The new season had finally come to Boldmere and as Villa Ladies became Villa Women we welcomed what seemed like our biggest rivals from last season, Sheffield United. The ground seemed quite full as expectation filled the air as the new-look Villa would take to the pitch for their first game of the new campaign.
The warm up’s took place as the people entered the ground. The weather was all over the place but we started in bright sunshine as the teams switched sides after the coin toss as Elisha N’Dow was our captain for the day.
The game kicked off and the first chance of the game came to Villa as each team tried to find their feet in the game. Sophie Haywood nearly gave Villa the perfect start as she got to the ball before Flaherty and took it away from the keeper but as Sophie tried to get the shot off Little managed to block the ball and keep the score at 0-0 early on.
In the tenth minute our former striker, Olivia Fergusson, and for me still one of the best players in the championship, opened the scoring as she linked up with one of our other former favourites, Katie Wilkinson. Fergusson took aim and curled it into the top corner, leaving Sian Rogers with no chance in the Villa goal.
With Sheffield going 0-1 up after ten minutes and I was interested to see how Villa would react. As Villa tried to get back into the game the final ball just wasn’t there. Wilkinson once again showed her class up front and would be the undoing for Villa on the 21st minute. She took the ball down and unchallenged made her way into the box leaving our defender on the floor before getting taken down by Marisa Ewers. The challenge resulted in a penalty that saw Wilkinson strike the ball and give Sheffield a 0-2 lead and give Villa a real mountain to climb to get back into the game.
Haywood once again nearly got Villa on the scoresheet as she took the ball around the Sheffield keeper once again only to be blocked by Sophie Barker. A midfield battled seemed to break out as both teams tried to get on the attack but couldn’t quite find that telling ball to beat the defence and breakthrough towards goal.
Three minutes before the half time break Villa pulled one back which was so huge in the scheme of the game. After smashing them in during pre-season Melissa Johnson showed that she knows where the goal is.
The first half of the game may not have gone to plan and it certainly wasn’t the greatest football but hopefully when Gemma Davies had the chat with them at half time it would impact the second half. Getting the goal back through Johnson just before half time would hopefully be a huge turning point in the game.
The second half started with Villa trying to get on the front foot and once again, as she always does, Johnson pulled us back level on the 55th minute. After Emma Follis lost the ball it broke to Johnson who took aim and fired in an incredible shot.
Since Sheffield went 0-2 up they seemed to take the foot off the gas so we were now in full flow and were looking to complete the turnaround and take the lead for the first time in the game. Less than five minutes later Johnson wanted that match ball as she worked her way into the box but her shot went agonizingly close but wide of the post. It was like watching a slow-motion reply!
Ella Franklin-Fraiture was fantastic all game and linked up so well with Johnson on the wing as it looked like she was brought down for a penalty but nothing was given. On the 69th minute, Johnson completed her hattrick as she linked up well on the attack once again.
Villa now had the lead and twenty minutes left to protect or extend it. We sat back a bit and had to withstand the Sheffield pressure but Rogers would not be beaten and on the 71st minute she pulled off a cracking save from Barker on the edge of the box.
We managed to see the game out as a late effort by Katie Wilkinson sailed over the bar (which made me flashback to her first game for London Bees against us) but thankfully this time when the whistle came we can enjoy another great battle between the two sides.
A crowd of 500 were treated to a five-goal thriller that went the way of the Women in the Claret and Blue. A game that won’t go down as a classic performance but one that really showed character and hopefully can be a lesson for the rest of the season as we build for the promotion push we are hoping to achieve. We have three points on the board on opening day and this was much better than last season’s 0-12 defeat to Manchester United.
We have a game next Sunday, our first away game against the newly formed London City Lionesses at Dartford FC.
Aston Villa: Rogers, Franklin, Ale, N’Dow, Haigh (Greengrass), West, Ewers, Follis, Johnson, Welsh (Syme), Haywood (Hanssen)
Sheffield United: Flaherty, S. Barker, Tierney, Little, Hartley, Cusack, Wilkinson, Matthews (Dixon 60), Sarri, Johnson (Tinsley 76), Fergusson.