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Sunday Seven

Nottingham Forest 7-0 Sheffield (Women’s FA Cup Round One)

It's moist, misty and miserable today. The wife's at a Christmas Market at Woodborough Hall so I'm taking Bruce to his Beagle meet in Cropwell before a walk around Cotgrave Country Park.

I'm off to Forest v Sheffield in the FA Cup. These days the Reds Women playing in Derbyshire over the border at Long Eaton United FC. It's not a long drive as the wife gets back for 12:45, I'm out the door after a kiss on the cheek and on the road through Beeston and Chilwell before turning onto Station Road and up the track signposted for Grange Park.

Forest were unlucky last season in missing promotion to the Championship, beaten by Watford who won the Southern National League which is tier three of the women's pyramid. The Reds winning the Northern Section are again going strong this year and are one of the favourites to go one better, they have had a managerial change since last season as Andy Cook is replaced by Carly Davies at the helm. Cook's Newcastle in second are above the Reds in the table with Burnley top and Forest fourth, it's been a competitive campaign, but eyes are drawn elsewhere today as they enter the cup to face a team, a league below, who themselves are yet to win a game.

Sitting eleventh in the National League Division One Midlands, Sheffield FC have drawn four and lost three of their seven league matches and have only one cup win all season, in normal time. Their previous FA Cup qualifying victory against Shrewsbury Town coming after penalties following a 2-2 draw.

The Venue

It's quiet and has a touch of Sunday leagues about it but the wooden fenced in arena has music blearing out of the PA as I arrive and get out my car.

I've parked on a grass verge but left two wheels on gravel as I don't trust this wet weather today, on foot it’s spongy and I really don’t fancy getting stuck in the field where others have parked as a quick getaway is needed to race back for my Sunday dinner.

Through the turnstile after walking around the back of the ground I scan my ticket via Google wallet as I’m asked if I want a programme.

The players are out on the pitch already as I notice a squidge on foot from the goalkeepers warming up. I'm walking around the back of the goal, grey drizzly skies as folk are already sat in the main stand named after Big Jim. Clustered in blue seats patiently and quietly observing as coaches put the girls through their paces.

The Game

A minutes silence again. And rightly so on this Remembrance Sunday, immaculately observed bar one woman coughing over the far side. The rain is starting to race down as the two teams do battle, Sheffield immediately sitting off as Forest pass across their own back four.

The cold temperatures probably scupper the away sides game plan as the visiting teams girls get the blood pumping in their legs and begin to press. They're game and despite their poor start to the season are far from second best, matching Forest early doors for effort, if but a little quality missing in the final third.

Forest seem to have that bit more quality and boss proceedings as a fan in front of me talks ‘baby’ lingo to his young daughter who is perhaps a relation to one of the players. Daddy’s pointing out ‘Charlotte’ & ‘Ella’ who are doing “vewy vewy well”. There’s plenty of kids in full Forest kit, mums and dads with back packs on, the rain gushing down as everybody races for the covered terrace where ten minutes ago I was alone stood.. One kid besides me has the West Ham v Forest match being played on his phone, he’s sat down on the top step, back against the wall not even interested what’s on the pitch in front of him.

I am though, and so are Forest, they probe new openings and finally after almost half an hour get their goal, Worsey bundling home from close range, but Sheffield can go in heads held high at the break. One guy saying to his carefree six-year-old “they’re not that bad to say they have not won all season”.

The Score

It’s been a battle and I’m hoping for more of the same as the skies slightly clear for the second half, the green pitch in front of me is holding up well but it aint half heavy on the legs and Sheffield are starting to feel it chasing around after Forest’s superior athletes. The Reds immediately make it two through Domingo who flicks through her legs on 48 before Worsey nets again almost straight from kick off. Sheffield’s good first half work undone inside 90 seconds of the second.

That quick fire double leads to an inevitable landslide as Reynolds makes it four ahead of Keitley netting off the bench. Manager Davies is saying to star striker Charlotte Greengrass “keep going, it will come” as the tall number 22 has chance after chance but has still somehow not scored.

Greengrass is powerful and leggy and runs past players with ease. She reminds me of a female version of ex-Forest legend Stan Collymore, because like Stan did, everytime she receives the ball she seems to create a buzz. Suddenly she has the ball on the edge of the area back to goal and twists two Sheffield defenders, likened to a goal I once saw Stan score against Wolves, exactly the same movement, stunning centre forward play, but this time Greengrass was again denied, her shot palmed low around the posts as the striker sinks to her knees… If only she had Mike Stowell to beat, It doesn’t look like it’s going to be her day.

But persistence pays off as Greengrass finally gets her reward. Time is ticking late but yet another goal for her stunning season as she eventually pockets from close range, then Niamh Reynolds nets a second for her collection. A 7-0 thumping win for Forest who pull away from Sheffield’s dogged defending after an excellent second half of no mercy attack.

The Stars

No doubt Greengrass is usually shining star of Forest’s show but some lovely footballers for the Reds will back her up with Sophie Domingo neat and energetic in midfield, Niamh Reynolds ditto, Freya Thomas showing a lovely hip swerving Cruyff turn on a couple of occasions and I really liked left back Ella Haughey who got up and down well. Lyndsey Harkin the experienced lynch pin at the back was also on fine form and looked like a Rolls Royce around several younger, smaller and quicker Audi TT’s.

For Sheffield, interestingly the last time I watched them play I picked three players who stood out and on the day against a decent Forest opponent I felt those three stars stood out again. Moriah McIntosh started really well but faded from an attacking right position whilst full back Pip Cassidy was game and gutsy and not all bad on the ball.

In the first half Sheffield defended really well and this was epitomised by their leader and skipper Brooke Smith who is a solid hard-working number five. Millie Fugler had a good game beside her before hobbling off with injury whilst Goalkeeper Leah Kellog had a brilliant game but for palming one late shot over the line. She made a couple of point-blank saves including one in her face and if it wasn’t for her, it could have been more.

The Verdict

Last season, Forest’s FA Cup campaign ended with a thumping at the City Ground against WSL side Manchester City. They’ll be hoping for another decent run and a glamour tie that will further advertise the growth of the women’s game in these parts. The Reds are back at the City Ground on Sunday as they host Newcastle United in the league, fingers crossed for another good crowd which will push them to three points in what looks like a proverbial six pointer against their old gaffer.

Sheffield will be pleased to get back to league focus and attempting to stay in the division they are in. They face a long hard slog against them for the remaining five and half months. For me. Did I tell you it was cold? As I walk away from the ground a shout of ‘bollocks’ is cried aloud as I read Forest ‘men’ have conceded a late winner to West Ham. A 3-2 loss has me angry until the electric heated seats of my car hit my back. Then it’s foot down for Sunday dinner and feet up with the TV to enjoy Chelsea play Manchester City… A glass of red to finish the weekend off.

The Teams

Nottingham Forest: Aja Aguirre, Lyndsey Harkin, Sophie Domingo, Chloe Dixon, Niamh Reynolds, Louranne Worsley (Olivia Cook 64), Mollie Green, Freya Thomas (Mai Moncaster 76), Becky Anderson (Alice Keitley 64), Charlotte Greengrass, Ella Haughey.

Sheffield: Leah Kellog, Pip Cassidy, Millie Fugler (Becky Matthews 57), Brooke Smith, Louisa Anderson, Eden Hinchcliffe, Amy Pashley, Caitlyn Douglas, Tilly Hallas Potts, Moriah McIntosh, Tash Wood (Stacey Buxton 70).

2pm Kick Off. Sunday 12th November 2023, Grange Park, Long Eaton (att 250).

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