Wolves Women made an encouraging start to the new season with a strong showing at the Keele International Tournament.
Taking place over the weekend, Wolves successfully negotiated the first day, winning all three of their games to put themselves into a commanding position in their group heading into the final day.
The first game was against Mexican side UNAM EX-REPRE, who took the lead early in the second half when they hit Wolves on the break. Wolves hit straight back and eased to a 3-1 win courtesy of a Dani Selmes hat trick.
Next up for Wolves were Scottish side Kilwinning Sports Club. In searing heat, Wolves once again fell behind against the run of play, but soon hit back through Jamillah Palmer after great work by Becky Hall. With minutes to go, regular goalkeeper Natalie Hall came to the rescue with a stunning goal. Playing as a striker, she demanded the ball from twin Becky, before curling the ball into the top corner from 20 yards in a breathtaking show of class.
Kilwinning grabbed a late consolation as Wolves made it two wins on the bounce.
Wolves completed the set in their final match of the day, with a dominant performance against Welsh side Newcastle Emlyn LFC. Jordan Timmins-Ray opened the scoring from 30 yards, before Selmes and Palmer added to their respective tallies.
Wolves were thrilled with their day’s work, playing some outstanding passing football, and with the youngsters giving a good account of themselves, everything was looking positive.
The next day began with a lot of tired limbs and tight muscles, after three matches in the heat took their toll. It would have been easy at this point for the standard of football to drop, but impressively, Wolves continued to play some scintillating football, winning their final group game to top it. A brace from Palmer and a Timmins-Ray effort put Wolves three up before FC United scored a consolation goal at the death.
A place in the semi-final against Huddersfield awaited and Wolves produced their best performance, with Jamillah Palmer simply unplayable. From a Huddersfield corner, Hannah Williams won the ball before passing to Palmer on the edge of the box. Palmer ran 60 yards, beating three players, before finding Jade Hewitt, who unselfishly played in Selmes who smashed the ball past the keeper to open the scoring. Becky Hall finally got the goal her performances deserved, with Hewitt once again selflessly laying the ball off to allow Hall to drive an effort from 20 yards out on the stroke of half time.
Wolves put the game to bed in the second half as Palmer once again obliterated the Huddersfield defence with pace and skill, before squaring for Selmes who made no mistake from close range. Wolves cruised into the final having played some fantastic football, but now faced a Stoke side who were expected to be a very physical test.
A lack of numbers meant Wolves were really struggling as they took to the pitch, weariness kicking in and injuries beginning to niggle. Stoke took full advantage, knocking the ball over the top from the kick off, before slotting past Natalie Hall to stun Wolves. Wolves hit back soon after as Hewitt battled hard to win the ball, before playing in Timmins-Ray whose cool finish levelled the game.
Some physical challenges from Stoke players culminated in a fierce tackle from Chantelle Gallagher, which sparked furious protests from both players and fans. The referee ordered Gallagher to be substituted rather than what perhaps could have been a straight red card.
As the game neared the end of normal time, Wolves were beginning to struggle to keep the ball, with many players struggling to move freely through fatigue and injury. With seconds remaining, Stoke won a free-kick. The ball was lofted into the box, and Wolves’ achilles heel came back to haunt them, as they failed to defend the set piece and Stoke tapped the ball in to clinch the trophy at the death.
The result was hard to take for Wolves, who had pushed themselves to the absolute limit in the hot conditions with a small squad. Despite the disappointment, Wolves will be incredibly proud of what they achieved and how they played.
Assistant manager Brian Churm was thrilled with the way his side had played: “I’m so proud of the girls,” he said.
“They have played five games to get to the final and showed discipline and strength in them all.
“We also took a few youngsters to give them a bit of experience at this level and they coped absolutely fine.
“To lose in the last minute in the final is a cruel blow but having seen them play those six games I am very happy with their attitude which is a great sign for the coming season.
“Every one of those girls did Wolves Women proud this weekend, and now I can’t wait for the season to start.”
*Wolves Women Fixtures have now been released for the new season. Click here for details.