Saturday afternoon provided an exciting and entertaining fixture in the Women’s Super League 2, as Sheffield FC Ladies edged out London Bees in a tight contest at the Coach and Horses Ground in a 3-1 victory.
After Katie Anderson and Paula Howells put the ball in the net for both sides early on, a further two goals from Jenna Dear and Mel Johnson ensured that Sheffield would kick-start their home campaign with three points in the bag.
A scintillating show from woman-of-the-match Katie Anderson was just one of many highlights from an entertaining and energetic Sheffield performance.
With both sides losing on the opening day of the season, taking a victory on Saturday was of the upmost importance for Sheffield and the Bees, and their desire to get forward and create chances was clearly shown on the pitch from kick-off, with Anderson almost netting with not even one minute passed, as the midfielder lobbed ‘keeper Nicola Hobbs before agonisingly hitting the crossbar.
Anderson registered a second attempt several minutes later, dragging the ball wide from 12 yards but only inches wide of goal.
It didn’t take long for the first goal to be realised, however, as Anderson danced into the Bees’ box and slotted home past Hobbs on 16 minutes to give her side the all-important lead.
Down the other end, Sheffield stopper Danielle Gibbons did brilliantly to deny Bees forward Joey Wilson her first goal of the season, tipping over her rocket-like free-kick which was heading towards the top corner.
The visitors did eventually find the net on 24 minutes, when Paula Howells fired home following a clearance from Sheffield skipper Ellie Gilliatt, perhaps against the run of play but nonetheless a well-executed finish.
Bees came frustratingly close to turning the game on its head just after the half-hour mark, as Wilson headed home only for her effort to be ruled out for offside, followed by a sigh of relief from home players and supporters alike.
Both teams continued to press for a second in what was a breathless end-to-end spectacle, with Jenna Dear’s volley being caught by Nicola Hobbs before the Bees counter-attack saw Destiney Toussaint cut inside and shoot straight into the grateful arms of Danielle Gibbons.
As one of the match’s standout players, Jenna Dear was not only the architect of many dangerous attacks, but she also finished one herself, retaking the lead for Sheffield with a smart and precise finish across goal into the far bottom corner on 33 minutes.
Emma Johnson could have added a third before half-time when she was sent through past the Bees defence, but a poor second touch let her down and allowed Hobbs to collect the ball.
Playing confident and attractive football, Sheffield continued their exceptional performance in the second half, though the home defence had to resist increased pressure from the visitors, with Joey Wilson and Paula Howells trying their luck on separate occasions in the space of two minutes.
But the resilient hosts were determined to see out the victory, and Mel Johnson helped to ease the pressure when she doubled her side’s lead just before the hour mark, as she turned and fired home first time from just inside the penalty area to punish some poor Bees defending.
Despite beginning to sit back, Ladies still created further chances, and home fans were left scratching heads after Mel Johnson couldn’t quite meet Hannah Dale’s sublime low cross before Chloe Dixon’s follow-up was blocked and cleared away.
Jenna Dear almost added a second for herself with 15 minutes to play, with her looping effort being tipped over the crossbar by Bees ‘keeper Hobbs before Dear mis-hit the following corner.
At the other end, Toussaint continued to be a permanent danger, and she was left frustrated after she couldn’t put the ball past Gibbons to finish off her dazzling run, eventually fouling Gilliatt and giving away a free-kick.
Bees failed to create another chance as real as Toussaint’s until it would only be a mere consolation, with Gibbons superbly turning Evie Clarke’s low effort around the post to round off an excellent Ladies performance.
After their 3-1 victory, Sheffield manager Zoe Johnson told Forge Sport: “We’re really pleased to get the win. I think with our performance last week at Oxford, the performance was there, we just wasn’t clinical enough in front of goal.
“We’ve come to our home and our first home game today, we’ve worked hard in training on being more clinical and the girls have listened, they’ve done that and I still think they probably could have scored a few more.
“We had some (chances) that was on a plate, some that was a little more difficult, but the most important thing is that we’ve got the three points today and that’s what we were looking for.
“They’ve (London Bees) asked a lot of questions of us defensively, they’re a good side and they’ve proved that in the past when we’ve played against them; it’s always an exciting, challenging game.
“The way that they commit bodies forwards, at times our back four was on four v four, and they got asked a lot of questions.
“It’s quite easy to look at a 3-1 win and say well done to all the forwards, but today our back four and our goalkeeper have done exceptionally well defensively.”
Upon being asked of her opinion on young Anderson’s impressive performance, Johnson added: “She’s an absolutely fantastic young player, and she’s only just stepped through to the first team this season, and throughout pre-season she’s been one of our most consistent performers, and last week she had a little bit of a hard time at times in the game and I think it was a bit of a reality check in first team football.
“She’s worked so hard this week, she’s continued to graft, defensively she’s been fantastic but going forward she’s caused London Bees so many problems.
“She was involved in all three goals, and what an absolute credit that girl is.
“She’s come to us through our development team and she’s worked her way through, and she should be really proud of herself.”
Next up for Sheffield is another home match at the Coach and Horses Ground, where they host Aston Villa Ladies in the WSL 2 next Sunday at 2pm.