Despite being both 2-0 and 3-1 down in the game, FC United Women fought back twice to earn a 3-all draw, in yesterday’s pre-season friendly away to Sheffield United Women Development Squad. A second half double from striker Jess Battle, either side of an own goal, ensured that the Reds came back from a two-goal deficit for the second week running in pre-season.
The game got underway on a relatively wet and windy summer’s afternoon in the Steel City. The harsh conditions were to be of no deterrent to either side, however, with a fast-paced start to the game’s tempo present from the early stages; Cara Fields and Shaunna Jein putting together a good move for United before Jackson was called into action at the other end, for the first time, diving to her right to parry a low shot that looked to be creeping into the bottom corner.
With the rain continuing to hammer-down at the Sheffield United Academy, FC’s Rebecca Foster began to make her presence known in the middle of the park. Having swept up a defensive mistake and cleared brilliantly in the 15th minute, her low effort was just wide of the target, moments later, having been picked out from the right wing by new signing Shaunna Jein.
Jein, who was confirmed as United’s fourth summer signing on Thursday, then saw her early-lofted attempt fly over the bar after a good defensive interception this time by Chelsea Patient. The latter going into the game off the back of both Player of the Match and Player of the Tournament awards, over the last two weeks, respectively.
United pressed well, wearing their new 2018/19 Errea white away kit for the first time, as they attempted to unlock the red and white striped defence that stood firmly in-front of them, Sarah Chadwick had a shot blocked before a dangerous Corie Mather cross, from out on the left, nearly found the head of Jess Battle just before the half-hour mark.
There was to be a goal on the 30 minute mark, but it was to go against FC. A long range effort cannoning off the woodwork and into the net, despite the efforts of Jackson, to give the hosts the lead.
With the Reds making quick comebacks a regular thing of late, they went in search of an immediate response, up the other end. Foster’s dangerous through-ball nearly found the on-running Jess Battle, but the attack was to eventually come to nothing.
In the minutes before the break, it was the hosts who forged together a string of confident attacks. Jackson tipped a fearsome shot onto the crossbar before Fran Davies made a good sliding block to prevent the goalkeeper being called into action for the second time in a matter of minutes.
FC went into the break narrowly behind but the impetus to get back on level terms was clear from the off, in the second half. After picking up a knock, Corie Mather was replaced by Fran Sullivan and it was the midfielder who made the instant impact off the bench. Our no.20 for the day slotted in Jess Battle, the striker’s eventual shot was blocked behind for a corner with a sweetly struck Rebecca Foster volley only finding the side-netting, from the resulting corner.
Despite the setting the early pace in the half, FC went 2-0 down on 56 minutes. A curled shot creeping inside the far bottom corner after a neat exchange on the left, made by the Sheffield attackers.
Two goals down for the second pre-season game running, a similar bounce back to that shown against Stoke, seven days earlier, was needed. With Chambers now on in place of Jein, another of Podmore’s substitutes attempted to change the course of the game; our no.11’s low cross in-search of a lurking Jess Battle was well-cleared.
But nothing could be done about Chambers’ cross on 60 minutes. A sense of deja vu as Chambers’ looked for Battle inside the box, the winger’s low cross from the left was spilled by the keeper with Battle on-hand to prod home and restore hope of getting something out of the third pre-season friendly of the summer.
But that hope appeared to be quickly wiped away after the hosts were awarded a penalty, less than 60 seconds later, after a mistimed challenge made by Abbie Carrington inside the box. The spot-kick was converted to restore the hosts’ two-goal lead with just under half-an-hour to play.
To say that Luke Podmore’s side didn’t give up would be an understatement, what was to come in the next 30 minutes was a show of character and fighting spirit. Jess Battle’s shot on the run was well-saved by the Sheffield keeper before Chelsea Patient’s header also found the keeper, from the resulting corner. Shaunna Jein was then re-introduced in place of Sarah Chadwick with Habberley also replacing Patient on 66 minutes. It was only to be a short rest for Chadwick though, who replaced Cara Fields, five minutes later.
On 73 minutes, the goal that United needed to get back into the game. The Blades not sharp enough to react to a well-whipped Fran Sullivan corner with a Sheffield defender turning it into her own net, re-igniting the game with a little over 15 minutes to play.
From then on, there was a blunt-look to the Blades as FC continued to apply the pressure in search of the equaliser. Sullivan fired over from range after more good work from Chambers, out on the left.
The Reds weren’t receiving any luck in their pursuit either; the referee judging Chambers to be offside before turning down two strong penalty claims, moments later.
But FC finally manufactured their equaliser in the Steel City. Kirsty Chambers’ corner from the right found the head of Jess Battle, at the near post, who was free to nod home on 81 minutes - a rare sighting if anything but a superbly placed header to draw the Reds level!
In-front of the 49 in attendance at the Sheffield United Academy, with most of the crowd travelling Reds, United pushed for the winning goal. Chambers skewered a strike wide of the near post from close range before a succession of chances that preceded the final whistle; Jein had a powerful strike blocked before Battle’s best efforts were cleared with the ball falling to the open Sullivan on the edge of the box, the midfielder’s strike flying agonisingly close but just over the bar to conclude a drama-filled game. FC coming away with another well-earned draw in their third game of the 2018/19 pre-season campaign. Next up is a trip back over the Pennines to face Brighouse Town LFC, in our fourth pre-season game of the summer schedule, on Sunday.
FCUMW Player of the Match - Jess Battle. The striker put in an tireless performance on a testing afternoon in Sheffield, showing patience, determination and composure. Our no.9 was a central asset in United’s attacking moves throughout the afternoon, ultimately resulting in her two vital goals that ensured the Reds came away from the Steel City with a draw.
Sheffield United Women DS: 3 (1)
Lineup not known.
FC United of Manchester Women: 3 (0)
1. Gemma Jackson
5. Chelsea Patient
2. Fran Davies
3. Abbie Carrington
14. Shaunna Jein
4. Olivia Greenhalgh
8. Rebecca Foster
7. Corie Mather
6. Cara Fields
9. Jess Battle
18. Sarah Chadwick
19. Chloe Ainsworth (GK)
12. Kali Habberley (for No5 66 mins)
20. Fran Sullivan (for No7 49 mins)
11. Kirsty Chambers (for No14 52 mins)
Roll on, roll off:
No14 for No18 (66 mins)
No18 for No6 (71 mins)
Venue: Sheffield United Academy, Firshill Cresent, S4 7DJ
Official FC Photography by Mark Lee
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Report by Mikey Partington