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Having celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2013 by lifting the East Midlands League Cup for the first time and also recording their highest ever finish of runners up in the Premier Division, missing out to champions Mansfield Town on goal difference (just two goals short), the big question for Steel City Wanderers was could they improve on that in 2013-14?
The answer was yes as they traded winners and runners-up tags to lift the Premier Division title, but miss out on the double, beaten 6-2 by Nettleham in the League Cup Final. For good measure, Steels also enjoyed their best ever season in the Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA Women's Challenge Cup, reaching the final where they beaten, but far from disgraced by Sheffield FC who claimed the trophy for a third successive season, winning 5-1.
Steels made the perfect start, winning 5-0 at Long Eaton followed by a 2-1 home victory over a tough Peterborough Northern Star. The visit to Nettleham in October was another key fixture and very windy conditions made life difficult, but Cheryl Mawhood's goal earned the points. Apart from their only defeat, 2-0 at home to Sandiacre Town in March, that 1-0 result was the only league game in which Steels failed to score less than twice.
The highest score of the season was 8-0 at Ellistown on 27th October and then at home to Long Eaton with a 2-1 home win over Rise Park interjected in the Sunday in between. Both Mawhood and Beth Gingell netted four times against Long Eaton.
Adverse weather, Christmas and County Cup ties meant no league fixtures between the 3-0 home success over Arnold on 8th December and 3-1 win at Peterborough on 2nd February.
Steels won 17 of their 18 league games, their only defeat coming in game 14. Real United's withdrawal from the league meant a revamp of the table with the title race effectively reduced to just two teams, Steels and Nettleham.
Steels boasted the meanest defence for the second season running, conceding just 14 in the league, a statistic which made the 6-2 defeat to Nettleham in the League Cup Final seem all the more bizarre (only 10 goals conceded in 15 league games beforehand).
They bounced back from that defeat in style, clinching the title with a 5-2 home victory over Nettleham which was sandwiched between two 5-1 wins, home then away, over Trinity.
Steels' squad for the 2013-14 season was the strongest in the club's history and the prospect of a successful season was clear even in pre-season. Thirteen players started at least ten games in League and Cup and of these, Hollie Barker, Leanne Duke, Laura Naylor, Gingell and Mawhood all have experience of playing at a higher level than Regional League football.
Mawhood finished top scorer in the Premier Division, with three hat-tricks and three four-goal hauls and a wide ranging repertoire of finishes from the ordinary to the sublime. To anyone not at the match, manager Ian Smith's description of some of Mawhood's goals may seem a bit over the top, but when you have witnessed them first hand, her haul of 34 in the League alone did indeed include several from "out of nothing".
Mawhood's goals may well have captured the headlines, but equally crucial were continuing excellent defensive displays, not least from Jasmine Summers.
Will they be able to cope at a higher level next season? Only time will tell, but Steels' route to the County Cup Final saw them overcome Combination neighbours in Sheffield United Community and Rotherham United and if they can keep most of their current squad together, then they should avoid a relegation scrap.
Goalkeeper Gemma Carter has announced she is "retiring", so that is one position to be filled. Another is finding a new ground to meet the demands of higher status. Steels played 2013-14 at Davy's Sports Club, having previously been at Hillsborough Sports Arena for a few seasons after moving from their long established base at Oughtibridge War Memorial.
(by Julian Barker)
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