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Dance Group

Sheffield United 2-0 Crystal Palace (Women's Championship)

It's Sunday, 10am, pissing down outside I'm leaving the dog home alone as the Mrs is already at the shops, I need to be in Sheffield for a midday kick off at Bramall Lane in the women's championship. Crystal Palace are going well in the table, they have a chance to go top against the Blades, having recently beaten them 1-0 just seven days ago.

I'm up the M1 and off at junction 33, down the Sheffield Parkway where the weather takes a pleasant turn. I've checked Google maps and Sunday says the surrounding roads of the stadium are free to park. Useful to know as you can plonk your motor pretty much outside the doors when the women play. Only one stand in use the crowds are growing at this level but still sparse, the sort you used to get when reserve team men's football was regularly played on first team pitches.

The Venue

I've parked on Randall Street which is directly behind the Bramall Lane Stand. Walked the short distance to John Street and through the turnstiles of the Family Stand. A quick pit stop and brew, a steward tells me "there's plenty of seats, sit anywhere you like".

Out into the sunshine I'm about ten rows up, level with the eighteen yard box, it's a fabulous view as the players warm up. Bowl like huge red seated stadium it has an opening between the Tony Currie Stand and the Kop which views on the distant green hills of Yorkshire in the background.

You get a feeling of sentiment when you sit back and remember the history this venue has, once an England test cricket venue of course, it's been home of United since 1889 and these days feels like a traditional proper English football home, distinguished with it's cantilever roofing and propped up pillar behind goal end. The Kop is a grandstand fabulous in full flow, single tier it stretches back high and looks magnificent empty, even better when full.

The Game

In some ways the place feels ever more serene as an almost empty cauldron as the two teams come out to miniscule applause, a crowd of little more than a thousand, mostly families of players and young children, as a recording of the chip butty song kicks into play which no one bothers singing too.

On eight minutes there's an ambient applause as the home crowd remember midfielder Maddy Cusack who died last year, one young girl has the number eight on her back, fitting and spine tingling that the player is far from forgotten following her tragic death, he image posted on the electric scoreboard for one whole minute as play continues to the back drop of quietly clapping hands.

Palace are much fancied and on paper have the better team, but the Blades have started well and crack a post early on. A half of few incidents is drawn to a close, a sunny scorching day where I've even had to take off my gillet.

The Score

There's a children's dance group on the pitch offering half time entertainment, it's average but is possibly the best action of the game. A nice touch, twenty kids bopping in all black on the side of the playing surface, each of them with mum and dad, dad and dad, mum and mum, sisters and brothers, the odd relative, it puts on a good few extra on the gate, a positive way to endorse the women's game to those that might not otherwise watch it.

On with the action, by now the many kids in the sparse crowd are jumping over chairs and running up the aisles, not arsed about the on field stuff, but in fairness to them, there's not a lot going off. One baby no older than six months wearing a Crystal Palace shirt with 'Auntie Aimee' on the back is really putting the hard yards in, mum & dad taking it in turns to walk the little thing up, down and around the concourse.

Time is ticking and the children are tiring but a United corner on 66 is headed home by Rachel Brown. That suddenly sparks mild celebrations as a deserved lead is taken by the home side. Palace make instant changes but not enough to inflict any damage on Fran Stenson's goal. I fail to register any serious second half attempts from the Eagles, before another corner, swung in from the right, by substitute Jodie Hutton, flies straight in. Game set and match, the best team most certainly deserving of the points as the Blades players start to provide their own post-goal dance act.

The Stars

United forward Sophie Haywood is tall and skilful and she looks to have some real threat up top. Bex Rayner is busy in the attacking third and defensively the Blades are strong, in particular, left back Charlotte Newsham plays really well. Little but gutsy, she sticks to her task and never puts a foot wrong, one big tackle on Araya Dennis who's double her size has me nodding in appreciation.

For Palace, I liked the look of Hayley Nolan at centre half who read the game well and was decent in possession, but it wasn't a day when many of their players could hold their heads high.

The Verdict

With that win United go sixth, they'll consolidate another season in the second tier of women's football, whilst Palace will rue missed opportunity. A win would have taken them top with a game in hand on Sunderland, instead they are one point behind the black cats, but they'll need to be better than that, If they're to pip them to the league title.

The Teams

Sheffield United: Fran Stenson, Charlotte Newsham, Sophie Barker, Molly Graham, Tara Bourne, Bex Rayner Alanta Brown 90), Izzy Goodwin (Jessica Sigsworth 90), Ash Hudson (Charley Docherty 84), Sophie Howard (Tamara Wilcox 90), Ella Kinzett, Rachel Brown (Jodie Hutton 84).

Crystal Palace: Demi Lambourne, Ria Percival (Kirsten Reilly 81), Aimiee Everett, Hayley Nolan, Felicity Gibbons, Chloe Arthur (Anna Filbey 74), Shanade Hopcroft (Shauna Guyatt 67), Annabel Blanchard, Molly-Mae Sharpe (Lucy Watson 81), Izzy Atkinson (Araya Dennis 67), Elise Hughes.

12:00pm Kick Off. Sunday 17th March 2024, Bramall Lane, Sheffield (att 1,000 est).

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