Sheffield United: Women fail to beat the odds and financial divide but showcase their grit and character against Manchester United

It was always going to be an uphill struggle, both in terms of bridging the financial divide and ensuing difference in quality.

Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 21:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 21:52 pm
Veatriki Sarri of Sheffield Utd's Women during the The FA Women's Championship match at the Olympic Legacy Park, Sheffield. Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The challenge facing Sheffield United Women grew even tougher when, already missing a swathe of their squad due to ineligibility, injury and suspension, they found themselves on the wrong end of several poor refereeing decisions.

But even though they failed to beat the odds, succumbing 4-0 to their namesakes from Manchester at the Olympic Legacy Park, Carla Ward's players demonstrated a durability and character which should serve them well throughout the remainder of the FA Championship campaign after suffering the worst possible start.

Indeed, despite falling behind in the first minute when Katie Zelem swept home from long-range, United spurned a wonderful opportunity which,  had it been taken, might not have changed the eventual outcome but would have certainly given the visitors much more to think about.

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Former England and Great Britain captain Casey Stoney has used the resources placed at her disposal to assemble a prodigiously talented squad since taking charge in Manchester eight months ago, including Alex Greenwood, the partner of United defender Jack O'Connell, and Jess Sigsworth; a graduate of United's youth academy.

With her leading striker Sophie Jones ruled-out and youth international Ebony Salmon refused permission to play against her parent club, Ward was forced to revise her plans ahead of kick-off before being forced into another rethink when Zelem pounced.

But with the contest still evenly poised, United created an excellent opportunity to equalise when Chloe Dixon found herself bearing down on goal. Unfortunately for the hosts, whose budget is around a 10th of their opponents, the centre-forward's shot flew wide.

There was a strange incident before kick-off when one of the match officials refused Ward's offer of a handshake despite exchanging a similar pleasantry with Stoney.

No blame should be attached to the 35-year-old's counterpart across the technical area but it left United's bench scratching their heads. Even more so after watching two fouls go unpunished during the skirmishes leading up to Lauren James' superb solo effort.

Worse was to follow on the stroke of half-time when a perfectly timed and clean challenge from Dan Cox was inexplicably deemed a foul. Ella Toone duly converted from the spot before United, despite courageous performances from Cox and her fellow defender Sam Tierney, conceded a fourth when Mollie Green headed home past Nikki Davies, who later made some important saves.