So it all came down to the last game of the season in a winner takes all match to decide the West Riding County Womens League Premier Divison Title. Yorkshire Amateurs two points behind leaders Hepworth United as second place played first placed, Hepworth knowing just a draw would give them the title and Ammers knowing nothing but a win would give them the title. What a game, what a season for both teams as they looked to do battle for the second time in two weeks. The visitors Hepworth had taken the points in their meeting just a couple of weeks ago with a fine display and a solid 2-1 home win. Possibly on paper Hepworth were the favourites as they were in first place before the match but in reality they were the underdogs as Ammers were on home turf and fancied their chances on their flat pitch under floodlights. The match having been brought forward to Wednesday the 1st of May with a 7.45 Pm kick off saw a large crowd, a good following from The Holme Valley with Tingley, Brayton, Dewsbury and other league clubs all having people watching. What better way of deciding the league title than the last game of the season between the top two sides this was a fitting tribute to both squads as they entered the battle.
Hepworth arrived as per their usual routine an hour before kick off and with the Red kites circling high above the ground they felt like the vultures arriving to raid the Ammers nest and claim the title. A strong thoughtful, rousing team talk and briefing including all players,subs and non playing staff was delivered not that the squad needed to know what had to be done but as a reminder to what they had already achieved so far and a reminder to the standards they had set themselves.
Both teams nailed their colours and intensions to the mast from the off with Ammers kicking off and looking to their two pacey forwards down the right, an early intension of what was to come but the visitors were primed and ready. Hepworth dealt with the opening minutes pressure well before turning the screw themselves and forcing Ammers to defend deep and conceed several quick corners in succession. From the ensuing corner kicks Laura Hirst was unlucky not to give Hepworth the dream start they wished for as twice she latched onto the ball and saw her snap shots go agonisingly wide on six and eight minutes. Yorkshire Amateurs were rocking under the pressure and Hepworth were going for the kill akin to the Red Kites which had earlier circled the ground. They got their reward on 10 minutes as they snuffed out a home attack and Purchon released Feherova down the wing her ball into the middle found Captain Jo Forrest, and her quick feet set Abigail Iggleden free on a clear run to goal. Under pressure from the keeper and chasing defence she kept her cool and slotted home past the diving keeper into the corner of the net to make it 0-1. Ammers were stirred into life and played some good passing football using their pace well but Hepworths defence were rock solid and marshalled them well Purchon and Husband working their socks off along side Halstead and Hirst who were dominant in the air and all four excelled with the ball at their feet. Blocking, closing down, and forcing Ammers wide of goal, the work rate was outstanding and aided by Claire berry in the holding role they never gave Ammers a chance to test Harper in goal. The home side were being dictated too and had to shoot from distance or wide of goal at narrow angles which was easy pickings for Harper as she plucked the crosses out of the air and shut out any danger.
Aiding the defence the Hepworth midfield of Forrest, Prebrezova, Nicholl and Feherova werre equally as hard working in defence and attack. They chased and tracked back each and every time yet still found the energy to turn defence into attack and run at Yorkshire Amateurs back four causing no end of problems while up top Iggleden pursued every loose ball every back pass and every pass sent forward. Hepworth were by far the better side and did not allow the home sides ex international player to settle, yes they moved the ball around well but all too often it was side ways and backwards before being punted forward for the fast players to chase. In contrast Hepworth looked to pass and move and hold the ball, looking to switch play from left to right back and forth tiring the Ammers out, most importantly they looked to probe every gap they could open and attack their opponents goal as much as possible. Renata Feherova teased down the left wing with her pace and skill on numerous occassions, having several great efforts which were just wide or over the bar, she put in some great crosses too which just evaded Iggleden and Hannah Nicholl also. Merita prebrezova had a good effort go just wide of the mark as did Jo Forrest as both stamped the mark on the game and virtually controlled the centre of the pitch. Hepworth tried their best but could not force the ball past the Ammers keeper again who came to the rescue for her team several times.
Half time and the players were buzzing in the changing room but knew they would have to be as strong and still be on their game plan throughout the second half as they expected everything including the kitchen sink to be thrown at them and so it was. Ammers were on it from the off and Hepworth had to be switched on early to keep them out as the game was all out attack by both teams. Having stemmed the early pressure Hepworth eased their way back in to the game gradually taking control again in the 51st minute as Iggleden set up Feherova but her shot was straight at the keeper. A minute later Steph Teale was introduced to the game replacing Feherova to put fresh legs and keep up the pace down that flank. The game was still at a frantic pace and was end to end but neither side could find the end product, all players were working overtime and this was starting to take its toll. First Captain Jo Forrest suffered cramp in both legs and wes replaced by Emma Holroyd who had to hit the ground running and match the fast pace of the game which she did. Holroyd put in some crunching tackles and blocks right in front of the visiting support and bench her strength and courage gave her all the possitive belief she needed as she got to grip with controlling the game and the movement of the ball, looking to switch play and set loose Iggleden and Nicholl. Hannah Nicholl was having an outstanding game also before she too was also struck with cramp in both legs. Having helped boss the game she was also forced to leave the field being replaced by Claudia Cleary who was straight into the thick of things. Cleary took over where Nicholl had left off getting in her opponents faces and tackling hard, she also put in some crunching tackles and stood up well to the ever frustrated Ammers players.
As players tired Hepworth did a like for like swap and replaced Claire Berry with Gemma Robshaw in the holding midfield role and she was instructed to continue what Berry had done previously block, tackle, and ease the pressure on the Hepworth back four which was ever increasing as Ammers looked for an equaliser. The Ammers did force a few corners but Hepworth dealt with them easily as first Harper claimed the ball well and later Hirst and Halstead were forced to lump the ball away high and long due to the relentlous pressure they were under. The team stood firm however and looked to play the ball out as often as they could but Merita Prebrezova went down with cramp and had to have treatment, Holroyd took a ball straight in the face which also required treatment and Ammers players were starting to vent their frustration towards the official Jonathon Spencer as they accused Hepworth of time wasting, a tactic im sure they would have done had they been in the same position. The time was all added on he stated and with both Prebrezova and Holroyd able to play on Hepworth stuck together as a team and battled hard. Prebrezova had a good effort go just wide with five minutes of normal time to go as did Iggleden who broke clear out wide but was isolated and she was unable to find the target from out wide. Iggelden was also unlucky as she set up Holroyd with a cross that just evaded her as did Steph Teale who also had an effort go wide and a cross just too far for Iggleden to control.
With 90 minutes up the game entered what seemed like 90 minutes of injury time, and as Ammers pushed hard tempers flared and tired challenges were put in by both teams. Ammers were awarded a 94th minute free kick which was blocked before the follow up was put wide into the side netting, then just over a minute later they were awarded another with a good opportunity to equalise. Tempers flared as several Ammers players tried to unsettle Harper in goal and Nichola Halstead stepped in as the enforcer to marshal events putting one player on the floor having just seen her elbow Harper in the face, a melee ensued which saw two Ammers players cautioned before the official calmed the situation down. The resulting free kick was wasted and was well wide of the mark as Ammers should have done better but that just summed up ntheir overall performance. From the goal kick Hepworth looked to play the ball out keeping possession and running the clock down as the crowed harranged the referee for the final whistle, Ammers kept battling and play was confined to the Hepworth half as both teams gained then lost possession over and over again. Hepworth finally gained control in the 98th minute and moved the ball out to Abigail Iggleden who raced clear of the half way line out on the right before turning in towards goal, with most expecting her to run to the corner and hold the ball Iggleden had other ideas and as she was 22 yards out and about to shoot she was up ended from behind. Free kick awarded she picked herself up and dusted herself down and began organising her team mates instructing Emma Holroyd to follow up at the far post. Iggelden then stepped up and hit her shot up over the wall and over the keeper into the net for hers and Hepworths second goal to seal the Title. had it not gone in as instructed Emma Holroyd would have had an easy tap min as she executed her run perfectly to distract the keeper. Cue the wild celebrations on the terrace but there was still 3 minutes to play, but Hepworth held firm with their opponents hopes crushed they ran the clock down to see the game out.
This was a fine end to a long hard season with the team having lost only one league game all season and following on from their runners up spot last year the team showed such true grit, determination and composure to battle on and claim the title against stern opponents in Yorkshire Amateurs. The joy was clear to see by players coaches and supporters alike as champagne was sprayed and a pitch invasion occurred. The win and title was fully deserved by all who have played their part in the season, following the tragic loss of their team mate Lauren Brown some 20 months prior this squad has beaten all the odds to first stay together and secondly push on from their loss to claim the Holy grail that has eluded them for two seasons. The trophy and season will be dedicated to the memory of Lauren who we hope has been looking down on us with a smile on her face.
It would be hard to pick a player of the match out from anyone after this match but Merita Prebrezova just pipped it to the claim the award, a special mention to paige Green who was unfortunate not to make the squad on the night due to numbers but her passion was still ever present from the dugout and she will be one to watch next season as will Becky Kirk who did not get to enter the game but besides supporting her team did an amazing live stream of the match to Abigail Tunnacliffe who was in hospital giving birth to her first child. Another aamazing moment for the team to celebrate.
So as the squad awaits to hear if they have been granted approvall to move up to the Regional League they can all walk tall and proud and shout out loud We Are The Champions !