Park Embrace Challenge (Cup) Positively

Pride Park 2-2 Shirebrook Rangers

by ‘Doug Outt’

Above: Rachel Weaver, who had a sensational game as a stand-in centre back for Pride Park. Photo: Shaun Hardwick.

The Pride were stretched to the limits by a combination of injuries, illnesses, and other absences for Sunday’s Challenge Cup game against Shirebrook, with just eleven players available. In the absence of a goalkeeper, a not-quite-fit-to-play-outfield Bleu Lewis-Wilson volunteered to play in goal for the first time ever, Rachel Weaver moved across to partner Annie Laight at centre back and Ella Kew played as a striker.

Despite the unusual lineup, Pride made a positive start to the game and took the game to the visitors, forcing two corners in the opening minutes, Kew almost scoring from the second in what would have been a carbon copy of her goal last week, but she couldn’t quite make the connection and the ball went wide of the post. Kew had another attempt a minute later, this time saved by the keeper, and Allderidge also saw her shot saved. 

Eliot Sayavong was unlucky to see her half-volley just fly wide of the post after Allderidge glanced on an Izzy Wilsoncroft throw-in, but the breakthrough came shortly afterwards. Lizzie Pacey collected a loose ball on the left and played the ball up to Kew, who held it up well and laid off a return pass to Pacey on the overlap – she took a touch of the ball out of her feet and hit a low left footed cross across the face of goal.

Fran Critchley-Watson looked like she was going to get on to it but she was caught in a sandwich between two defenders, once of which slid under her and took her feet away, but the ball broke to Allderidge who hit an emphatic finish across the ‘keeper and into the corner of the net with fifteen minutes played.    

A minute later and good build-up play involving Wilsoncroft, Kew, Critchley-Watson and Sophie Roberts gave Eliot Sayavong a shot on goal, but her shot was saved by the ‘keeper. The first fifteen minutes had been almost all Pride Park but Shirebrook responded and started to grow into the game – hitting a shot wide after a pass put an attacker in behind, but making no mistake after 22 minutes when a precise diagonal pass split the Pride centre backs and into the path of the attacker, who steered the ball wide of Lewis-Wilson to level the scores.

The goal gave Shirebrook encouragement and shortly after the goal had another shot on target but Lewis-Wilson did well to get down and turn it round the post. There was a let-off after 26 minutes when Shirebrook broke down their left and pulled back a low cross that went across the face of goal but the attacker coming at the far post put her shot wide with the goal at her mercy.

This seemed to revive Pride who responded in kind, mounting a series of attacks that lead to a couple of free kicks. The first of these resulted in a shot from distance by Laight, who did well to keep her shot down and on target, but it was collected at the second attempt by the keeper.  

The second free kick, from further out, was taken again by Laight and flighted in superbly outside the far post eluding Kew and Sayavong only by inches. As half-time approached a glancing header by Kew put Roberts through but under pressure from a defender the ball clipped the back of her heel, falling into the path of Critchley-Watson for a first time shot, partially blocked and looping up to be caught by the keeper.

The second half followed a very similar pattern to the first period, with Pride Park having the better of it in the opening stages. Kew’s shot was saved by the keeper, Roberts and Critchley-Watson went close and Weaver driving forward after collecting a loose ball was unlucky not to burst through, being just crowded out by a couple of defenders on the edge of the area. Only six minutes after the restart, however, Pride were back in front; a throw-in on the right by Wilsoncroft was laid off superbly by Kew into the path of Critchley-Watson and she hit a dipping shot beyond the keeper. 

The game was opening up more with both sides finding space and creating openings. Shots from Sayavong and Critchey-Watson were saved by the Shirebrook ‘keeper, and Roberts saw an effort go just wide, while at the other end Lewis-Wilson saved one shot and saw another go wide as Shirebrook tried to reduce the deficit. It momentarily looked like Pride might have extended their lead just after the hour, when Sayavong anticipated a Laight free kick into space and just beat the ‘keeper – who bravely dived at her feet – in a race for the ball but her shot only just cleared the bar. Fortunately, neither player was hurt in the resulting collision and helped each other to their feet – reflecting a game played competitively but in a good spirit by both sides. 

As the game entered its final quarter the sides traded shots, a little like two prize fighters in the ring but it was Shirebrook who landed the punch – equalising with a little over ten minutes to play. Pride responded well and put Shirebrook under pressure in the final minutes creating a few chances without landing a knockout punch – an Allderidge corner was just missed in the air by Eliot Sayavong with a huge leap above the ‘keeper, the ball was instinctively prodded goalwards by Fran Critchley-Watson, and after a scramble in the six yard box Shirebrook managed to get the ball away.

The respite was short lived, however, as within a minute  Kew slipped a pass in for Laight who timed her run to perfection but could not quite find the connection she wanted with her shot which was saved by the keeper low to her right. There was just time for one more attempt but Kew hit her shot wide of the post.  

An entertaining game ended all square. In challenging circumstances, the Pride put in a good shift – which without the benefit of substitutes many were no doubt feeling towards the end – but showed excellent commitment and effort to the end. Once again, they were good in possession, with some intelligent play that only lacked a little on the final ball to make the most of it.

After some initial “tuning” issues the defence adapted well and gave novice goal-keeper Lewis-Wilson good protection – but on the occasions when the defence was breached, Bleu embraced the challenge, could have done nothing about either goal, and looked anything but a first timer between the posts! 

Both teams will probably feel they could have won it but to coin a football cliché “we go again” (literally) – having been unable to separate the sides in ninety minutes, the tie now goes to a replay at Shirebrook on 30th October – when one way or another there will be a winner, whether in ninety minutes, after extra-time, or decided on penalties. 

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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