Salford City Lionesses reached their third and last cup final of the season after coming from behind to beat Barr Hill Ladies 4-2 in the Greater Manchester Women’s Football League Challenge Cup semi-final.
As expected between the GMWFL’s top two sides this was a closely-fought contest and there wasn’t much in the way of chances, but it’s when those chances were taken that mattered, and a comeback inspired by Beth Tattersall keeps dreams of a quadruple alive.
It was the captain who had the first chance of the afternoon as Salford put some early pressure on Barr Hill and won a corner in the first minute. The hosts struggled to clear with any real conviction and Tattersall slashed at a shot which was saved at the near post. Chelsea Wharton was next to have a go with 10 minutes on the clock, again after a corner wasn’t fully cleared, but her shot went wide.
While it had been close, Salford had settled the better but Barr Hill soon changed that. On 20 minutes they won a free-kick on the right that was delivered into the area and a header dropped narrowly over the bar. From the resulting goal kick the hosts countered and after a shot was blocked, captain Pip Wakefield picked up the loose ball and tucked it away in the bottom-right hand corner.
Somewhat against the run of play and Barr Hill looked to assert their dominance on the game, but were left frustrated with mis-placed passes and cheap turnovers of possession while Salford didn’t threaten the goalkeeper themselves too much.
That changed with half an hour on clock and two goals in as many minutes by Tattersall. For the first, the captain’s pace took her behind the Barr Hill defence to bring down a lobbed pass from Annabel Ainscough and fire past the goalkeeper.
If you could call a long ball over the top ‘route one’ or ‘hoof-ball’, then the second was definitely at the other end of the scale and more towards ‘total football’. A move started from the back for Salford and very quickly was worked through the middle to Tattersall. A neat one-two with Feiruz Abdullahi played Tattersall into space at the top of the area and she kept her cool to curl a shot into the right-hand post, and like that Salford were in front.
Control of the game swung back into Salford’s favour, and with five minutes to go the Lionesses were given the perfect opportunity to reflect that when Abdullahi was brought down in the area as she broke forward on the right. Wharton stepped up and drilled a shot low to the right-hand side, and made it 3-1 to the visitors. She could have doubled her tally before the break, but sent a shot over the crossbar after a corner was cleared to her.
Half Time: Barr Hill Ladies 1-3 Salford City Lionesses
With one foot wedged in the final, survival was the key message for the second half. We have already seen this season the challenges that Barr Hill’s pitch can throw up, and at Manchester Stingers there was a scare late one so the gauntlet thrown down was whether lessons had been learned. As it goes, they were.
The hosts were frustrated with loose balls forward and more intricate attacks broken up by a stubborn defence, and it wasn’t until the hour mark when Jess Duke was called into action. When she was, she stood strong and made a save from Barr Hill’s number seven.
A rare opportunity, and it was another 10 minutes before any more action of note occurred, and it would prove to be pivotal as Salford extended their lead further. Tattersall and Abdullahi have been pretty ruthless up front this season, and the pair combined in the middle with Abdullahi being released into the area on this occasion and keeping her cool to clip a shot past the oncoming keeper for 4-1.
Salford looked very comfortable now, it was a game of composure and cool heads, but there had been a few niggling fouls. Into the final 10 minutes and one of those was punished with more than just a free kick as Barr Hill’s number seven stepped up on the left and hit a dipping shot perfectly between the underside of the bar and Duke’s up-stretched palm, pulling a goal back for Barr Hill at quite a good time with seven minutes to go.
If anything though the Lionesses were stirred and went on the prowl again within a couple of minutes. Abdullahi reached the area on the left-hand side and had a shot blocked very suspiciously, but even the appeals for a penalty and the sighs from the Barr Hill players and bench couldn’t convince the referee that a penalty should be awarded for handball. Just a minute later, Abdullahi smashed a shot over.
Luckily that was that, and the Lionesses negotiated five minutes of added time with no hassle or further controversy.
Full Time: Barr Hill Ladies 2-4 Salford City Lionesses
This season has presented different challenges at different times for the Lionesses, and it seems the challenge at the moment is character with questions being asked of their ability to bounce back in games. That is being answered without question, and this afternoon was another exemplary performance as a 1-0 deficit was turned into this victory.
Barr Hill have tested us on a number of occasions, and proven why they have pushed us in the league this season. On paper this fixture would have been the GMWFL Challenge Cup final between the two best teams in the leagues, but it is Langho Ladies who await in the final of this (as they do in the Division 1 Cup final).