Sheffield United spoil new year party for Coventry United

(Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Coventry United’s remarkable rise from the ashes faltered in their first challenge of 2022. A depleted Red and Greens side did well to keep out Sheffield United for 77 minutes but eventually the hosts ran out comfortable 3-1 victors.

Coventry started the match nervously as the Blades had a greater share of the ball. Sheffield full-back Charlotte Newsham was given time and space to get forward and ask plenty of questions of the visitors.

Sheffield head coach Neil Redfearn had certainly done his homework to identify the weakness in the opposition. Jess Clarke was very influential on the left-hand side, with much of the play going through her.

It wasn’t until midway through the first half that the visitors finally got into their stride and started to ask questions themselves. They won a free-kick, which was taken by Mollie Green but cleared by Sophie Bradley-Auckland.

However, the Blades were relentless and striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk soon got involved in the action and was unlucky to see her shot go just inches wide. Sweetman-Kirk later ran clean through on goal from a long way out but her shot was off target again.

No score at the interval

Coventry must have been the happier of the two sides to go into the interval goalless. However, with only three outfield substitutes on their bench compared to Sheffield’s eight, the second half would be unbalanced.

In the second half, Natalie Johnson teamed up well with Destiney Toussaint on the right side but they struggled to get the ball through to skipper Katie Wilkinson.

Later, Toussaint ran about 40 yards, forcing her way past several players and this time she found forward Olivia Fergusson but her shot was charged down by Georgia Robert.

At the other end, Sheffield started to ramp up the pressure. Clarke was involved again with a cross finding its way to Kasia Lipka, whose shot scooped over the bar.

Redfearn made a number of substitutions during the half and eventually the Blades broke the deadlock. Coventry’s keeper did well to parry out Lucy Watson’s free-kick but Robert was waiting to pounce for the opening.

Four minutes later, it was 2-0 when Sweetman-Kirk found the corner after clever link-up play with 16-year-old Mia Enderby. With two minutes to go, Enderby took it upon herself to shoot — her effort was saved by Thomas but Sweetman-Kirk was on hand again to knock in the rebound.

Green scored a well-taken consolation goal in injury time but it was too late to turn anything around.

Sheffield will believe they deserved the three points. Coventry will simply be glad to be back from the dead. However, they must now work extremely hard to avoid finishing in last place.

Thoughts of Jay Bradford, Katie Wilkinson and Maddy Cusack

Coventry head coach Jay Bradford was asked what were the positives coming away from the fixture.

“We had good moments in possession. We looked composed, moving the ball well,” she said. “Unfortunately our situation doesn’t breed confidence, but we have to adopt a certain level of confidence.”

Katie Wilkinson was philosophical: “You’re in a game but then concede that goal and then crumble for ten minutes. We’ve got to put our shoulders back and not let that happen. That’s the way the game changes from a tight match to a 3-1 loss.”

Maddy Cusack remarked: “It was a tough battle. The first 45 was quite equal but we knew going into the second half if we stepped up our quality we were quite confident we could get the three points today.

“It was a very dangerous time to play them. Especially after everything that’s happened but we’re enthused we’re back to winning ways and back to putting a good performances together.”

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