Carlisle United’s Ladies lifted the Cumberland FA Women’s County Cup in dramatic fashion last Wednesday evening, overcoming Penrith AFC Ladies in a sudden death penalty shootout at Frenchfields.
The two teams came into the contest closely matched, with just six points separating the sides in the league table and a single goal scored in the two league meetings this campaign; United edging a one nil win at Creighton in March and a goalless draw at Frenchfields last August.
The Carlisle team was boosted by the support of men’s first team players Morgan Feeney, Mick Kelly and Tobi Sho-Silva, with Feeney and Kelly delivering the final pre-match words to the Lady Cumbrians squad.
Women’s County Cup Finals between these sides are typically tight affairs and the first half reflected this, with a closely fought 45 minutes ending goalless, the best chance for United coming in the closing seconds as Sharina Robinson sent an effort just wide.
It was not long before the deadlock was broken on the resumption, however, with Penrith taking the lead from open play just six minutes into the half. The lead was two seven minutes later as the woodwork come to United’s rescue twice before the ball fell to the player in red to hit home.
The United response was almost instantaneous. Robinson won a free kick just after the hour mark and Captain Emma Blenkinship stepped up to curl an unstoppable shot into the Penrith net at the near post. The goal buoyed the blues and it took only three minutes longer for parity to be restored.
Another free kick was won wide on the left and this time Sammi Norman stepped up to take it on from longer range. Norman’s perfectly floated ball into the box was met by the head of Robinson to send the ball goalwards and the game level.
After that flurry of four goals in 14 minutes the contest settled back into a more even tempo with both sides looking to consolidate their positions and United’s newly named Manager’s Player of the Season, Chelsea Norris, dominating her box with ever-increasing confidence.
Each side would have one gilt-edged chance to win the tie late in the half with Penrith firing wide before Charlotte Murray saw a header bounce agonisingly wide as the clock ticked down.
Into extra time the game went but by this point there was a certain inevitability about the spot kicks which would follow. Nothing to choose between the sides after 120 minutes and United, who won their first Women’s County Cup almost eight years to the day prior in a shootout, would have to go through penalties once again to lift their fourth crown.
Norman and Blenkinship both converted their spot kicks and with Norris keeping out three of Penrith’s efforts the contest went to sudden death. Robinson was next up to convert her effort before Penrith fired their sixth over the bar to cue the beginning of the celebrations for the contingent in blue.
Both sides more than played their part in a tight and closely fought encounter with the Lady Cumbrians eventually prevailing, leaving Janice Alderson to pick up the Player of the Match award before Blenkinship hoisted the trophy high into the cold night air.
Speaking about the result, United Manager Tracy Gannon said: “I’m so proud of the entire team for what they’ve achieved this season, culminating in this victory. Last season didn’t go as we hoped but they all stuck together and Wednesday evening was a just reward for all their hard work and positive attitude.
"It was great to have Morgan, Mick and Tobi down supporting us and I have to mention Jamie Devitt as well who has been an amazing champion for us - we were sorry he wasn’t able to make it and wish him all the best in his recovery. Finally, a big thank you to our primary sponsors, Bendles LLP Solicitors, who’ve been with us for many seasons now.
"Their unwavering support gives us the stability to be able to achieve nights like Wednesday and we really value our partnership.”
United add the victory to their previous Cumberland FA Women’s County Cup wins in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and cap a season which has seen the team stick together and battle back from a difficult 21/22 campaign to record a solid mid-table finish in the league on top of their latest silverware.
United Ladies first team’s season may be at its end but the club’s newly formed Development squad continue their campaign in the Andrea Buggy Women’s League throughout the summer, playing on Wednesday evenings in 9v9 games.
With pathways available into the club’s North West Women’s League squad, any player interested in finding a home in United’s welcoming and supportive squad is encouraged to contact email@example.com for details of training or an informal chat.
In the meantime, all at Carlisle United Ladies send their very best wishes and luck to their men’s first team counterparts as they too look to lift silverware of their own in the League Two Play-offs - we’re all right behind you lads!