Having just missed out on the chance to compete in the cup final, York Ladies 1s exuded a sense of determined urgency to beat Sheffield 2s in a one-sided women's hockey affair on the JLD.
The opening minutes of the game were fast-paced and energetic, the team looking cohesive and well-drilled.
York pressed high, with captain and goalkeeper Roisin Emmerson demonstrating strong communication skills to order the back line back into position when play reset.
Pressurised in the defensive half from the early minutes, York were quick to respond when possession changed rapidly. Making herself continually available in the centre field, Alice Walker’s on-point timing allowed her to glance up before driving the ball forward and opening up space for her forwards.
Sheffield mirrored York’s high press which forced the girls to move the ball across the back line to the wings. Connie Kitchiner acted as a pivot point between the defence and midfield which allowed the girls to out-manoeuvre Sheffield, attacking in a two-vs-one formation.
A consistently reliable presence in the defensive line, Amelia Herschel-Shorland was quick to track back and intercepted some crucial balls before they reached the D, robbing Sheffield’s forwards of the time or space to take unpressurised shots on goal.
Georgie Spender’s speed when taking sideline balls worked to York’s advantage as Sheffield’s failure to respond quickly gifted York a series of free penalties.
Good vision into the circle from the midfield pushed the forwards higher and stretched play which made it difficult for Sheffield’s defence to close down the space. Equally, York remained crucially calm under pressure when the ball was in their defensive D. They did not panic when it might have been easy to.
York dominated the final stages of the first half. Co-club president Annie Quantrill’s tenacious defensive work was mirrored by the rest of the team; close man-on-man marking accompanied by low sticks prevented Sheffield from moving the ball much beyond the 25 line.
0-0 at the end of the first half. A game still very much all to play for.
Meanwhile, the Men’s 2s had earlier faced Sheffield Men’s 3s in their bid to claim the Cup title. Sheffield’s side had amassed an impressive total of thirty two goals in their journey to attain a BUCS medal for their club for the first time in four years; the high stakes meant this had all the makings of a must-see match.
With the news that the men were bringing home the trophy after a nail-biting 1-0 victory, the spectators side of the pitch became host, and rightly so - to jovial celebrations. This tangible surge in enthusiasm raised the atmosphere and seemed to translate into the ladies' performance on pitch, as they stepped up their play.
With the second half whistle came a noticeable sense of urgency from both sides to break the 0-0 stalemate.
Positioned in a high midfield position, Esmee Molhoek hounded Sheffield’s top-line taking a series of picks on the reverse and cutting short any chance for Sheffield to catch a break on the wings.
Daisy Leach was denied a goal at the post by Sheffield’s competent keeper after a determined line run and crossed ball from Quantrill set up an opportunity at the P spot.
Leach’s commanding on-pitch presence nonetheless closely matched her unshakable ball skills and marked her as a key play-maker in the minutes that followed.
Having kept the score even for the first thirty five minutes, Sheffield became unstuck when York took full advantage of a short corner opportunity: an unwavering push-out to the top of the D was followed by a wide pass from Walker to Leach on the right-hand side.
What looked like an exemplary replica of a set-play no doubt practised routinely in training, Walker's ball opened up the space away from Sheffield’s defensive sticks and gave Leach a shot on-goal.
A perfectly executed straight strike to the bottom right corner put York in the lead. 1-0.
Josie Waine and Grace Law’s stamina enabled them to apply consistent pressure on Sheffield’s sideline balls, and opened up several opportunities for York to turn over possession and attack.
Similarly, Marion Thompson’s resolute efforts in attacking across the pitch added impetus to York’s drive for another goal. Taking penalties quickly so as not to allow Sheffield to reset proved key to building on the momentum from the first goal and forcing Sheffield into a defensive rut.
Despite the fact play was interrupted by an injury following a near Sheffield goal, the camaraderie of the crowd maintained spirits and encouraged the ladies to push ahead.
York’s undeterred efforts towards goal proved patience is a virtue when a stellar reverse ball from Caitlin found Phoebe Gray inside the D. A straight strike to the left corner increased York’s goal margin. 2-0.
Annie Quantrill continued to showcase her experience and forward-thinking by positioning herself in the prime position to sneak a deflection by the post as York once again fought to bring the ball from one end of the pitch to the other.
A rocket ball by Gray from the top of the D needed no extra help finding the backboard. The crowd roared as she secured the final goal of the game. 3-0.
At the close of the game, the upbeat pitchside mood reflected a successful day in which York had given Sheffield little chance of ever earning a result. York had scored three unanswered goals to beat their Yorkshire rivals.