Two Katie Wilkinson goals either side of a Hannah Cain strike were enough to catapult Aston Villa to second in WSL2, securing a 2-1 win over Sheffield.
Although neither team had played a league fixture for almost a month, both had recently tasted defeat at the hands of WSL1 opposition, Aston Villa bowing out of the FA Cup after a comprehensive 6-0 defeat Chelsea’s Wheatsheaf Park. Sheffield had been in action more recently, losing a friendly 4-2 against Liverpool – a game that both teams used to freshen up before their respective league matches.
The game was just seconds old when the fans were treated to their first goal-mouth action, Amy West latched onto a long ball from the kick-off, though Juliana Draycott was alert for Sheffield to deal with the danger. The hosts warmed into the game quickly, earning an early corner, Jess Myers kept calm in dealing with the resulting header.
Chelsea Flanagan was using her quick feet to deceive the visiting midfield. A searching ball for Ellie Gilliatt was just kept in and flash across the face of goal, with Myers batting the ball out for a corner as a red shirt was arriving for the tap-in.
The ball was put on the spot for a Villa head to clear but only as far as Jodie Michalska, just outside the box, and her volley was cleared off the line. Another chance came for the hosts; an Aston Villa throw just in front of their own box won by Michalska, who chopped once, twice, cut into the box and sent her shot arcing away from the top corner at the last second.
The ball back with the Villains, Hayley Crackle running onto a deep ball, sliding between two defenders, breaking into the box but Emily Owen with a big toe to turn the ball away. Sheffield were enjoying more of the possession, but they struggled to break down Elisha N’Dow and Jade Richards, but with Gilliatt thundering through midfield, pushing her team on, the opening goal seemed imminent.
Sarah Mayling went on a strong run for Villa, home defenders were unable to wrestle the ball off of her but Draycott came off her line quickly, going to ground but missing both the ball and player. The goal gaping but with Carla Ward on her heels, pushing her wide, the attacker couldn’t get a shot away before Owen cleared the ball for a corner – Villa’s first of the game.
Bethan Merrick delivered the inswinger, a claret and blue shirt got to it first and Meyers was alert to parry the goal-bound shot. However, it fell straight to Katie Wilkinson who made no mistake from two yards out, burying the ball into the net. The visiting Villains were ahead, and arguably against the run of play.
A goal to swing the pendulum the way of Villa
The goal gave Villa the shot in the arm they needed, as they started to press Sheffield, penning them in for the next ten minutes. Whether from open play or a set piece, Merrick always seemed to be the player setting up her teammates, a deep cross from the by-line was headed clear. As Sheffield struggled to clear their lines the fouls that had been prevalent since the start of the half were getting more frequent, one free kick flowing into another.
A second corner for the visitors was sent too deep and Sheffield had a chance on the counter, the home side were getting back into the game, venturing into midfield more. A quick whipped cross from Hannah Cain found Michalska, but N’Dow cleared with a strong header to send the ball out for a corner. Something different followed from the hosts, a short corner they tried to work but Villa were alert to close the move down.
In the dying minutes of the first half, Hannah Dale had a curling free kick and Myers meet it with a big fist to clear. The home side trailed by a goal at the half-time whistle.
Sheffield tried to hit the ground running in the second half and had the first bit chance, Gilliatt weaved through midfield, stubbornly refusing to relinquish possession as claret and blue did everything they could to halt her progress. Her cross found Michalska unmarked in the box, but the striker’s header flew inches wide.
Aston Villa tried to stir themselves back into the game, Wilkinson pouncedon a lapse of concentration at the back and ran unmarked at Myers as Danielle Cox got back to clear her lines. More pressure from the Villains follow as Hannah George took a quick throw in. Wilkinson squirmed away from two defenders, though her smart cross was intercepted on the way through, Draycott gratefully grasping the ball.
All square again
Ten minutes into the second half and Sheffield were back on terms. Flanagan’s ball out to the right found Cain as she slipped behind her marker, firing just under the crossbar. Myers got both hands to it but lost control of the ball, fumbling it into her own net.
Ellie Gilliatt once again slalomed through midfield, into the box, shaped to shoot but the ball kicked up off a divot and was easy for Richards to clear the danger. The hosts took the resulting throw-in before Villa could rearrange; the 'keeper grabbed at the ball under pressure and once again dropping, it as Michalska poked it over the line. The goal disallowed for pressure on the 'keeper.
Not long later, Sheffield were trudging back to the centre circle once again after being undone at a corner. Just like the first, Villa won the first ball and put a shot on target only to be denied on the line, but once again the ball was sent straight at Wilkinson, the striker guiding the ball into goal.
The tempo was back up and no love was lost between the two sides, Flanagan and N’Dow both went into the book following a coming together after the restart.
Only a quarter of the game remained for Sheffield to find at least one more goal but the hosts looked to be tiring. Wilkinson once again beat the offside trap, a flagging Cox fired the after-burners to chase her down. She took a risk going to ground in the box but a strong boot cleared the ball for a throw in.
Gilliatt once again the livewire for her side, tried to beat Myers from 30 yards; her angled effort curled just wide of the top left corner. Then the ball dropped to her just outside the box, her volley wasalways rising over the bar.
The Villa players linked up to carry the ball through midfield as Sheffield pushed too high up the pitch, Amy West had a shot but skewed wide under pressure from Sherry McCue. Even in the last ten minutes the Villains looking bright, an understanding between the players, still using the full width of the pitch as Sheffield chased shadows.
The game was wearing on but Sheffield were digging deep to find an equaliser, the only problem was every time they looked to have some meaningful possession the move was broken down by a heavy touch, every player in red guilty by the end of the game.
Rhema Lord-Mears looked lively since coming on, a quick one-two with Michalska on the edge of the Villa box that could only be cleared for a forgetful corner. The substitute at the heart of another bright piece of play, Cain sent the ball into the box, Lord-Mears tried to volley the ball at goal sideways on. A hopeful effort that found the target, Jess Myers happy for the catching-practice.
Full time and the Villains took all three points back to Sutton Coldfield. A mixed game for both, Sheffield absolutely can’t be written off, dodged determination could see them finish the season out of the basement. The first job for the newly promoted side is to work on defending set-pieces.
Even though Aston Villa showed their pedigree throughout the match, the hosts kept fighting, matching the established side for most of the game. A question of confidence maybe, heads dropping after conceding in the first half. A team with a clear identity but lacking a sense of self.
Villa will be happy with the three points, maybe a little fortunate to leave with the maximum haul. A solid side who are aiming for big things this season.
|Stats||Sheffield Ladies||Aston Villa Ladies|
|Shots on target||8||6|
|Shots off target||9||3|