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Salford City Lionesses, Manchester Stingers 3-4 Salford City Lionesses, Manchester FA Women's Challenge CupSalford City Lionesses reached their second Cup final of the season with a brilliant 4-3 win away at Manchester Stingers.

After an early setback, the Lionesses responded to lead 2-1 at the break thanks to goals from Laura Tobin and Feiruz Abdullahi. 

A quick start to the second half saw Abdullahi add another, and Ellen Thornton made it 4-1 before a couple of late goals from last year’s finalists set up an edgy period of injury time.

However the Lionesses held on and can look forward to another chance at silverware later in the season, this time against holders FC United of Manchester who beat West Didsbury & Chorlton 4-3 in the other semi-final.

After the game manager Shauna Duffy praised the character of her side to come from behind against a side who are two divisions up.

“We went into the game not really knowing what to expect but we believed in ourselves, we’ve played the same way all year, we’ve become better ourselves and it’s now into another final so there’s not much better than that is there!

“It was a bit of a shock, we didn’t expect the goal so early on, but then we got settled after about 15-20 minutes, grew into the game then dominated it really from there. The attitude and character we showed was fantastic!

“We’ll continue training hard, keep going as we do, get every game under our belt then keep going from strength to strength!”

Salford City Lionesses, Manchester Stingers 3-4 Salford City Lionesses, Manchester FA Women's Challenge CupStingers started the game the brighter side and passed the ball around with a swagger akin to that of a side higher up in the football pyramid. They had the first chance of the game in the fourth minute when Michelle Townsend hit an effort from just inside the area, but Jess Duke wasn’t particularly tested and saved that one.

The number one nearly set up the opening goal a minute later when she sent a long free-kick down the middle. Abdullahi chased that one and out-muscled her marker to go one-on-one with Stingers keeper Olivia Fay, however as her path took her wide it allowed Fay to recover and get a block in. 

A minute later Beth Tattersall drove down the right-hand side and slipped a pass through to Abdullahi. The top scorer took the shot on from a narrow angle, but Fay had an easy save at her near post.

In the eighth minute Stingers won possession in the middle as Salford were caught trying to dribble clear, and the ball came to Townsend via Bethany Hayes. In plenty of space on the right, Townsend lined up a shot for the top corner, but curled the effort narrowly over and Stingers were nearly made to pay a few minutes later. 

Mia Pemberton advanced on the left and had a shot blocked, but the loose ball came down to Abby Bennett. The left-sided midfielder slammed in a shot and watched in disbelief as it came off the underside of the crossbar, and Stingers cleared the danger.

The hosts then made Salford pay for that missed chance in the 16th minute. A throw-in was taken quickly on the left and came to the feet of Faye Woodhead who reached the byline before moving in-field and past Thornton. A clipped cross to the back post followed where Hayes was waiting to tap in the opening goal, and for just the second time this season the Lionesses were behind in a game.

Stingers probably edged the opening stages of the game in terms of possession and pass completion, but they were nearly pegged back immediately when Chelsea Wharton lined up a free kick, centrally positioned and 40 yards out. It was a thumping effort too from the midfielder which Fay didn’t catch cleanly, but she did enough to fumble the ball away and Stingers were soon on the offensive with Natasha Priestley forcing Duke into a save from a corner.

Shortly before the half hour mark, the Lionesses pulled themselves level after a period of growing into the game. Passes were starting to come together, and an excellent through ball down the right released Annabel Ainscough who drove deep into the Stingers’ half before crossing. The hosts failed to deal with the cross and Tattersall was first to have a go, hitting the post, but the re-bound came to Tobin who was left unmarked in the six-yard area to tap in the equaliser.

Things got even better for the GMWFL Division 1 leaders as they capitalised on a sudden collapse of composure by Stingers. Tobin lobbed a fantastic pass down the left-hand side which Pemberton chased and finished with a shot that was saved by Fay. Tattersall followed up and saw her shot blocked, but also following in was Abdullahi who took great delight in finding the back of the net and giving the Lionesses the lead.

It was starting to look dangerous for Stingers as Ainscough missed a chance from a few yards out and Bennett skimmed the outside of the post with a free-kick shot from 35 yards. Wharton also had a chance late in the first half from another free-kick, but Fay caught her effort towards the top right-hand corner.Salford City Lionesses, Manchester Stingers 3-4 Salford City Lionesses, Manchester FA Women's Challenge Cup

Half Time: Manchester Stingers 1-2 Salford City Lionesses

After a rusty start, a lead at half time was no less than the Lionesses deserved having grown into the game, and the divisional difference was difficult to identify. That dominance was very quickly capitalised on further, and Stingers found themselves nearly out of the tie.

Some early pressure won the Lionesses a corner on the left which was swung in. Fay came for the ball but didn’t take it cleanly and it dropped in the six-yard area where Thornton was well-placed to poke in a third with 47 minutes on the clock.

Within another five minutes it was 4-1, an excellent through ball by Tattersall found Abdullahi who again showed good strength in holding off her marker before dispatching a shot into the top right-hand corner, leaving Fay with not much chance.

The hat-trick was on for the striker and it nearly came on the hour mark as again Tattersall threaded a ball through which Abdullahi lashed at. The low effort threatened to go through the oncoming’s Fay’s legs, but the keeper managed to trap the ball with her ankles as Abdullahi watched on in disbelief.

Salford City Lionesses, Manchester Stingers 3-4 Salford City Lionesses, Manchester FA Women's Challenge CupFrom there on the game became more about possession for Salford and game management, with chances fewer and further between for now. Ally Hastie was stopped by a strong Thornton challenge in the area as Stingers became frustrated with the lack of opportunities.

In the final five minutes they had the ball in the back of the net as Townsend converted a cross from the right, but the offside flag had gone up against her in good time. A late rally seemed to be forming though and Duke was called into action to deny Hastie at her near post with the subsequent corner cleared, however a cheap foul was given away midway inside the Salford half. A shot was taken with some power behind it and Duke couldn’t hold on, with Hastie on hand to tap-in the loose ball and pull one goal back.

Another free-kick was won by the hosts and this time went narrowly over the bar, then in the fourth minute of added time a corner was won. Salford cleared and broke away thanks to Tattersall’s closing down, and the captain ended up with a chance herself as Stingers were caught with players too far upfield. Luckily for them Tattersall’s shot bobbled wide, and that was the encouragement they needed as the goal kick went long and dropped perfectly for Hastie, suspiciously high up the pitch, to hit a low shot past Duke.

On this day exactly a year ago Salford City’s men’s team had come from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 at Kidderminster Harriers, and today the proverbial boot was nearly on the other foot as injury time continued well into a seventh minute of four. Stingers threw everything they had forward, but couldn’t find enough to force a penalty shoot out and as the Lionesses cleared a ball down the left the full-time whistle went to confirm them as finalists.

Full Time: Manchester Stingers 3-4 Salford City Lionesses

Perhaps unfortunate and slightly hair-raising to concede two goals late on, but on the balance of the whole game Salford deserved to go through. There wasn’t much from the game to tell that there were two divisions between the sides, and the character shown was excellent to come from behind. Credit to Manchester Stingers who kept going right to the end, but it won’t be a repeat of last season’s final.

Details for the final will be confirmed in due course, but it promises to be a tasty affair against long-standing rivals FC United of Manchester who have been extremely successful in women’s football over the last couple of seasons.

Well done again to the girls, the 100% winning record remains in tact, and the opportunity for the quadruple remains a viable one!

Salford City Lionesses: Jess Duke, Rach Smith, Ellen Thornton, Nic Hamilton, Chelsea Wharton, Annabel Ainscough, Abby Bennett, Laura Tobin, Beth Tattersall (c), Feiruz Abdullahi, Mia Pemberton. Subs: Phoebe Duckworth, Adora Yau, Hannah Rhodes.