IT didn’t take long. If any of them weren’t aware beforehand, Sheffield United’s fledgling women’s team know now just what it means to be a Blade.
Team manager Carla Ward also revealed there are two demanding, tough-talking managers at the club with her uncompromising appraisal of a performance that fell short of the expected standard.
Historically United have always headed for the rollercoaster route. The men’s team under Chris Wilder have enjoyed a much smoother passage than what went immediately before, but nonetheless you don’t become a Unitedite for the glitz and an easy life. In for the long haul, muck, bullets and plenty of heartache are nearer the mark.
Judging by this disappointing display at Bracken Moor, home of Stocksbridge Park Steels, there are plenty of trials and tribulations ahead in order to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with..
Making their debut in the rebranded FA Championship, the second tier of the women’s game formerly known as WSL2, United crashed 2-0 at home to Durham and were subject of a harsh assessment from Ward.
“To turn a performance in like that was poor. The lack of quality, lack of communication, lack of conviction. I don’t know where that performance came from,” said the deflated manager sounding a tad similar to Wilder following the men’s defeat at Hull in February.
“We spoke at half time, the first thing we said to them was calm down and relax because it was a bit erratic and, yes, a brand new stage for some of them. In the first 10 minutes of the second half we looked like we actually were going to do exactly that. But it was just poor. A poor, poor, poor performance.”
United looked nervous from the start, failing to find any sort of rhythm against a more experienced Durham. Having reached half time at 0-0, however, all was still to play for.
But after early signs of life, once Becky Salicki had headed the visitors in front, a soft goal to concede, on the hour it was always an uphill struggle. Chloe Dixon had a great opportunity to level with only goalkeeper Hannah Reid to beat but sent a lob wide of a post. Durham’s Emily Roberts added their second with the last kick of the match but in truth the contest had long since been settled.
The opening goal came from a set play which particularly upset Ward. “When they know their set pieces and there are three people out of position, yes it was especially disappointing.”
She added: “At the end of the day one defeat doesn’t define us. They are a good group, a strong group and I think this will probably give them the lift that they need.”
Skipper Ellie Gilliatt, a summer signing from Sheffield FC where she made her 200th appearance for the club in April, didn’t pull her punches either but tried to put the performance into perspective.
“I was disappointed. We’ve had a way that we’ve played in pre-season, a way that we’ve worked as a team. We didn’t show up today. The scoreline was fair,” said the attacking left-back.
“I think we’ve all got to remember that we’ve got 17 new players and as much as we want to go and win every game we’ve got to be a bit realistic. We’ve had seven or eight games in pre-season against ok opposition. It’s a bit different when you step onto the pitch for three points in the league. I think it’s just going to take a little bit of time for us to gel. We did panic a bit today.”
United beat Aston Villa 2-1 in the first of two Continental League Cup group match last month, but lost 3-1 at Bristol City who play in the top tier Women’s Super League.
It doesn’t get any easier. Next up iis a visit from Birmingham City, another Super League side and a team boasting several internationals, for a third Continental Cup group clash. Fellow Championship club Leicester City and Super League heavyweights Manchester City are to follow. There are four groups with the winners of each advancing to the quarter-finals.
Ward, also recruited from Sheffield FC where as a player she made 221 appearances and scored more than 100 goals, issued a challenge to her players ahead of the date against Brum.
“They know there’s no pressure, they’ve got absolutely nothing to lose so it’s a good chance to show me what it’s all about.” she said.
BLADES: Davies, Barker, Fletcher, Cox, Gilliatt, Tierney, Pennock (Ford, 89) , Rayner, Merrick (Marsden, 71), Dixon, Cresswell (Paul, 61).
Subs not used: Kemp, Stevens, Ryan. Booking: Tierney.