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F.A.Women's Cup - Road to the Final
Middlesbrough finally emerged as 1-0 winners from their much-delayed First Round tie with Sheffield Utd Community last Sunday. A goal from Susan Badger put an end to the North East League's fine Cup run and set Middlesbrough up with a Second Round tie against Premier League side Sheffield FC.
Sheffield FC Ladies was formed in 2003 when previous team Norton Ladies affiliated with the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield FC. The affiliation was proposed and facilitated by Helen Mitchell who had arrived at Norton as a player in 2001-02. When the manager left at the end of that season, Helen was approached by the players to take on the role which she reluctantly agreed to do.
After a very difficult first season, it was apparent that significant changes were needed if the team was to have a future, and the new player/manager recognised that a secure foundation was needed from which to build. A five-year plan was put together and presented to the chairman of Sheffield FC who acknowledged the rising status of the women's game and saw an opportunity to invest in something the Club had previously been without…and so Sheffield FC Ladies was born.
Sheffield started life in Division One East of the Yorkshire & Humberside League, the bottom level of the women's pyramid of football at the time until the formation of the County Leagues. 2003-04 was a tough season on the pitch as the team adjusted to life as part of a new Club and the main focus of the management team was in improving the administrative side of the Club and building up a new structure and identity to move forward. With the new plan in place, 2004-05 was the start of Sheffield FC Ladies' transformation. Former men's first team captain, Nigel Hughes, joined Mitchell on the coaching side and several new players arrived at the Club, attracted by the set up and ambition to progress. The team finished the season in third place, narrowly missing out on the title by just two points.
The Y&HRWFL merged with the Northern Regional WFL for the start of 2005-06 to form a brand new regional league for the north of England: the North East League. Sheffield were placed in Division One South and proceeded to enjoy another very good season, improving on the previous season by one place to finish as runners-up to runaway champions, York City. 2006-07 was another improved season although the team once again finished as runners up, this time to Guiseley, but Sheffield were gaining a reputation for playing attractive, free flowing football and were winning admirers from within the league and beyond. The team also entered the FA Women's Cup for the first time this season, winning on their debut before losing in extra time in the next round.
Having finished runners up for two successive seasons, the team began 2007-08 with one aim - to win the league title and gain promotion to the Premier Division. Once again, the team was strengthened with three or four new players and Sheffield hit some of their best form ever to eventually win a very tight three-team title race on the final day of the season. It was just reward for the huge amount of hard work behind the scenes and also the catalyst Sheffield needed to attract better players and start to make their mark at a higher level.
Free of the self-imposed pressure to win the league that had dominated the previous season, Sheffield had one of their most enjoyable seasons in 2008-09 as debutants in the Premier Division. The team played some superb football, way beyond expectations, and ended up going into the final match of the season in second place against league leaders Darlington RA, knowing that a win would secure them a second successive league title whilst a draw would be enough for Darlington. Despite leading 2-0 at half-time, Sheffield ended up conceding two goals in the second half and thus handing the title to Darlington. It was arguably the most disappointing day of Sheffield's short history, but one from which they would learn and come back stronger and wiser. The following season, Sheffield lived up to their pre-season billing as title contenders and ultimately won the league thanks to a 3-2 victory in a title-deciding night match against runners up Barnsley at home in front of 150 supporters, one of the most thrilling matches of Sheffield's short history. The experience of losing a similar contest the season before proved invaluable as the team showed great experience to get the result they needed to lift their second League trophy.
So on to the Northern Combination for the 2010-11 season which proved to be Sheffield's finest yet as they recorded 18 wins and just two defeats on their way to winning the league title at the first attempt, finishing 11 points clear of runners-up Sheffield Wednesday. A third league title in four years meant Sheffield FC Ladies were promoted to the FA Women's Premier League for 2011-12, a milestone that few could have ever predicted given the team's humble beginnings.
Life in the new league has started well and Sheffield are currently fourth in the Northern Division, just four points off the top. Jodie Michalska is the division's leading scorer with 13 goals and the team is captained by Carla Ward, who has played at the highest level. Helen Mitchell is still manager, assisted by Nigel Hughes, with Neil Snelson as physio.
The squad also includes former England Under-19 international Ellie Gilliatt whilst the likes of Lisa Giampalma, Leanne De Silva and Kayleigh Mitchell are all having good seasons. Defender Mel Cook has previously played in the F.A.Women's Cup Final whilst with Leeds Utd. Clare Holmes deserves a special mention as she played in the club's first game in 2003 and has played 138 times for the first team in total.
Sheffield FC will host the match this Sunday and the home side will start the match as favourites due to league form and status, although 'Boro will be relishing the chance to claim a second Sheffield scalp in successive weeks.
Sheffield FC (from): Jess Horsley, Kate Wood, Natasha Cooke, Ellie Gilliatt, Mel Cook, Natalie Crofts, Nicolle Jepson, Kayleigh Mitchell, Lisa Giampalma, Carla Ward, Kerry Parkin, Melissa Sherwood, Georgia Ward, Leanne De Silva, Clare Holmes, Lauren Davids, Helen Wakefield, Gina Benjamin, Jodie Michalska, Amy Beanland.
Middlesbrough (from): Shannon Bewick, Rachel Hine, Clare Helm, Sarah Manning, Ashleigh Coyle, Leanne Hanxwell, Kate Foster, Lindsay Stephenson, Rachel McKnight, Jess Close, Susan Badger, Becky Stephenson, Danni Scarr, Amy Laville.
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