claire Wallhead tipped a shot on to the bar, then saved to prevent Naomi Clipston netting the rebound.
But a poor ball out by Dando, coupled with Nicola Cousins and Cori Williams colliding, left Ward with a free shot at goal and she made no mistake to double the lead after 34 minutes.
Cardiff pulled one back following a similarly “generous” pass out by Wallhead, Bethan Lloyd applying the finish.
But Cardiff hopes fell again as Davies drove home from inside the six yard box in the 45th minute to send Sheffield into the break 3-1 ahead.
Gilliatt’s diagonal free kick from wide on the left was met by Michalksa at the near angle to beat Dando and increase the advantage to 4-1 five minutes after half time.
Substitute Issy Hayes twice went close to increasing Sheffield’s advantage, before two goals in 90 seconds wrapped up the final.
Ward completed her hat-trick, heading home from Giampalma’s cross on 73 minutes and then Giampalma took the ball wide of Dando and tucked the ball inside the post to make it 6-1.
City’s second goal, with under five minutes remaining, came when Townsend converted a penalty, awarded after Michelle Green’s shot was blocked by a hand.
Only Leeds United (twice) and Sporting Club Albion had breached Sheffield’s defence more than once in their 22 all-FAWPL encounters this season. However, Sheffield are formidable in both defence and attack, this being the 10th time in those same 22 games that they have hit five or more in a game.
For Ward, the final represented a remarkable climax to a season which began with her undergoing surgery for a back injury, which seriously threatened to end her playing days.
Recovery and rehabilitation went much better than anyone had realistically expected and Ward was back playing in November with the reserves, returning to first team action with a goal in a 3-2 win at Leeds back in December.
It was Sheffield’s first appearance in the final and though most previous winners are now competing in the 18 strong FA Women’s Super League, Sheffield were thoroughly deserving winners on the day (and treble winners for the season).
They would arguably prove more than a match for several WSL clubs.
Mitchell has guided Sheffield throughout their remarkable rise from the bottom of the Women’s pyramid to their current zenith of the winter season.
* SHEFFIELD: Claire Wallhead, Kirsty Richardson, Natasha Cooke, Rebecca Lee, Ellie Gilliatt, Lisa Giampalma, Carla Ward, Kerry Parkin, Lynn Goodman, Suzanne Davies, Jodie Michalska. Subs: Aimee Johnson,Leanne De Silva, Isabella Hayes. Unused: Catherine Lawson, Olivia Foxton.
* Sheffield will be presented with the FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division trophy and medals at Sunday’s home game against Bradford City.
Sheffield drew 2-2 on Tuesday’s visit to Derby, Jodie Michalska giving Sheffield the lead at both 1-0 and 2-1.