A Bianca Baptiste brace and a stoppage time chip from Wendy Martin was more than enough for Spurs to overcome Northern WPL rivals, Blackburn and lift not just their fourth silverware of the season but a spot in WSL 2 for the coming season.
Attack vs Attack
The game started off as many could have predicted, a push and pull between two sides that had dominated their respective leagues, both used to playing on the front foot and scoring for fun, neither willing to sit. The first real guilt-edged chance of the game came ten minutes in when Bianca Baptiste’s free kick was half-cleared by Danielle Hill, the ‘keeper back on her line in time to stop Lucia Leon’s header from crossing.
Shading the game on what was far closer to home soil for them, Spurs saw the next real chance in the afters of a corner, Ronnell Humes looped effort from the edge of the area enough to leave the Rovers fans nervous as it arced through the air and landed on the roof of the goal. Humes the player who had taken to The Valley pitch best in the first quarter of the game, a force driving the Lilywhites forward throughout.
Spurs find the front foot
A cutting move saw Leah Rawle carry the ball forward after an untimely slip from Natasha Fenton, the lay-off just weighty enough for Wendy Martin to release Baptiste, the move pulled back for offside as she went to ground in the box. The air in the stadium was warm, little in the way of breeze to cool the players, the wind only figurative as it blew in Spurs’ favour.
Sparking into life before the half hour, Rovers popped up with their best chance as Ella Toone spun Maya Vio and slipped in Saffron Jordan, Blackburn’s top goalscorer uncharacteristically slack with her finish. Toni-Anne Wayne let the ball drift narrowly wide from the scuffed shot, Rovers were here to make up the numbers.
Toone was back in the fray again seconds later as she danced on the edge of the box before slicing her own effort wide of the near post, her frustrated scream afterwards a nod to the unusual nature of her side not running rampant.
Seeing more of the ball, Rovers began to ask more questions of the stable Spurs defence, a few long balls waiting to be attacked as the Lancastrians found their feet. The timing far from perfect as Spurs pushed them back once more, a good run in behind saw Baptiste played in by Martin, the forward’s shot whizzing past Hill as it bounced off of the upright and in. The lead almost doubled instantly in a reverse as Baptiste continued to find space, her ball through to Martin taken first time and barely wide of the far post, Hill caught cold once again.
Frantic work from Spurs just before the break saw the Londoners make a series of blocks and last-ditch challenges to keep Rovers at bay, the side recovering well from going down and relentless around the home box. Red shirts forward as white looked ragged, the danger cleared as Spurs carried the ball forward once more.
Rovers come close
Not looking to relinquish their lead, Spurs started on the attack after the break, Sophie McClean’s snapshot enough to give Hill food for thought as it skimmed just over her near post. A free kick shortly after brought them close again, Jenna Schillachi’s whipped delivery right into the mixer, Ellie Stewart’s stooping header ahead of her marker enough to avert the danger.
Looking to mount their own challenges, Faye McCoy blasted well over from range before the team found a better way of getting the ball down and playing, the Lilywhites again looking suspect at the back. In the theme of just about doing enough the immediate danger was averted by the Southern side, Toone’s frustration at not getting a corner enough to see her the first player into the book after she slammed the ball down onto the by-line as it flew out of touch.
Failing to get the benefit of a handful of 50/50s, Rovers looked to be getting hot under the collar but soon relaxed, the team determined on the ball.
The crowd all ready to celebrate what looked like a certain equaliser on the hour after a neat move saw Fenton play in Jordan to find Toone on the far side, her header pushed the ball back goalwards as Jordan arrived to pump the ball over the line only to see it slam into the apex of the woodwork. At the other end, Danielle Whitham’s slip in the box could have been costly but Martin found herself just out of position, forced to chase the ball before Rovers could deal with the danger.
Baptiste at the double
A moment of individual brilliance from the ever-reliable Baptiste saw the attacker who had already haunted Blackburn in the FA Cup this year back to bag her brace in the biggest game of the season. Up against her marker all the way, Baptiste refused to release possession, her body at a 45-degree angle as she battled down the 18-yard line before stretching every sinew to wrap her boot around the ball.
Slipping the sphere through the air, across goal, beyond Hill’s outstretched gloves before it stroked into the back of the net and the clock ticked into the sixty-sixth minute. The molehill morphing into a mountain for Blackburn.
Back to shooting from range, Blackburn found themselves unsettled once more the shout from the Northern half of the crowd, “play football!”, Hill geeing her side up with, “We need the ball!” Rovers nowhere near their best, the team that had gone the league season unbeaten, out of ideas south of the Watford Gap.
Jess Holbrook’s scuffed effort from 25-yards a listless reminder that they needed a goal, the execution as flawed as the idea, the team well within their means to cut into the box, but maybe just not on this day, in this match.
With no more than five minutes of regular time left, Blackburn attacked again and earned a corner for their troubles. Wayne's punch was only good enough to take the ball skywards as a red shirt nodded back towards goal, though the 'keeper was back to grab the ball before it crossed the long.
With the game well won and stoppage time a formality, Martin capped off a fine showing for the Lilywhites with a superb chip from 25-yards. Hill was caught too high as the ball looped over her and dropped into the open goal. It was the final flourish en-route to WSL 2.