Nottingham Forest 3-2 Sporting Khalsa (Women’s FA Cup Round Two)
Formed in 1991 by the local Sikh Community in Willenhall. Sporting Khalsa are a modern-day success story of ‘Sunday league’ to ‘non-league’ with their men’s team in 2015/16 reaching the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup before losing to FC United of Manchester who went on to play Chesterfield in the first-round proper later that year.
It’s the furthest the men have been, who’s first team now play in the Northern Premier League Midlands Division (level 8 of the football pyramid), whilst their women’s squad who play in the Women’s National League Division One Midlands (level 4), have already surpassed their gender-opposite cup exploits. They face Forest in round two having last time out beaten Stratford Town Ladies 31-0 in the County Cup. They have also recently thumped Notts County 11-0 and Crewe Ladies 3-0 amongst some other hammerings in their league to the likes of Northampton Town (6-2), Kidderminster Harriers (7-1) and Hull City (3-0).
Certainly, a side with good credentials and one that Forest will be hoping they don’t slip up too… There’s only a division and ten places separating the two teams despite one having ‘famous club’ mentality and the other, being happy with punching above their weight and smashing home the goals.
I’m only 30 minutes drive from Long Eaton so arrive with plenty of time, still hobbling from a foot injury I’m at the ground a good hour before kick off as I wanted to get a parking place close to the main entrance. Not so today though, I’m directed by a steward to park up on the grass where there's a Sunday league game finishing off, I pull up next to an attractive young girl who’s doing her make-up in her car before making my own way over the field to the entrance, where I scan a £3 ticket on my phone in on arrival.
It's grey, miserable, bloody cold and typically November as I go straight to the burger hatchet and ask for a tea and a twix.
Cardboard cuppa in hand I’m sat down on the first row of the Big Jim stand as the players do their warmups, Khalsa have brought their own stereo, pitch side, crowd slowly gathering in their Forest logoed garments, I’m taking notes as the seats around me slowly fill up, more annoyingly the walkway in front has folk at the barriers and I can’t see down the left wing. I decide to move further down and stand up in the quiet, outside the 1956 suite where the girl who was previously doing her makeup is standing alone on her phone.
It’s a game of two halves as Forest dominate the first half, they take the lead when the blonde haired Mai Moncaster is given time to turn inside the box. A neat passing move then allows the joyful Sophie Domingo to net from close range and a minute later, just five from half time, Worsey nets a third, it looks like it’s going to be a similar one-sided score as the Sheffield match a fortnight ago, but Sporting are no mugs, they battle hard and get their own reward when Stubbs chases down a lost cause to beat Aja Aguirre to the ball and nestle home into an empty net.
That goal gives Khalsa a glimmer of hope into the break as I notice the girl who earlier done her makeup in the car and stood behind me checking her phone is now doing a video pitch side, she’s Ryhanna Parara (thanks Google), a Tik-Toker on official Adobe FA Cup duty.
That mystery resolved; it was back to action as I ask the linesman “how many subs are being used today” upon his return from rest and drinks. He says three each, Forest having gone for the jugular to make two at half time.
Those subs don’t add the firepower to take the game away though as Khalsa are now the team with more bight, more fight, they battle for everything and really impress me. But Thomas is taken down inside the area and the Reds have a penalty. I wasn’t so convinced Becky Anderson would score though, and she didn’t. Hitting a post before the rebound fell into the hands of Khalsa goalkeeper Hall.
That missed opportunity gives the away side even more glimmer of hope as they really do start to scare the Forest faithful. They get their rewards too, when Forest try and play out from the back and the ball is stolen for Joyce to nestle home. Less than ten minutes remaining.. Will this game go to extra time?
I’m enjoying the battle as Forest dig in but I’m concerned that I have a dog crate to drop off at the mother-in-laws and a Sunday dinner to tuck into when I get back. Thankfully the Reds hold on and their players punch the air on full time, by the third peep of the whistle I’ve headed for the exit to beat the rush. No time for standing around in the cold tonight.
Sophie Domingo is a lovely footballer. Intelligent, hard working with a bit of star quality, she gets in the right place of play, but it’s her ball work that really impresses me, picking up on the half turn and sliding her team-mates in from deep positions. She caresses passes with real panache.
Mai Moncaster is a solid true competitor who also has intelligence to get in the box from her midfield position. A lot of Forest players look well trained on the eye, they play best when they are most expansive, opening up the game and using all four sides of the pitch. Niamh Reynolds and Freya Thomas in particular seem to suit the sides forward passing philosophy, whilst full backs Haughey and Johnson get forward well.
For Khalsa, they had plenty of battling qualities and were decent in both defence and attack, my only ‘critique’ is that they often played the forward ball too soon, when trusting the quality they have to pass and move is for me, their next level of progression. Stubbs, Lowri Walker, Becca Hall, all giving solid performances whilst Natalie Hall in goal handled everything well and controlled her box exceptionally.
The only difference I feel is that Forest look a more drilled, more professional, more polished outfit than Sporting Khalsa, who’s training and luxury of better facilities and better coaching have resulted in a proper team who play a certain noticeable way, the Reds have a lot to do to gain promotion this season, they’ll do very well if they even get further than round three in the cup (which is par), but they are a work in progress and in that, they were more advanced in what they did against their opponents on the day, they are advanced enough in their ethos to keep on aspiring for better things.
If Sporting had Forest’s coaching team and facilities to enjoy it might have been a different scoreline? I would suspect that this team have potential to keep on growing and improving along with opening eyes to some of those in the know, but I would also be thinking that those bigger names in the West Midlands, like Aston Villa, Birmingham City, the likes of Wolves and West Brom, they may also be opening eyes to the talent Sporting Khalsa have?
Nottingham Forest: Aja Aguirre, Nat Johnson (Charlotte Greengrass 46 (Alice Keitley 65)), Olivia Cook, Sophie Domingo, Mai Moncaster, Niamh Reynolds, Louranne Worsey (Chloe Dixon 46), Mollie Green, Freya Thomas, Becky Anderson, Ella Haughey.
Sporting Khalsa: Natalie Hall, Hannah Sparkes, Isabelle Austin-Short, Lowri Walker (Skye Owen 80), Josie Smith, Laura Cooper, Daisy Wickett, Maja Szymkowiak, Olivia Stubbs, Olivia Owen, Ruth Graham (Leonie Joyce 75).
2pm Kick Off. Sunday 26th November 2023, Grange Park, Long Eaton (att 300 est).