September 17, 2018 by Stephen L Wright
As Blues Women’s fans checked the opening line-up against Sheffield United Women in yesterday’s Conti Cup match, I can guarantee they would have read the names more than once. Ann-Katrin Berger, Aoife Mannion and Lucy Staniforth on the bench? Well there was a busy week ahead with this the first of three games, and the opposition was only Sheffield United from the Women’s Championship. But so are Aston Villa, and look what happened when Blues met them in the Cup. Villa held on for a long time, only succumbing through lower levels of fitness to lose late in the game. It was entirely possible that Sheffield would do the same and dig deep into their fitness to force the match to go to penalties. Was Marc Skinner taking a big risk? Game on!
With Hannah Hampton in goal, a back to fitness Emma Follis up front, recent signing Harriet Scott playing her debut and Sarah Mayling starting, Blues were dominant from the ‘off’ but, as has been the pattern this season, did not turn chances into goals. As with Villa, the Sheffield defence remained strong and the teams went off at half-time 0-0.
The same Blues eleven came back for the second half, and started as they had in the first, but still couldn’t break through the Blades’ defence. So, on came Mannion for Sargeant (62 mins) and Staniforth for Mayling (62 mins). Ten minutes later, ‘Stan’ launched a 35-yarder and the ball sailed into the net. Shania Hayles came on for Follis (78 minutes) and five minutes later took advantage of confusion in the Blades’ goal area to slot in her first goal.
Another clean sheet win, but once again very late in the game after a good number of chances. ‘Stan’ was lucky with her strike. Like Kerrys Harrop’s at the start of the half it could have gone wide and Shania’s could well have been cleared or saved.
Blades’ manager Carla Ward was understandably pleased with the way that her players stood strong against Blues for the majority of the game. She freely admitted that her team’s fitness level was a prime factor in the fourth quarter. The difference, as she said, between a full-time and part-time team. Marc Skinner was proud of his team, noting that the starting eleven had not played competitively together. He also noted the number of chances but didn’t seem concerned about them not finishing in goals. And that, in my mind, is a concern. He commented on the team overcoming ‘…the obstacle on the pitch’, by which, to me, he means the opposition. But there is a second ‘obstacle’, the conversion of chances into goals. If it’s not overcome quickly it will trip up the team and they’ll only have themselves to blame.