A wonderful season ended on a slightly sour note as Coventry United Ladies lost the FA Womens’ National League Play Off 3-0 to Blackburn Rovers Ladies.
The Champions of the Northern and Southern Premier Divisions met for a one off spectacular at Bradford’s Northern Commercials Stadium, AKA Valley Parade, with Blackburn seeking to complete a domestic quadruple, after also earning the FAWNL Cup and the Lancashire County Cup, while the Red and Green Girls on the verge of a treble, hoping to add to their League title and Birmingham County Cup. United kept faith in a starting line up who have been prominent in the last months of the season, with hometown girl Rosie McDonnell starting her last game for the club, with Helen Dermody and Amber Hughes on the flanks. Amy Wathan and Lois Jefferies continued their long standing partnership up front. Blackburn captain Lynda Sheperd lined up for her last career match. Her chances of lifting the trophy looked promising before the game, with the dominant attacking trio of Saffron Jordan, Natasha Flint and Lagan Makin all starting.
United started on top, pressing the Latics defence, but failing to break through. Whilst they looked comfortable in possession, the Red and Green Girls chosen approach of lofted balls to the strikers over the Rovers defenders proved unsuccessful, the balls being either too long or picked up by the opposition. Long range strikes proved to be Coventry’s most successful option, with Beth Merrick smacking the crossbar with a 25 yarder. Little by little, Blackburn evolved from the hunted to the hunters, and began turning the tide. Their closest attempt came from Kayleigh McDonald, her header following a right sided corner promoted a good save from Wood. Several unsuccessful long rage strikers later, Saffron Jordan took to the stage, sticking her laces through the ball at close range, taking advantage of a neat through pass from Flint to give Blackburn the lead 5 minutes before half time. There was still time for late chances from Merritt and Amber Hughes to equalise before the break, but neither could beat Gibbons in the Rovers goal.
It didn’t take long for Blackburn to extend their advantage after half time, 8 minutes in fact. Flint turned from provider to scorer, as she surged from her own half towards the United net with the ball in toe. Coventry captain and goalkeeper Sue Wood took a chance and tried to meet Flint outside the box to prevent her approach, but Flint was having none of it, and completed a delightful lob over Wood and into the unguarded net. A similar drive moments later resulted in a strike from the same distance into the Valley Parade away end. There was little doubt Blackburn were in control of the second half, and United were restricted to hopeful counters and opportunistic attempts from outside the box. Makin could have made it 3-0 with an attempt from the left corner of the 6 yard box, but the forward failed to keep her shot below the bar. The Northern Champions wouldn’t have to wait long for their third, as in the 70thminutes, Natasha Fenton’s bullet header from a Jess Holbrook corner sealed the deal for Gemma Donnelly’s side. The game ended in sad circumstances, as Rovers captain Lynda Shepherd and United star Jade Formaston collided as both sought to claim a lose ball on the slide, with Formo coming off worse. With only added time to play, and the United player desperately needing lengthy treatment, referee called time early, and confirmed Blackburn’s fourth and final trophy of the season,
United left the field to a standing ovation from the travelling Red and Green Army. While all hoped to end the season with a victory, we can all look forward to reaping the rewards of this season’s biggest victory, a place in the FA Womens’; Championship next season