On the back of a tough week in which Derby County Ladies received unwelcome news on the injury prognosis of two key players, the clubs spirits were lifted following a battling performance at local rivals Stoke City at the weekend, which saw them progress to the third round of the Premier League Cup on the back of an ultimately deserved 2-1 victory following extra time.
Manager, John Bennett has been rightly lauded in the media for the way in which he has built a strong squad of players comprising of experience, youth and versatility over the summer. However with news filtering through that experienced midfield duo Leanne Da Silva and Lisa Giampalma could be out for some time with respective eye and knee injuries, both the youth and versatility elements of that equation were put to the test when his side made the short trip to the Potteries. In came 16 year old Ellie May for her first senior start whilst leading scorer for the past three seasons, Melissa Johnson dropped into an unfamiliar midfield role.
A tight first half saw few chances created by either side, however within a minute of the restart Ewe Rams took the lead when May ( who had played for the clubs Under 18's the day before ) beat the keeper from the edge of the box following excellent work from Camilla Newton, another player that has found first team opportunities limited. This lead to Derby's best period of the game, however despite creating a number of chances it was City that added to the score line on 70 minutes when Ashleigh Hayes took advantage of a kind deflection in the area to fire home from close range.
Both sides had opportunities to win the game within 90 minutes, however it was Johnson that finally put Derby into the hat for the next round when on she slotted home superbly on 102 minutes after excellent work from the industrious Nicole Ledgester. The final period of extra time tested Bennett's young side to the limit, however encouraged by a significant Rams support they held strong to take the spoils of a pulsating cup tie.
Following the tie, Bennett was quick to pay tribute to both players and supporters. " For me that has been the result of the season, particularly when you factor in the previous weeks very poor one at Huddersfield and our injury list. One of the things that we have been keen to eradicate is Derby's habit of tending to win and lose our games in groups. We've only suffered two reverses this season and on each occasion we have followed those losses up with big performances and more importantly big wins. Since their promotion to the Premier League, Stoke have established themselves as a very difficult side to beat especially on their own patch. My players have not only toe to toe with them, but over the 120 minutes have deserved the win. Last week I was right to be critical of our performance, however the players application and willingness to work has made me very proud "
" In terms of the support from the stands that we have received today, it comes as little surprise to be honest. There is so much positive work going on behind the scenes aimed at building the clubs profile not only locally but regionally and nationally as well, and it is really starting to bear fruit. We've seen a significant upturn in attendances to our home games this season and today all you could hear from the dugout were the Derby fans. It makes a huge difference to the players and hopefully we are rewarding our supporters with our performances "
This weekend, Ewe Rams travel to third placed Middlesbrough and Bennett is hoping that his side can build on the Stoke result. " Boro were only promoted to the Premier League at the end of last season, however they made their intentions very clear when on the opening day they defeated the reigning league champions 6-0 ! We are fully aware that we have a tough 90 minutes ahead of us, however i'm hopeful that the belief that the players will have got from last weekend will stand us in good stead. "