Sheffield United Women beaten 4-0 but Manchester City boss heaps praise on Carla Ward's side
In a sense, this was a glimpse into the future. Or at least, if they manage to gain promotion from the FA Women’s Championship, what life in the Super League might be like.
But it also, given yawning financial chasm between themselves and Manchester City, this Continental Cup tie also proved an exercise in sheer bloody persistence for Sheffield United Women.
It was to their credit, given the experience at the visitors’ disposal and money which has been lavished on Nick Cushing’s team, that Carla Ward’s side were able to keep City at bay until conceding twice during the dying embers of the first-half.
So it was to their credit, given the effort they had expended repelling City’s attacks, that the second did not turn out to be any more profitable for the opposition.
Particularly when Jade Pennock, the United centre-forward, put the match into context.
“I’ve been working all day, I drove here through rush hour and had one banana,” she said afterwards. “So I’m out on my feet.
“I’m a sports development officer, based in Leeds, so I’ve been coaching. City’s preparation was probably a little bit different. So to hold them as long as we did was good, to be fair. In the end, we probably just ran out of legs.”
“It was great, to be out there against some of the best players in the world,” Pennock continued. “I think the team they put out showed they knew we might pose them a problem or too. We can take a lot away with us.”
United have been mightily impressive in the league this term, climbing to second in the table only a year after being granted entry to one of the sport’s flagship competitions. But City, the current holders of this trophy, represented a huge step up in class with a Bronze boot World Cup winner and a host of internationals taking their place in Cushing’s squad.
It was one of those, Pauline Bremer, who finally punctured United’s resistance towards the end of the opening period; caressing the ball past a helpless Becky Flaherty before repeating the feat soon afterwards.
The German had also gone close at the beginning of the quarter-final before England’s Steph Houghton saw a shot cleared off the line following the re-start.
“I think it was evident that we’re a full-time squad,” Cushing said. “We have more time to work with the players, to improve their nutrition and all the other stuff.
“But Sheffield are going well, they’ve got lots of talent. It’s just that we’re a few years ahead in our development.”
If United progress as they hope over the coming seasons, then players such as City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck might choose to remain in Sheffield rather than pursue careers across the Pennines.
Although the Sheffield-born youngster was largely a spectator, she was forced to take some touches of the ball after the interval as United attempted to loosen her team’s grip on the game.
Flaherty, who had done well to deny Bremer almost straight from kick-off, excelled herself again to frustrate Laura Coombs before she opened her account for the campaign to extend City’s advantage.
Bremer completed her hat-trick with the final touch of the contest, heading the ball home from an acute angle.
“Sheffield are a good team,” Cushing said. “They’re organised and we’ve watched them.
“You’ve seen scores or six, seven and eight nil in the WSL this season. We knew that wouldn’ be the case against them.”
Meanwhile, United’s under-18’s exited the FA Youth Cup at the fourth round stage after being beaten 2-1 by Fulham, after playing the majority of the tie with 10 men.