Stockport County Under 18 Ladies 2 Crewe Alexandra 1 : Cheshire Womens & Youths League Cup Final

Stockport County`s unbeaten Under 18 Ladies football team did the Club proud today by winning the Cheshire Women`s Youth League Cup at the impressive home of Barnton AFC.
The match was a cracker, although when County scored early on through Sarah Leonard, and Jessica McNair added another before half time, it did not look as though it was going to be close at all, but Crewe Alexandra proved doughty fighters and, urged on by Annie Timmis and Beth Holden, they made the last few minutes really uncomfortable for Stockport, making it 2/1 with barely 3 minutes left to play. That`s how it stayed but both teams were applauded as they left the field at the end- it was that type of game!
County pre match.
Back to 11 o`clock then....or 11.07 to be precise as the game got underway after both teams and the crowd paid due acknowledgement to the events at Hillsborough 25 years ago. County were first onto the front foot as a series of throws and some serious 
Teams out...,.....

harrying by Hannah Mitchell pushed Crewe back. Jessica McNair joined in, winning a corner, but nothing came of this, and it stayed 0-0.

Early action.
Then....a minute later Sarah Leonard went on the charge and it took an alert response from Crewe keeper Sophie Brooks to thwart the Stockport player. County weren`t that easily put off however and Kate Evans did really well to stop Faye Smith as she burst clear. A series of throws added to Crewe`s discomfiture and another run, this time by Lucy Kilheeney was only denied by excellent defensive work by Abbey Whittingham.
The first 6 or so minutes had seen County camped in Crewe`s half, but a minute on from this and Crewe had it on the break via Sharla Maddocks, who was ably supported by Beth Holden- the shot went wide, but it was a start, and it went on with Holden running clear again, but she ran into Lydia Henshall, and the move ended promptly with an excellent tackle from the Stockport defender. But......Crewe were far from done, and in no time Holden had it again and charged clear, but just could not force it home at the death.
Sophie Brooks.
The last action ended abruptly as Henshall fired the ball up the park to Mitchell, and it was game on until Sophie Brooks took a hand and sped to the edge of the box to stop the rot!
Already it was an interesting game, and the end to end nature was underlined next as Holden darted onto the ball just beyond half way. Momentarily it looked a tad iffy for the blues, but another tasty tackle from Lydia Henshall did the trick and any danger was over.
A brief delay followed as the lively Jessica McNair took a knock, and the break seemed to do County the power of good because, when play resumed, they took the lead. It started with a County attack and a shot from Hannah Mitchell that Brooks did well to stop. Sophie could only parry the shot however and it ran clear to the advancing Sarah Leonard who slammed it home! Sixteen minutes gone, and it`s 1-0 to good is that?
Jessica McNair receives treatment.
Well....very good, but there was no time for celebrations, indeed Henshall had to look extra lively to block the energetic Holden who looked hell bent on a quick equaliser, and this did not remotely deter Holden who came back for more not long after- this time she made it into the last third, but then sent a disappointing shot straight at Nyemh Johnson the County keeper.
More first half action.
As I say, this was a decent game and the action switched ends yet again as Megan Rowe and Jessica McNair carved out an opening  down the right, but Sophie Brooks` reactions were pitch perfect, and the two forwards were denied......and again as the determined Rowe went for a loose ball not long after!
Megan Rowe blocked by Alex Heron
This was excellent stuff alright, as both teams tested the other repeatedly with Olivia Lockett and Lydia Henshall shining with dogged defensive work at one end, and Megan Rowe only stopped by the liner`s flag at the other! Charlotte Hislop, who went on to have an impressive game, joined Rowe and a rare old tussle played itself out with the County duo on the charge and Annie Timmis and Abbey Whittingham responding for Crewe. County seemed to be getting a slight advantage as the game approached the 30 minute mark. It certainly looked like the pressure was on Crewe as a shot from Mitchell came back out off a defender....then another from Hislop who looked a real threat, but at the last gasp McNair was just unable to turn on the ball in the box and the chance was gone.
First Half Action.
Eventually Crewe responded, almost inevitably via Beth Holden, but Nyemh Johnson advanced to stop her first off, and a minute or so later she didn`t need to as the liner`s flag did for the lively Crewe number 12.
Nyemh Johnson.
Past the half hour, and County swung into action again through Giorgia Vernardakis, whose neat through ball sent Rowe scooting clear. Unfortunately for County, she had Abbey Whittingham for company and she was quick to concede a corner when something altogether more dire was threatened. Becky Garner cleared this, and another break was on as you know who ( yes Beth Holden) had it. It looked distinctly iffy for the blues as Holden made ground fast, but I had reckoned without the redoubtable Faye Smith, and a fantastic tackle from her stopped the rot for County.
More attacking followed from Crewe, but when Olivia Lockett stepped in...stopped the raid, and started a County reply ,things looked great as Charlotte Hislop latched onto the ball and headed for goal. A cracking shot followed ...and a cracking save by Brooks, so it stayed 1-0.
This was a belter of a match and it took some really gritty work by Lockett, Smith , Henshall and Sally Stringer to keep the blue lead intact.
That said, County kept looking for a second goal, but they kept finding Sophie Brooks in their way – as did Hannah Mitchell whose shot looked good enough for a goal until the keeper stepped in. County pressed on though, with Hislop and Henshall winning good possession, and it looked excellent as from this Jessica McNair and Hannah Mitchell burst clear. This looked really good, and then it didn`t as the liner`s flag was up and the pair were offside!
County on attack first half.
County kept at it and Kate Evans did well, really well in fact, to stop a tasty ball by Henshall from reaching Hislop at the sharp end! Wow.....what a game, and it continued with Mitchell the proverbial whisker away from putting Rowe through. Hislop was unlucky trying to force the consequent loose ball home.
Charlotte Hislop in full cry ( top)met by Sophie Brooks ( below)
It began to look like it would stay 1-0, and Crewe did their level best to make this sound optimistic on my part, as Becky Garner gave the Stockport back line a grilling. Lydia Henshall was up to the test though and a fine tackle from her stopped the Crewe number nine in her tracks. County had a break on from this, but Mary Turley did exceptional work to stop the increasingly dangerous Hislop, after a gargantuan tussle twixt the pair!
Jessica McNair and Abbey Whittingham do battle......
Back came Crewe almost inevitably, and when Turley sent Sharla Maddocks clear it took a foul to stop her. The free kick that followed, from Aimee Scragg, was a good one, but Nyemh Johnson was on her toes and snaffled it impressively.
Half time was fast approaching now, as I looked to my left to see a belting tackle by Faye Smith rob Aimee Scragg in full flight. That was possibly a pivotal moment, because within a minute County had doubled their lead. Demi Noon  started it off with a pacy run down the right,..... then Charlotte Hislop improved matters by lifting a lovely ball towards the back of the box where a clutch of blue shirts lurked amongst the red. Crucially one of these was Jessica McNair – her reactions were rapid.....her finishing exemplary, and it was 2-0 as she smashed the ball home!
Beth Holden disputes possession with County.
County redoubled their efforts in the remaining minutes of the half.....Mitchell seeing a shot miss by inches.....and McNair prevented from reaching Noon`s free kick in front of goal. The corner that followed was a decent effort as was McNair`s response to it- her header flashed inches over the top, but earned a warm round of applause from the crowd none the less! Time for Mitchell to go close again and it was half time!
Demi Noon in possession.
The re-start saw Annie Timmis to the fore- stopping Demi Noon one moment, and then powering forward to shoot an inch or so over the bar.That was an impressive response from Crewe, and it took a throw from Georgina Corser to relieve the pressure for County. Suddenly the pressure was on Crewe via Georgia Vernardakis  whose determination won County a corner, but this was ushered clear by Becky Garner to give the reds some relief. It was only temporary however and a throw from Faye Smith pushed them back again winning another corner. Kate Evans saw this one off, running it up field.
Bethany Clark working hard.
It came back again though via Bethany Clark ,but after dashing clear the Stockport number ten shot early and watched as the ball drifted agonisingly wide of goal.         
It was time for Crewe to respond, and they did –Mary Turley bringing another good defensive tackle out of Henshall. This did not deter Annie Timmis as she went about her work cajoling and urging her team on. Timmis was excellent and her final ball was only prevented from reaching number 14( sorry no name given)by a terrific effort by Nyemh Johnson. A couple of Crewe corners followed ,and Timmis was unlucky not to reduce the arrears as she tried to force the ball home in the crowded box.
It went on with Bethany Clark having a rare old tussle with Mary Turley. Sometime later County got themselves a free kick for a foul on  Georgia Vernardakis , but 14 and Hannah Cunningham did enough to dent County after Lydia Henshall had charged forward from the back. County were still trying to increase their lead, it was just that Crewe were just unwilling to cooperate in the venture, and Whittingham stopped Clark with an impressive tackle , and Turley  followed this with another to stop the resultant corner turning into something altogether worse.
County press.........
It was County`s turn to defend for a while after this and Georgina Corser did well to snuff a raid out, ushering the ball back to Johnson without fuss.
County defend a corner......

This gave County a chance to break , and Lucy Kilheeney did just that down the right, forcing a corner off Evans. Sally Stringer went for this and was unlucky to see Becky Garner in position to block her. Not only did Garner block her opponent ........but she ran the ball up field herself being stopped by  Olivia Lockett`s tackle.
This was still as good a game as you would wish to see, and Charlotte Hislop joined forces with Demi Noon to rattle the Crewe cage once again. The move broke down on the rock of solid Crewe defence, but it was good to see Hislop track back when the ball was lost to endeavour to retrieve it!
Gritty application by Demi Noon then sent Lucy Kilheeney on a run, but she , and Bethany Clark who was following up,found the route to goal blocked by red shirts.

Bethany Clark foiled.......

 Never the less...thanks to Noon....County won a corner- and almost a third goal, but instead Noon`s shot missed narrowly.
Demi Noon on the break......
Both teams were expending great quantities of energy now – attacking like lions and defending like heroes.
With about 12 minutes left County brought Shauna Miller on and within  a minute or so  she combined to good effect with Clark to push Crewe back once again. Kilheeney joined them and it was game on until 14 stopped County`s fun with a great block. Up stepped Lydia Henshall .....and her pass picked Miller out  nicely , but just when a third goal looked wasn`t as a glance at the far liner told me offside had been given!
It was still end to end......into the last 10 minutes we went with a fine tackle by Faye Smith stopping Aimee Scragg on a flyer, and for County....Vernardakis and Clark surged clear only to be pulled back for a foul that frankly I did not see.
A free kick to Crewe then saw 14 rattle the bar impressively from distance......perhaps we should have been warned by this last action because within 3 minutes the same player launched another belter from distance that almost removed the netting from its moorings. It was a cracking goal and with about 3 minutes left, one heck of a finish was in prospect!
 It did not disappoint either as Scragg  saw a snap shot neatly saved by Johnson, and ...not to be outdone...Johnson`s opposite number...Brooks....did likewise when Henshaw lifted a tempter into the box.
It was tense stuff, as Mitchell charged clear to be cut off by a clutch of red shirted defenders. Then another Henshall clearance had Mitchell on the end of it again, but a corner was Mitchell`s sole reward, and this was a short term gain as Crewe fashioned a break through Sharla Maddocks , and I gasped in relief to see a last ditcher by Henshall put a stop to Crewe`s gallop!
At this pointI saw myself scribble the legend.....`phew!’ in my notes and I was probably understating the tension as Crewe battled to the very last moment to dish County, but they would not be dished and the final whistle told them they had won the League Cup- a truly excellent performance!
Joyous celebrations followed for County ......the presentations...the picture sessions......the commiserations for a fine Crewe side. It had been an excellent game fought in the right spirit and in a decent setting, so congratulations also to  our hosts Barnton AFC, and the Cheshire Women`s Youth League .
Now for the League title!

Stockport County( inc subs):
Nyemh Johnson, Olivia Lockett, Faye Smith, Lydia Henshall, Megan Rowe, Hannah Mitchell, Sarah Leonard, Bethany Clark,Sally Stringer, Lucy Kilheeney, Jessica McNair, Charlotte Hislop, Demi Noon, Georgina Corser, Shauna Miller,Georgia Vernardakis.

Crewe Alexandra (inc subs):

Sophie Brooks, Hannah Cunningham, Alex Heron, Kate Evans, Annie Timmis, Abbey Whittingham, Sharla Maddocks. Mary Turley, Becky Garner, Aimee Scragg, Robyn James, Beth Holden.

Ian Brown

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