A superb free-kick from substitute Olivia Smith with just nine minutes remaining of extra time broke Chesterfield Women’s hearts as they suffered an agonising 1-0 defeat after extra time to Lincoln United Women in the Trevor Clifton Trophy final.

Despite missing out on silverware, manager Michael Noon can be proud of his team after an excellent cup run in a tournament that was specifically brought in as a competitive replacement following the curtailment of the 2020/21 league season for so many women’s teams regionally.

The Spireites certainly had the better of the first half of normal time and they will know on reflection that the lack of clinical finishing cost them in what was a very tight game overall.

After a cagey opening to the game in where both teams took their time to find their feet, the Spireites suddenly had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 19th minute when forward Millie Standen broke free of her marker following a through ball. With just the keeper to beat, Standen tried to side-foot the ball past Katy Gilbert but she managed to get a palm to the ball, slowing it down enough so that full-back Steph Powell was just able to clear the ball before it slowly rolled past the line.

The next big chance for the Spireites arrived just after the half hour mark when full-back Steph Warren found some space on the left wing to drill in a long-range effort. Gilbert was in inspired form though between the sticks and was able to smartly tip the ball around the post.

Gilbert’s most impressive save of the match undoubtedly came on the stroke of half time. Spireites midfielder Robyn Henton was able to weave with the ball from the right wing into the centre and unleashed a rasping, curling attempt on goal from around 20 yards out. It looked for a split second that it was sure to go in, but Gilbert’s fully outstretched right hand palmed the ball away to safety. It was the best save of the match by a country mile but the Spireites must have felt at the half-time interval that the game was there for the taking.

Lincoln frustrated Chesterfield though in the second half of normal time and worked their way back into the reckoning. Ten minutes into the second half, Nic Watson was called into urgent action for the first time as she blocked Sally Cairns’s effort when she was clean through on goal with only the keeper to beat.

In the 70th minute, Olivia Smith came extremely close to giving Lincoln the lead when her 25 yard free kick was dipping just under the bar and forced Watson into an impressive stop which the defence was then able to scramble clear.

Chesterfield’s best effort in the second half was through Beth Smyth who had an excellent game in the Spireites midfield. Smyth’s long-range shooting was always a threat throughout the game but it was from 18 yards out that she almost secured the lead for the Derbyshire outfit. Smyth managed to find space to strike the ball just in front of the penalty area but Gilbert once again refused to be beaten and dived to her right to make a decent save and tip the ball around the post.

In the 79th minute, substitute Lucy Farrow should have given the Lincolnshire outfit the lead when she broke free of her marker following a long ball and just needed to beat the onrushing Nic Watson. The keeper did well though in closing the angles and put enough doubt in Farrow’s head to prevent her from shooting with conviction and was able to block the ball. Lincoln really should have grabbed a winner in injury time when Tracey Dorley-Mead somehow shot over the bar from six yards out following a goalmouth scramble after a corner.

It remained a knife-edge affair throughout extra time. The Spireites had a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the tenth minute of extra time when substitute Izzy Lonsdale spurned a fantastic chance as she scuffed her effort wide from only ten yards out following a corner.

The deadlock was finally broken with just nine minutes remaining before a penalty shoot-out was required and it needed a little bit of magic from Lincoln’s Olivia Smith for it to happen. From 20 yards out over on the left wing, Smith expertly lifted the ball over the wall with conviction, beating Nic Watson and rippled the back of the net after going in off the post. The excellent set-piece sparked mass celebrations amongst the Lincoln players and in their dug-out as the Spireites knew time was against them to try and rescue this final.

Chesterfield’s best chance of an equaliser fell with just five minutes left on the clock when Beth Smyth’s 20 yard free kick rolled agonisingly wide of the post.

Unfortunately, time ran out and the Lincoln players celebrated wildly as the referee blew the final whistle. Whilst the result, and especially the timing, was tough to take, Michael Noon’s team will know upon reflection over the next few days that this was an excellent effort and the match could genuinely have gone either way. The players have got to be heartened about how close they were to lifting silverware in a competition where teams in a higher tier were also competing. Noon’s team will know that this was an important experience and still bodes well for their 2021/22 campaign.

Whilst Lincoln United’s goalkeeper, Katy Gilbert, officially won the player of the match award, a special mention must be made for Eleanor Abercrombie who was a constant reassuring presence in the heart of the Chesterfield defence and was the best player during the afternoon for the Spireites. It was also a significant game for Chesterfield’s Becky Bryan, for which this cup final was her last ever game as a player. Her central defensive partnership with Abercrombie was formidable over the game and made it very difficult for Lincoln’s attack to beak them down.

Chesterfield Women team: Watson, Nuttall (Matthews 74), Warren (Singleton 65), Bryan, Abercrombie, Smyth, Stokes, Camfield, Henton (Lonsdale 80), Standen, Fidler. Unused subs: Frances-Cleaser, Murray.

Michael Noon Quotes

“I thought the girls were brilliant today. They’ve done really well to get here, to get to a final. We’ve beaten teams in the league above us to get here. For large parts of the game, I thought we were the better team. We created a lot of chances. We just couldn’t get that ball in the back of the net. Fair play to Lincoln, they scored a great free kick to win the game.”

“Our girls are fit, they’re professional and they look after themselves and do things the right way. So even though as extra time went on, I still thought we looked okay out there. I didn’t think we slowed down. Unfortunately, these are how cup finals can go: we just couldn’t find that back of the net.”

“Lincoln and ourselves both beat teams from a higher tier to get here, so I think that shows how good the standard at our level is. I’m really proud of the players to have reached a cup final. Today was just about fine margins.”

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