Ladies First Team vs. Barnsley (1 : 2)
S&H Women's Challenge Cup
The quarter-finals of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women's Challenge Cup has been familiar territory for Sheffield FC over the years, but not for the current side with just three of them ever having competed at this stage before.
Although playing in different divisions, just five league places separated Sheffield from their hosts Barnsley going into the tie, with the two team's recent track records of the sides a much more accurate reflection of their current status: Barnsley undefeated since September, Sheffield with just two wins in the same period.
The cold winter sun sparkled across the academy stadium pitch at Barnsley FC's Oakwell Training Ground, a reflection of Barnsley's first half performance with Sheffield always second best.
Sheffield struggled to keep possession for large spells, and were punished for their slow start to the game midway through the first half. A free-kick from deep wasn't dealt with, the second ball unsuccessfully cleared on the left side of the box and, as the ball was redelivered, Danielle Whitham met it first, knocking it past Sheffield 'keeper, Liz Hobson, and giving the hosts the lead.
Minutes later, a Sheffield throw was well pressed by the more aggressive, more determined, and more hungry Barnsley side. The first ball was hacked away, the second sliced, the third found Darcie Greene who had run off her defender and, although the iniitial shot was excellently saved by Hobson, the second effort crept in.
Finally, on 35 minutes Sheffield started to play, with Jess Heald the catalyst for everything good on the right. Her calmness on the ball first fed in Lisa Giampalma, whose cross couldn't find the killer touch. Then Heald found Milly Wortley, she swerved in and out leaving the defender to fall, but the shot just couldn't get away in time.
On 40 minutes, a good press of the back line by Molly Havard caused the defender to play the back pass, and perhaps unsettled by Sheffield's increase in intensity, Barnsley keeper Skye Kirkham mis-controlled it allowing the ball to roll in under her foot for 2-1.
The visitors finished the half playing better, with Wortley and Ellie Hawcroft just unable to get meaningful shots away to trouble the Barnsley net in spite of creating half chances.
Sheffield came out the second half and looked to play, resulting in a much more even game. An early change saw Megan Clarkson brought on for Jade Butcher, providing a constant threat of a forward pass as well as security at the back.
However, the half very much reflected recent weeks for Club. The intent and work rate was there, but a reluctance to shoot and lack of a clinical touch when they did, meant the half was ultimately uneventful.
Instead it was Barnsley on the break who had a couple of decent chances. Former Sheffield development player Shannon Durkin missed a golden chance late on the seal the game, with Hobson shining again.
Substitutes Jen Pearson and Millee Clarke added invention and intensity to the side in the latter stages of the game, fashioning half chances for an equaliser. However, a couple of snap chances by Havard and Wortley were the best Sheffield could muster and the Barnsley back line held strong to progress to the semi-finals.
Photos courtesy of Paula Johnson.