I’ll start this week’s review with a confession.
Despite covering the women’s team for MFW since September, I hadn’t ever attended a women’s football match.
Don’t get me wrong, the fixture list in recent weeks has definitely contributed to that, as we seemingly played every single game away from home just when my articles were starting to take off.
I was also one of the people who attended last Sunday’s abysmal fixture at Carrow Road rather than heading down to The Nest. With the extortionate prices set for season tickets nowadays by Delia and Co, hopefully I can be forgiven for that.
This all changed yesterday, however, as I finally made the trip along the NDR and into the home of City’s women.
To say I was impressed is an understatement. The facility is huge, with pitches for all age groups, yet it also felt quite small and compact on the terrace and inside on the concourse. With a friendly smile everywhere you turn, the sense of community is what really shone through, and shows how important the women’s team is in creating unity in what can be an often divided fanbase.
On a personal note, the staff in the River End at Carrow Road should take note of the food selection offered at The Nest. I’m used to being limited to pies and hot dogs for my matchday intake, as well as steaming sausage rolls that are guaranteed to burn your tongue and leave you finding crumbs all week. It was certainly refreshing to see a wider variety on offer, rejoicing at a full-length edible sausage roll, 9-inch pizzas, and paninis.
Right. I better talk about some football.
Everybody arriving at The Nest knew how difficult the match would be. Hashtag United have made a blistering start to life in the third tier, currently sitting second in the National League Southern Premier Division standings. Bearing in mind that City were recently eliminated from the League Cup by London Bees, who sit bottom of the Southern Prem, it was clear that this would be the biggest challenge of the season so far.
We knew that a good start was needed if we were to have any chance in the game, and boy did we get it!
Last season’s player of the season, Ellie Smith, went on a dazzling run after only 10 minutes, beating the Hashtag defence and curling an effort past the Tags goalkeeper to put the Canaries 1-0 up and sending a season-high attendance at The Nest into euphoric celebration.
Norwich relied on the team structure and hard work without the ball, often looking to go direct whenever Sarah Quantrill had the ball at her feet. However, this was almost City’s undoing as a stray back pass to the City ‘keeper three minutes after the goal allowed Tags player Malika Apindia to round the City ‘keeper, but saw her effort miss the target from a tight angle.
That wasn’t the only chance the Belgian would have in the half, who saw a volleyed effort from a corner fly into Quantrill’s grasp after 19 minutes.
More solid defending and shot-stopping saw City head in at the break one goal to the good. The shift the team put in during the first half was exceptional, but we knew they needed to replicate that at least in the second half to stand any chance of progressing.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first half, with City looking to defend effectively and work on their play without the ball, aiming to hit Hashtag on the counterattack. It was in this half that City reaped the rewards for an organised gameplan, allowing Hashtag to dominate the ball and snuff out chances.
When speaking about the game plan, it’s impossible to not talk about Ceri Flye. The defender was immense throughout the game and was the perfect commanding presence to navigate the second half. Playing with no fear, Flye got her head to everything and sometimes dropped back to act as a sweeper when defending deep to ensure nothing got past.
Another standout of the second half was Megan Todd, who not only led the line exquisitely but also helped out with her fair share of defensive blocks. It was this tenacity from Todd that almost saw City increase the lead, who saw her header glance wide of Frankie Angel’s post with 15 minutes remaining.
We were in for a nervy finish in NR10.
Despite all of Hashtag’s dominance in the closing minutes, clear-cut chances were hard to come by. This was until the sixth minute of injury time, when Quantrill produced a superb save to the left of her post to deny a seemingly certain goal and cement City’s place in the second round, securing the 1-0 victory.
When fans reminisce on the key moments of this game, it will be Sarah Quantrill’s heroics that stand out.
The City faithful at The Nest were brilliant and helped drag Norwich over the line and into the hat for the next round. The camaraderie between this group of players and the supporters was truly inspiring to see, with seemingly all the players rejoicing with familiar faces in the crowd after the full-time whistle.
My mate described the performance as a “Dean Smith 1-0”, and although any mention of Smith’s name could make City fans’ toes curl, he meant it in the most endearing way possible. The ability to execute the game plan perfectly in the way we did will certainly set the benchmark for the rest of the season and send a message to our opponents that we’re ready for anything that’s thrown at us.
This sentiment was reflected in Martin Herdman’s post-match interview, highlighting the maturity and discipline within the team and the performance.
So, City find themselves in the hat for the second round proper after a truly remarkable evening. While supporters will be eagerly anticipating the draw for the next round, all eyes now turn to next weekend’s fixture away to Worthing as we look to put the pressure on league leaders AFC Wimbledon before our crunch match with The Dons in a few weeks’ time.