Pride In Adversity As Park Go Down Battling

Pride Park 1-3 Sandiacre Town

Above: Pride Park’s Bleu Lewis-Wilson (right – 18) captured on her return to action on Sunday. Photo: Shaun Hardwick.

By Boot Room (1/2/22)

In the 15 or so years since the origins of this team, Pride Park have never failed to fulfill a fixture, but there was a risk of that on Sunday.

An unprecedented combination of injury, work, and holidays came together so that on Wednesday it was clear that the club had just the bare minimum of seven players available (in stark contrast to the Premier League in which games are called off for only a handful of players missing from a squad of twenty-five!), of which two were uncertain of being able to complete ninety minutes.

The Pride has played with eight or nine players in the distant past, even won on occasion, but starting with only seven would not only present a mountain to climb, there would also be a heightened risk of injury and the game having to be abandoned if a player came off injured – a situation they did not wish to contemplate. 

With a degree of networking by “Player Recruitment Officer” Hannah Roberts and speedy registrations, including an International Clearance, that would have Sky Sports in raptures on their deadline day programme, Park managed to register no less than five new players in time for the game. They were nevertheless starting without a recognized striker, with half of our outfield players having never played together before, of which one was playing her first game in three years, and another was playing her first ever game!

Nevertheless, whatever the game might bring, Pride Park had averted the risk of a three-point penalty, points that were hard-won earlier in the season, so in that sense anything else they might get would be a bonus – and the club were incredibly grateful to their five debutants; Lottie Bryan, Megan Cox, Rece Penfold, Juliet Nottingham and Selvi Sahin Altunoz for stepping up and answering the call for help. 

Unsurprisingly, Sandiacre were into their stride quicker, having two shots off target either side of a corner kick after about 10 minutes. Despite the lack of familiarity, The Pride settled quickly and were holding their own. Park’s first opportunity came after a quarter of an hour when Lottie Bryan had a shot from the angle of the penalty area saved, the ‘keepers’ parry almost falling to Hannah Kwiatek but a defender just got a toe in first.

Five minutes later, Juliet Nottingham picked up the second ball and played the ball into the channel for Lottie Bryan, who drove into the area, cut inside the defender, and hit a measured shot that beat the ‘keeper but drifted inches wide of the far post. 

Sandiacre responded a couple of minutes later with a break down The Pride’s left, switching across to the centre and to the spare player coming in from the right, but her shot was well saved by Jade Howell, who did well to push it wide of the danger area and Hannah Roberts was able to clear. Howell made another good save a few minutes later, coming out to the striker and parrying and collecting the shot. 

Above: Lottie Bryan, one of Pride Park’s debutants on Sunday. Photo: Shaun Hardwick.

Sandiacre took the lead after 26 minutes when an innocuous-looking ball wasn’t cut out and ran through to the striker, who rounded Howell to make it 1-0. Howell did well to save a close-range header a couple of minutes later, and at the other end Juliet Nottingham, Tash Allderidge and Lottie Bryan combined well, but Bryan’s shot was saved. 

Just after the half-hour, Pride Park was back on level terms. They were awarded a free kick in Sandiacre’s half on the right, which was sent into the penalty area and cleared for a corner which Allderidge took, and her pinpoint delivery was met by Bleu Lewis-Wilson to steer her header wide of the keeper to score.

As the first half drew to a close, Selvi Sahin Altunoz almost marked her first-ever game of football with a goal, when she reacted instinctively to a ball across and steered it only just wide of the post from around the edge of the area. 

The first half had been very even, with nothing much to choose between the teams, and after taking a little while to acclimatize to each other, the players had done well, and deservedly went in at halftime on level terms. 

The second half continued in a similar vein, although Sandiacre started to have more sights of goal, The Pride continued to defend resolutely, and the majority of shots were from distance and off-target. Park’s attacks were fewer in number, but the opportunities were there and Bryan went close a couple of times, after good combinations with Allderidge and Lewis-Wilson but on each occasion the goalkeeper saved. 

There was a strange incident just after the hour when play was stopped for was a potential head injury to a Sandiacre player. Fortunately, it was not anything serious and she was able to continue. After assisting the injured player, the Sandiacre coach turned to leave the pitch, passing the ball to the referee at the same time, about twenty yards from the touchline. The referee was standing about 10 yards upfield from where the injury occurred (which was obvious as the injured player was still standing in position) and immediately threw the ball overarm to a player standing fifteen yards away – before the Sandiacre coach had time to leave the pitch. It was the strangest drop ball anyone present had ever seen. Bizarre!

The prospect of any kind of result had seemed improbable on Wednesday, and until just over ten minutes to go it was still a possibility, but a corner on Park’s left eluded two defenders and the Sandiacre player was able to steer her header wide of Howell – very similar to Pride Park’s goal in the first half.

From the restart, Bryan was played through by Megan Cox. The goalkeeper reached the ball first but Bryan charged down her clearance – the rebound could have fallen kinder for the hosts as it went wide of goal.

With virtually the final kick-off of the game, Sandiacre wrapped up the points with a shot from outside the area that looped upend over Howell for 3-1. There was only sufficient time left for the kick-off to be taken before the referee blew for time.

Whilst there was inevitably a tinge of disappointment to lose out to late goals, it had been an enjoyable game. Having averted the risk of a three-point penalty, and considering the circumstances, any disappointment at losing a close and enjoyable game was, however, more than outweighed by the magnificent efforts of the players – with five outfield players making debuts without so much as a training session behind them, one playing her first game in three years, and another experiencing her first taste of football, it was a resilient and creditable performance and, probably a much closer game than might have been expected, and that is to the credit to all of the players. 

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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