Varsity Women’s Football: Heartbreak for Uni

11th May 2011

The University of Nottingham Women saw their varsity dream end at the hands of a penalty shootout after a battling display against their Nottingham Trent counterparts.

UoN looked to be heading for their first defeat of the season, until Sammy Conroy’s spectacular late equaliser meant that Women’s Varsity Football 2011 would be settled on penalties; where Trent were able to handle the pressure and retain their varsity crown.

Despite their hugely successful season, UoN still went into the game as underdogs, as was reflected in their 4-1-4-1 formation, but they were certainly not overpowered. In the opening stages at Meadow Lane both teams looked nervous and neither could gain control on a pitch suffering the consequences of an early downpour.

After a tense opening with few chances created, Trent came closest to taking the lead. A long range effort from Lauren Plummer appeared to catch everyone off guard, including UoN keeper Rachel Aldred, who was relieved to see the ball rebound from the crossbar.

UoN heeded the warning signs and responded by creating the best chance of a tight first half. Captain Stephanie Smith found space and in midfield and played a delightful ball to put Anna Mawston clear of the Trent defence, but Mawston could only put her shot well wide of the target.

After the break, both sides emerged with renewed vigour, resulting in a half with plenty of chances for either side. The first of which fell to Anna Mawston, who once again found herself clean through, but unfortunately for UoN the result was the same, with the ball flying wide of the left hand post.

UoN continued to threaten with Sammy Conroy and Stephanie Smith always looking dangerous in midfield, but they were given a warning from Trent as the game sprang into life. Trent’s Lauren Garner found herself with space in the penalty area, but fortunately for UoN, she couldn’t find the target.

Trent then brought on Sarah Daman-Willems in an attempt to get themselves on the score sheet and the substitution nearly brought an immediate reward. It was Daman-Willems herself who stormed down the left, beating two UoN defenders in the process, but she was unable to provide the finish that her run deserved, as she sent the ball into the side netting.

UoN refused to let Trent take control, as Sammy Conroy delivered a corner from the left which was met by the head of Ellie Sakata, whose glancing header forced a brilliant save from Trent keeper Chanelle Swadling.

This was perhaps the turning point of the match as just minutes later, Trent took the lead. A tame shot came in from distance which Rachel Aldred failed to hold and as she scrambled to clear she could only push the ball into the path of Lauren Garner, who gratefully slotted home.

UoN refused to be beaten and went searching for an equaliser. Stephanie Smith went close from distance and was then played through by Amy Maxton, but Laura Perry was alive to the danger as Trent’s defence stood firm.

As the game went into stoppage time, the underdogs looked to have had their last chance. But Sammy Conroy must have lost her script, as she picked the ball up on the left and cut inside to deliver a beautiful curling effort, giving Swadling no chance in the Trent goal.
Not content with the equaliser, UoN pressed for a winner. A winner which very nearly arrived with the last kick of the game, when Stephanie Smith struck an audacious half volley on the turn, only to see it bounce clear off of the post.

The referees whistle brought the game to a close and Women’s Varsity Football 2011 would be decided by penalties. Both teams stood on the half way line knowing that for one of them, all their efforts would be in vain. As Helen King’s re-taken penalty struck the bar, Trent’s Daman-Willems was given the chance to seal victory and retain Varsity for Nottingham Trent, one which she took with confidence.

At the end of a hugely successful season, it was heartbreak for UoN, but they left Meadow Lane knowing they could hold their heads high. It was a game that neither side deserved to lose, but when it mattered most, Trent were the ones to hold their nerve.

Tom Jenkins