Sheffield FC Ladies exited the FA Cup at the fourth round stage for the second season running as their tie against Doncaster Rovers Belles was decided by a penalty that wasn’t.
Referee Law Bik Chi, on a referee exchange programme from Hong Kong, became the centre of attention when she awarded a penalty kick against Sheffield for handball, despite the ball appearing to clearly strike a Doncaster arm.
It was the first competitive meeting between the two sides who are just 20 miles apart, with the previous week’s WSL Spring Series fixture having been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
The first game of the season always takes time to get up and running, and this was no different. The two sides sparred in the opening stages, with speculative shots sailing wide from both sides.
Doncaster had the best of the opening opportunities as Courtney Sweetman-Kirk had time to shoot on the edge of the box and flashed her low effort just wide of Juliana Draycott’s right hand upright.
It was then that lightning struck. As players from both sides slid in to claim the ball, it bounced up and struck the arm of the Doncaster player. ‘Handball’ shouted the home crowd. ‘Penalty’ said Law Bik Chi, tapping her right hand so that the reason for the decision was in no doubt.
The protests were extensive. Carla Ward was apoplectic, Sherry McCue received a yellow card for her remonstrations, and after two minutes of arguing Sweetman-Kirk stepped up to calmly roll the ball down the middle of the goal.
Sheffield lost their heads and their discipline. McCue was fortunate not to receive a second yellow card for persistent fouling, and the chances, largely from free kicks, kept flowing. Sweetman-Kirk should have made it 2-0 just before half time as she ghosted past Ward but failed to convert the one-on-one chance as Draycott stuck out a foot to keep her at bay.
The second half was far more even. Sheffield were desperate to get back into the game and twice Sophie Jones might have done better from the left wing. Hannah Cain did the hard work from the right flank, got tackled by the penalty spot, and when Natasha Flint’s follow up was blocked, Jones had only Nicky Davies in goal to beat, but chose to shoot for the near post when the far was the better option.
As Sheffield pushed for an equaliser they became stretched at the back. Carla Ward blocked superbly from Sophie Barker to keep it at 1-0 but Doncaster looked the more likely to score the second goal of the game.
Billie Murphy gave the ball away to Sweetman-Kirk in the area, and it looked like Christine Murray would wrap up the game, but she trod on the ball ten yards out and allowed Sheffield to scramble it away.
Draycott went up for a late corner, but Sheffield couldn’t force the game to extra time, and they’ll be left ruing a game that hinged on what can only be described as an awful penalty decision.