Salford City Lionesses returned from their winter break refreshed and retained top spot in the NWWRL Division 1 South with a 10-3 win against Warrington Wolverines.
In a repeat of the opening day’s fixture, which ended 3-3, The Wolverines would have been hoping to make up some ground after back-to-back defeats to Curzon Ashton before the winter break.
Instead The Lionesses sent a clear message to The Nashettes that if they want to win the league they have literally no room for error.
Unlike the reverse fixture when The Lionesses steadied themselves into their first game at this level, they were at Warrington from the start and both Laura Tobin and Abby Bennett had half chances snuffed out.
However the opening goal arrived with four minutes on the clock, and it was from an unlikely source; Annabel Ainscough lofted a corner in from the right which was met by Feiruz Abdullahi, who firmly planted a header into the bottom corner. Set pieces haven’t been a strength of The Lionesses this season, but by the time the 90 was out that was a statement worth reconsidering.
Bennett was next to have a go in the sixth minute as Abdullahi laid a pass off for her at the top of the box, with Warrington struggling to play out of their defensive third, but the midfielder’s sights weren’t quite set yet as the shot dipped over the crossbar. Her chance did come in the 14th minute though, and from further out as she received possession in a central position, looked up and dipped a shot between the keeper and the underside of her crossbar as we’ve seen on many occasions already this season.
Warrington are third in the table, where they ended up last season, and aren’t there by luck. In the 20th minute Sam Hassall found space in behind on the right, but her shot across goal flashed wide of the far post. Then six minutes later a back pass by The Lionesses was punished by an in-direct free kick inside the area, but the wall charged down the shot and the resulting corner was cleared.
That was followed by another free-kick on the half hour mark, centrally positioned and 25 yards from goal, which Kerry Baker drilled into the wall.
Salford were soon back on top, and Bennett had a relatively simple tap-in for her second of the game after being unselfishly set up by Abdullahi. The forward did most of the work with a run from deep down the left-hand side, cutting in along the byline before looking up and squaring to Bennett who arrived in good time to double her tally.
She turned provider in the 38th minute as Salford won a corner, and Bennett’s delivery from the left was met by Kay Baker who headed in goal number four at the back post.
It was five before the break after more unselfish play from Abdullahi to win the ball high upfield, draw the keeper out, take the ball back inside then square for Beth Tattersall to convert.
HALF TIME: Salford City Lionesses 5-0 Warrington Wolverines
There wasn’t much to say, change or add at the break except to continue a fine first 45 minutes of the new year. That message, to start with, was adhered to as Antonia Carta scored her first goal for The Lionesses with a strong finish into the roof of the net.
6-0 and it looked like Salford were cruising, but the visitors suddenly stepped up their game and over the course of the next five minutes managed to halve the deficit. Firstly Kerry Baker pulled one back from close range, before Rachel Unsworth scrambled a second over the line.
Cue some worry amongst the ranks that maybe a Wolverines fightback could be on, and on the hour mark the visitors won a penalty. Helen Dobson stepped up and placed a shot to the right-hand side which Jess Duke got fingertips too, but not enough behind to stop the shot. 6-3.
Any doubts that had crept in were soon extinguished though when Abdullahi scored a second from a tight angle, and substitute Jess Lawson smashed her first of the calendar year to restore a five-goal cushion.
As far as any scares went, that was it although the same fate now beset a first clean sheet of the season (the 12-0 win at Burscough being expunged due to their withdrawal). Nevertheless when goals are in such regular supply at the other end it’s not such a pressing issue.
In the 77th minute Abdullahi completed her hat-trick, showing fantastic composure to receive a ball lobbed over the top, hold off her marker, round the keeper to the left and slot home. She followed that up with a tap-in of her own as Tattersall returned the earlier favour, beating her marker on the right-wing and threading a pass into the middle for Abdullahi.
FULL TIME: Salford City Lionesses 10-3 Warrington Wolverines
This result shows to an extent what progress The Lionesses have made this season, transforming from a team taking its first steps in this league to one with serious intentions on promotion. Chances are now being taken and put away, and it is is turning into an exciting title race which really looks like it could go down to the final game of the season, against Curzon Ashton Women…