Loughborough Lightning 1-3 Stoke City (Women's FA Cup Round Two)
It was my birthday on Thursday. I went to Whitby with the wife and the in laws for a couple of days of North Sea air. Highlights including fish & chips at the Magpie Chippie and the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go to the Turnbull Ground but I did purchase an excellently conditioned match day programme from an antiques dealer of when Crystal Palace played Real Madrid in 1962. Price paid just 50p.
To my excitement I also spotted an old football trophy at Abbey Wharf Indoor Market. Dated 1907-08 it had its first winners inscribed on its back, the Dr Elliott Challenge Cup was a competition arranged by the Lowick & District Football League and had previous winners Fenwick Villa (1907/08) and Wooler Wanderers (1908/09 & 1909/10) also etched into the silver. I googled all involved and it turns out neither team is around today. Dr John Elliott however sounded like Northumberland’s answer to Mother Teresa, often arriving on horseback at the homes of Berwick upon Tweed with his medical bag to cure ill patients. A real good man.
My staycation has rolled over to Saturday so no game for me until Sunday but I’m back in good time, having caught up with a bit of the World Cup including England’s drab nil nil with USA on Friday night and a Messi inspired win for Argentina 24 hours later.
Next up for me its Loughborough Lightning in the Women’s FA Cup Second Round, they’re playing Stoke City Ladies who beat them in the league already this season, a 3-0 opening day loss started a run of ten Northern Premier League matches without a win for Lightning who sit bottom of the table.
For the Potteries, they sit sixth in the division, but concentration is today about reaching round three where they’ll be hoping to proceed in the cup, the female edition’s big entrants from the WSL including holders Chelsea along with Arsenal and Manchester City, all entering at the fourth-round stage.
I’m out the door for 11:37 aiming to get to venue for midday. The short drive from Nottingham down the A60 takes me through Bradmore and Bunny where I stop off for petrol, I’m tailgating a Ford Focus through Hoton and Cotes knowing I’m running late, as I dart through Loughborough town centre I reach for the gates of the University where the security man’s on top guard today…
“I’m here for the football” I tell him… ‘Who’s playing” he replies… “Err.. Loughborough v Stoke”… ‘Do you know where they play?’… I’m cracking under pressure, I thought he said ‘they’ve already played’… “You what” I reply… He looks at me like he’s about to call for back up… “Do you know where they’re playing?” Thank God… “Yeah, straight over the roundabout and left into the car park?” I get the thumbs up and thankfully he lets me in.
As I pull up there’s a couple of groundhoppers in the car park (you can usually tell them for being old, white, male and wearing anoraks), I get the feeling the ever-popular women’s game is appealing to them, especially with Sunday afternoon kick offs, the different venues which can be ticked off, including this one, a top sporting arena of world class pedigree.
‘A lovely day for it’ one of them says to me as I hop out my car. The weather cool, overcast, mild for this time of year, I’m only needing for flat cap & gillet today.
The walk to the back of the stand is quaint and quiet, that is until the Stoke City girls already in full kit walk past me to the practice ground with their Bluetooth speaker blazing chart classics.
I pay my £4 entrance fee, walk up the stairs to the Robert Allison Suite, order a cappuccino and bag of Cadburys Whisper Minis and sit down on a round table to do some paperwork.
I’m out through the glass doors to find a seat a good twenty minutes before kick-off, taking a photo of the two team sheets on my phone thanks to the guy in the tannoy booth, I’m sat watching the warmups finishing my coffee and my chocolates as a chubby lad looks over at me hearing the crackle of my packaging.
As the two teams enter the field of play there’s a few girls sat around me, one with her leg in a brace decides to jump over the row to get to her seat, a couple of blokes behind talking about the United Counties League and Loughborough’s male side who are top of their table and still unbeaten.
I predict a Stoke win today but feel it might be closer than the league encounter, having watched Loughborough already in the cup, I was impressed with how they played against Sheffield, but I can’t help noticing there’s quite a few changes for this game. Five in all from their 3-0 first round win.
One of those changes, Megan Harper, is sent through on goal bearing down on the goalkeeper after little over 30 seconds of the match. She’s put through by Middleton and it looks harder not to score, somehow, she misses the target completely, slicing it wide, it’s a huge chance to take the lead.
Lightning start well but Stoke look to have that bit of quality in attack, the diminutive Roisin Kivel curls left footed from outside the area a shot which cannons off the bar.
At the other end a misguided right wing centre is spilled by Hobson under her crossbar but Harper can’t force it over the line, two chances the Lightning winger should have scored, she rues them too as Kivel ensures it’s second time lucky, on this occasion cutting in to curl home a beauty to open the games goal count.
An injury to Stoke striker Abby Hunt ensures a delay gives me chance to eat more chocolate, by now i'm sipping cold coffee as I check the Belgium v Morocco score, a sub is made but the replacement who comes on is mysteriously not on the team sheet.
As the tannoy man scurries to find out who the mystery number nine is, Stoke midfielder Kelsey Richardson smashes a stunning shot from the edge of the area for goal number two. The better side are ahead with a cushion, but you feel for Loughborough who aren’t a million miles away, just lacking that composure themselves in front of goal.
At half time I mention to the Lightning secretary that I can’t find ‘number nine’ on my team sheet, that sends her off looking for answers, the name Ali Hall is not on the team announced on Twitter either, it looks like an admin error by Stoke, I wonder how costly it may prove?
Typically, the number nine in question, Hall is the one who gets the games next goal, she looks decent in possession, a threat with pace and slides home after being put through for a third of the match, the tannoy man refusing to name her as he announces the goal, after seventy minutes played.
Loughborough to their credit never give up, they push and push and finally get their own back with fifteen remaining when Emily Sharpe heads home a corner, but Stoke manage the game well, keeping it in the corner for the dying seconds to see out a two goal cushion, and to go into the hat for round three, let’s hope their paperwork doesn’t hinder any hopes of 'actual' progression.
Best player on the pitch for me is Naomi Bedeau a centre half who stands out impressively for Stoke, strong physically and good aerially, she’s decent on the ball and keeps the back line intact, also assisted by her captain Meg Bowyer besides her, midfielder Kelsey Richardson is good in possession and has an obvious eye for goal, I like the look of Abby Hunt who’s game is cut short, and at four foot nothing, Roisin Kivel can pack a punch in her shooting, she likes to cut inside from the right and aim at sight every opportunity she gets.
It's been a tough afternoon for Loughborough, who’s girls battle well against resolute opposition, Katie Middleton, magnificent against Sheffield, has moments, but she’s met her match, finding things much tougher with the step up in levels, she’s more out than in the game, more service needed, more link ups to feed off required, more runners to find who are absent, Lightning seem to miss Georgia Stevens who played in the last game, whilst Jorja Patterson who I was also impressed with against Sheffield, only appears late on from the bench.
My fear is Stoke’s admin department could pay costly as to who actually progresses into the next round despite their comfortable victory on the day. The win was deserved by Stoke and I wouldn’t like it to be taken away from them simply because they got their paperwork wrong, but rules are rules and Loughborough are within their right to complain, that said, those at the FA will probably prefer minimal fuss and quash it under the carpet as the player in question at least, did no wrong.
The gulf of class, despite the 3-1 win, was not huge, Stoke yes, marginally better, a little more physical and stronger than their opponents, who will now at least be able to focus on league survival, and I’m sure it won’t be too long before Loughborough do pick up something, because they are a very organised and game well drilled team, just lacking that bit of consistency in their line-up to forge some much needed momentum.
Loughborough Lightning: Kiya Webb, Grace Walters, Emily Sharpe, Mikayla Wildgoose (Ella Powell 46), Lauren Taft, Kayleigh Hines, Monique Robinson (Jorja Patterson 65), Amelie Johnson, Nicki Russell, Katie Middleton, Megan Harper (Emily Gunn 46).
Stoke City: Elizabeth Hobson, Naomi Bedeau, Meg Bowyer, Hollie Gibson (Sophie Thompson 64), Beth Roberts, Rosie Axten, Sarah Woodbyrne, Kelsey Richardson, Callan Barber (Mollie Holder 71), Roisin Kivel, Abby Hunt (Ali Hall 29).
1pm Kick Off. Sunday 27th November 2022, Loughborough University Stadium, Loughborough (att 110).