Sheffield Hold Off Villa Fight Back To Win Season's Finale
Sheffield finished the 2017/18 FA Women's Super League season with a 4-3 win away at Aston Villa, ensuring their finished in fifth place overall.
A Melissa Johnson treble looked to have put the visitors out of sight as they led 4-1 at half time on the final day of the FA WSL 2 season. But second half goals by Jodie Hutton and Beth Merrick had the fans on their edge of their seats until the final whistle.
The Lamb ground was basked in sunshine as the two teams took to the field for the last time this season, forming a guard of honour for the Aston Villa captain, Chloe Jones, who was making an emotional final appearance for the claret and blues.
The game leapt into action as straight away, and Sheffield defender Sarah Jackson was an early casualty of a physical game, having to be stretchered off with a knee injury after just seven minutes after a clash with Jones.
From the resulting corner, and with Sheffield prevented from bringing a replacement on, Villa's Jade Richards nodded the hosts in front from close range after just seven minutes.
Sheffield's response was immediate, Melissa Johnson levelling as she poked the ball home from a corner which had dropped into the mix. Hannah Cain might have given the visitors the lead on 20 minutes, cutting in off the left and letting fly from 25 yards with a shot that smashed against the crossbar.
Villa might have taken the lead moments later as Jenna Dear under-hit a back pass with Beth Merrick lurking, but Danielle Gibbons stood firm and made a good save from her shot.
But it was Sheffield who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the final 15 minutes of the half, first as M Johnson took the ball round Aguirre after Emma Johnson’s shot was blocked.
Then Chloe Dixon hooked home from 12 yards after M Johnson’s cross was punched into her path by Aguirre, before Johnson, who was giving the Villa defence nightmares, completed her treble with a superb lob from just outside the box.
But in spite of the seemingly dominant score line, momentum changed in the second half after the lively Jodie Hutton ran onto an Elisha N’Dow clearance to coolly slot past Gibbons in the 48th minute.
A physical game took its toll on Sheffield as Hannah Cain, one of four Sheffield players to receive treatment during a hectic afternoon for the physio, finally gave way and was replaced by Katie Anderson.
Chloe Dixon should have put the game to bed when she was put clean through with just the keeper to beat, getting the ball stuck under her feet trying to take it round Aguirre, and Villa punished the missed chance moments later as Beth Merrick cleverly clipped the ball into the top corner in the 71st minute.
Five matches in a fortnight finally seemed to be taking its toll on Sheffield as they struggled to regain control of the match. Richards, push up front for Villa in the closing stages, could have levelled things up as her header clip the post as Villa just fell short of repeating their sensational fightback from 4-1 down to win 5-4 on the corresponding day of last season.
Aguirre also made excellent saves from Melissa Johnson and Emma Johnson in stoppage time, but four goals on the day proved enough for Sheffield to register a sixth win in their last eight matches, finishing the season in fine form.
Fifth place repeats the finish Sheffield achieved in their debut season in the FA Women's Super League in 2016, but they better their points tally this time around.