For the fourth consecutive season FC United’s women were drawn against City of Manchester Ladies in the latter stages of the County FA Cup. Defeats on Broadhurst Playing Fields in 2013, at the Tameside Stadium in the Final in 2014 and last season at Abraham Moss left all hoping for fourth time lucky at Broadhurst Park on a sunny afternoon in front of 87 spectators.
Despite large spells of United pressure and possession in which the reds looked at least the equal of their higher ranked opponents, it was the Blues of City of Manchester who took the lead early in the second half courtesy of a close range strike from Jodie Hancock. FC United equalised through Olivia Gannon only to concede a minute later with a goal from Fionnuala Andrews and the game ended in defeat by the narrowest of margins.
City of Manchester kicked off but good early pressure from FC saw a decent shout for a penalty as Shellby Wolstencroft looked to be tripped in the area as she tried to work an opening with the game only two minutes old. Appeals were waved away and City broke down their left with Rachel Dunlop cutting inside and firing wide of Chloe Williams’ goal. The end-to-end theme continued as Kirsty Chambers raced down the left wing and her cross was missed by inches on the slide by Gannon at the far post.
Ten minutes in and Jess McCarrick found Leah Hartshorne in midfield and her ball into the channel saw Gannon break beyond the defence and angle her shot deflecting off the outrushing keeper, Bev Howarth, just wide of goal. A minute later and the dangerous Fionnuala Andrews beat the FC offside trap latching onto a ball over the top and as the centre halves were closing in, Andrews fired on goal forcing Williams into a superb save.
A spell of possession football by both sides ensued as space was hard to come by in a congested mid third of the pitch but as the midpoint of the half approached both sides worked a decent chance each. Williams raced from her area to slide tackle and deny the dangerous Andrews with the ball breaking to Chambers who charged forward with menace sliding a pass through to Wolstencroft who attempted to chip the back peddling Howarth from 18 yards with the keeper recovering well to tip the ball over her bar.
Jade Parker joined the fray for the injured Hartshorne just passed the half hour and Chambers tested Howarth from range on 33 minutes. Parker released Gannon down the right then raced into the area to latch onto Gannon’s cross which caused confusion in the City defence and her effort cleared the cross bar with ten minutes of the half remaining.
City of Manchester were awarded a free kick wide right as the half entered its closing moments. Chelsea Patient cleared the danger and Wolstencroft broke forward finding Gannon who was thwarted by a well organised blue wall of defenders who cleared up field to Rachel Dunlop who herself was denied by a superbly timed sliding intervention by Fran Davies inside her own area. United ended the half on the front foot but could not find the elusive breakthrough.
FC kicked off the second half towards the Lightbowne Road end and crafted the first chance of the half. Substitute Aimee Cook fired a low cross into the area and Gannon flicked on to the unmarked Beth Hayes just eight yards from goal. The No7, normally so clinical in such situations, leaned back as she took aim and shaped her effort over the bar.
Rachel Dunlop once again threatened to break through and Davies shepherded the danger behind at the expense of a City corner. The set piece was swung in under the FC cross bar making it difficult for Williams to deal with and she was only able to parry the ball downwards into the six yard area melting pot where Jodie Hancock reacted fastest to poke the ball home from three yards out and give City of Manchester the lead on 54 minutes.
The visitors looked to press their advantage with Davies clearing off the line from Andrews and just past the hour the blues floated a free kick into the United area but the effort sailed harmlessly wide. United looked to respond and Chambers broke well down the left earning a corner which was initially cleared but won back by FC and worked right to Charlie Evans whose cross for Gannon was well defended.
Just a minute later and a combination of Parker and Gannon smuggled the ball off the last defender and Gannon bore down on goal unopposed and fired past Howarth to deservedly level the scores on 68 minutes and spark emphatic celebrations on and off the pitch.
Unfortunately the joy was short lived and as so often happens in football, even at the highest level, a lapse of concentration immediately after scoring was cruelly punished as Isha Moore broke down the right from the restart and despite a good parrying save from Williams, Andrews was on hand to slot home the rebound from what looked like an offside position just a minute after Gannon’s equaliser. Cruel luck indeed as the goal stood and United had a mountain to climb once again and the match looked to be going away from the Reds as City pressed their advantage winning a penalty in the 72nd minute. Andrews struck from 12 yards beating the dive of Williams but striking the foot of the post with Adora Yau clearing the rebound away from danger and earning a brief respite for her team.
United were still very much in the game as McCarrick found Yau to flick the ball through to Chambers whose shot was blocked. The captain played a short corner and took a return pass from Parker, worked an opening on the edge of the area and her trusty left foot drive flew narrowly wide.
As United looked to force the game to a penalty shoot out, successive corners in the last couple of minutes were well defended by the visitors and time ran out as City of Manchester progressed to their third successive County FA Cup final by the narrowest of margins.
The Reds are away to Ellesmere Port Town on Easter Sunday followed by home games against league leaders MSB Woolton on 3rd April and Altrincham Ladies a week later. The team really value your support so, if you can, spread the word and get yourselves to those football grounds.
Report by Rob Fullen
FC Player of the game:
Olivia Gannon –
- tremendous energy and endeavour leading the line all afternoon and pulling FC United back into the game, albeit too briefly. Special mention also to the centre half pairing of Fran Davies and Chelsea Patient who had a busy afternoon and dealt with most things superbly.
Teams 20 March 2016: Attendance: 87
FC United of Manchester Women: 1 (0)
1. Chloe Williams
8. Adora Yau
2. Fran Davies
5. Chelsea Patient
17. Jess McCarrick
7. Beth Hayes
18. Leah Hartshorne
20. Beth Scholey
11. Kirsty Chambers (Capt)
9. Shellby Wolstencroft
19. Olivia Gannon (Goal 68 mins)
4. Aimee Cooke (for No20 46mins)
10. Jade Parker (for No18 32mins)
12. Jess Tonge (for No18 85mins)
14. Milly Day (not used)
16. Charlie Evans (for No7 63mins)
Roll on Roll Off Changes:
On No18 for No9 58mins
On No9 for No8 88mins
City of Manchester Ladies FC: 2 (0)
1. Bev Howarth
12. Faye Dunlop
3. Jodie Hancock (Goal 54mins)
4. Jen Mutch
5. Claire Young (Capt)
6. Amy Anning
7. Laila El-Haddad
8. Isha Moore
9. Fionnuala Andrews
10. Rachel Dunlop
11. Natalie Robinson
14. Jo Lawrence
15. Sarah Taylor
16. Natasha Parrot
17. Lucy Clarke (for No12 30mins)
Referee: Rebecca Lees
Asst 1: Andrew Gator (Yellow flag)
Asst 2: Rebecca Foster (Orange & Yellow Flag)
Venue: Broadhurst Park, Moston, M40