Salford City Lionesses qualified for the Manchester County Cup Semi-Finals after a hard-fought 2-0 win at Barr Hill Ladies.
Goals in each half from Chelsea Wharton and Laura Tobin sealed the win in the Lionesses’ first competitive game since the blustery win at Rochdale over a month ago.
In the league Barr Hill are our closest competitors for the title sitting second and five points behind, so it isn’t really a coincidence this was a keenly contested affair.
It took over 10 minutes for the first chance of the game to materialise as both sides sounded each other out in the opening exchanges. When it did come Beth Tattersall found herself in an excellent position at the top of the area after Tobin played a well weighted though ball to the captain, and as she struck a low shot a home defender got in a last-ditch challenge that deflected the shot out for a corner which Barr Hill duly cleared.
The game settled back into the opening rhythm and a few committed challenges started to come in, as well as some fiercely contested decisions, but it all contributed to a cup tie played in a competitive manner.
Undeterred, it was the Lionesses who took the lead just after the 20th minute. A misplaced back pass by Barr Hill gave Salford another corner that was swung in from the right by Mia Pemberton. The keeper got a punch with the ball spinning up in the air to the outer edge of the area where Abby Bennett looped a header back into the mix. Again the keeper came for it but amongst the wall of blue shirts she misjudged her leap with the ball dropping near the goal line, and Wharton prodded the ball over the line.
Not the sort of goal the midfielder is used to having become well known for her strikes from distance, but the Lionesses had something to protect and a brilliant piece of defending a minute later would prevent Barr Hill from drawing level.
A through ball down the left-hand side played in a striker, and Lionesses keeper Jess Duke came out to close down the forward one-on-on. A flick of the foot took the ball wide and round Duke with a shot from a narrowed angle following, but Hannah Rhodes had anticipated the danger and was well positioned to cover on the goal-line, turning the shot round the post.
A few minutes of goalmouth action soon settled back down into a territory-based game, with the occasional half-chance being snuffed out by the respective defences. So much so the next chance came in the 37th minute, and was a result of high-pressing with Tattersall winning the ball at the corner of the Barr Hill area and shooting, but unfortunately for the captain the angle on the shot wasn’t quite enough and it flashed across the face of goal.
That ushered in a couple more chances before the game was out, the first falling for the visitors as Bennett pinged a pass into Tobin just inside the area. The forward did well to turn and shoot but found herself being closed down by three home defenders who got the block in. From the loose ball Barr Hill broke down the other end of the pitch but were halted by a superb sliding challenge from Nic Hamilton.
Half Time: Barr Hill Ladies 0-1 Salford City Lionesses
This wasn’t a game that looked likely to come close to the 8-0 win on the field the other side of the path on our last visit to Barr Hill, and there were still warning signs from the hosts that they would threaten to punish Salford if the lead wasn’t extended.
Top scorer Feiruz Abdullahi was introduced at the break to do exactly that, but four minutes in it was striker partner Tobin who doubled Salford’s advantage. A late challenge in the centre circle by Barr Hill was penalised with a free kick awarded that Ellen Thornton stepped up to take. The centre back floated a ball down the middle to the edge of the area, and critically Barr Hill let it bounce instead of getting a head on the lob. Instinctively, Tobin had kept chasing the ball and received it with her back to goal, taking a touch to control and steady herself before hitting a shot on the turn that nestled past the keeper.
A few minutes later a cross was put in from the right by Barr Hill which dropped dangerously close to the goalmouth. Duke parried the effort under pressure from blue shirts, with Hamilton sweeping the second ball clear.
Abdullahi’s first attempt came just after the hour mark as she met a Bennett corner at the back post, but her shot was blocked by a number of bodies defending on the line.
It was Duke’s turn again to make a brave defensive call as she raced off her line to close down a Barr Hill forward, and she did it to good effect too as the shot was clipped and went behind for a corner which again was cleared. Salford didn’t need many more close calls to tighten the rare gaps that had appeared at the back, and for the rest of the game it was about management and keeping Barr Hill at arm’s length.
In the 87th minute a free kick was won by Salford, just outside the box and on the right-hand side. Wharton stepped up and had a shot on goal but cleared the crossbar by a couple of yards. There were a couple more chances in the final minute of the match with substitute Phoebe Duckworth and Abdullahi twice being closed down inside the area, before the ball dropped for Tobin who also found the route to goal blocked as Barr Hill held on to a faint glimmer of hope.
Full Time: Barr Hill Ladies 0-2 Salford City Lionesses
On this occasion there was to be no final chance for the hosts as they were eliminated from the County Cup. For Salford though it will be a sweetly celebrated victory, and shows that not all wins have to be as emphatic as some have been in the league. Chances were taken with not many conceded, and now we await the draw for the semi-finals where our opponent will be one of FC United of Manchester Women’s, Manchester Stingers, Sale United Ladies or West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC Ladies.