Laura Elford's hattrick sealed a massive 3-2 victory for Huddersfield Town Women, a result that sees them be the only team outside the top two tiers of the women's game to reach the fifth round of the Vitality Women's FA Cup for the second time in the last three seasons.
Story of the match
The Terriers emerged victorious from the five-goal thriller at the Stafflex Arena, overcoming a strong, talented Derby County Women side who were enjoying a healthy unbeaten run.
The hosts started brightly with Lucy Sowerby linking up well with Laura Elford on the right hand side, whilst Derby created chances of their own in the early stages as the contest turned into a midfield battle with both teams searching for the opener.
Elford - Huddersfield's top scorer this season - gave her side the lead in the 15th minute as she sprung the offside trap to race clear of the defence and, although the 'keeper stopped her initial effort, the striker followed in and finished at the second time of asking.
This, though, wasn't going to dishearten Derby and the Rams equalised just one minute later before continuing to threaten, smashing the right-hand post eight minutes later.
With the two teams level at the break, it all came down to the second forty-five minutes and, just like in the previous round, Town’s substitutions worked a treat as Kate Mallin emerged from the substitutes’ bench to claim two assists after Ellie Gilliatt pulled a penalty wide of the target early in the second half..
In the 72nd minute, the winger whipped in a wicked corner which was bundled over the line by Elford thanks to confusion in the Derby defence before the same combination saw the prolific striker completed her hattrick just four minutes later - rising high to once again head the ball in at the near post.
Despite Hannah Ward pulling a goal back for Derby late on, Huddersfield's quickfire double secured victory and, although there was a late scare as Derby pulled a goal back seven minutes before full time. Town now travel to Brighton and Hove Albion in the fifth round of the Women’s FA Cup on May 16th.
It means that, for the second season out of the last three, Town are the last remaining ‘amateur’ side in the famous competition – having also made the fifth round back in 2018/19.
Huddersfield's manager, Jordan Wimpenny, admitted it was a nice feeling to win the contest in the way his team did.
“It’s always a nice feeling to win a game and to progress to the next round is great. I feel the team deserve that after this performance.”
Debutant, Paige Crossman - who recently signed from Sheffield FC -was also very satisfied with her afternoon’s work.
“We had to be quite tight in areas. I had to stay back and sit a lot more than I normally would. You’ve got to do what is right for the team. I think in my legs I knew I had it in my head that I will be fine physically.
"Just getting 90 minutes out the way, psychologically it’s a big thing. I feel we had quite a lot of space outside wide.”
It's the second time in three seasons that the Terriers will fly the flag out the amateur leagues, having also made the same stage of the competition back in 2018/19, coming from 3-0 down to beat Charlton Athletic and draw West Ham United in round five.
That game finished 8-1 to the Hammers, but Huddersfield took the lead through Mallin's penalty and led until the 28th minute, so the West Yorkshire club could have some reason to be optimistic. That being said, Brighton have beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur this season, so it will be a tall order.
Huddersfield are flying
Huddersfield have now won 12 games in a row in all competitions - including a friendly against Stockport County Ladies - and were top of the FA Women's National League when the season was curtailed. They now face a long wait for the fifth round which is scheduled for the 16th of May, but they will definitely be prepared for the toughest game of their season - and lives - thus far.
Derby should be proud
To take your league leaders all the way and arguably be unlucky not to win with the chances created takes some doing, so Derby should not be too disheartened by Sunday's result. If they keep their star players in the summer, the Rams could mount a charge next season.
Could Huddersfield cause one of the biggest shocks in Women's FA Cup history?
No one will likely give Huddersfield a chance when they make the long journey down south to face Brighton, but a team which is free-scoring and tight at the back should be respected. The 8-1 defeat to West Ham two seasons ago doesn't bode well for the Terriers, but if they stick to a game plan and don't concede early, things could get very interesting.
Player of the match
It's not really a contest, this one. Laura Elford ran the Derby defence ragged and bagged her third hattrick of the season for good measure. Her teammates behind her provided top class service throughout the game, but the chances still needed putting away. Top, top performance from Huddersfield's no.10.