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Sheffield United Women v Liverpool Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Lasses Fan Focus: Blades fans John & Maisie praise Neil Redfern’s youth policy

Charlotte Patterson spoke to Sheffield United blogger John Slingsby and writer Maisie Marston to find out how their season is going ahead of today’s FA Women’s Championship fixture at Chesterfield.

Photo by George Wood - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Roker Report: How would you rate the Blades’ season so far? Over-performing, underperforming, or just what you expected?

John Slingsby: It’s been a pretty topsy turvy season to be fair, over the course of the last few seasons, United have been in and around the top 4 of the table but after losing a few key players to full time teams (Katie Wilkinson, Sam Tierney, Jade Pennock) it’s been a bit of a transitional year, we started the season well winning 3 out of our first 5 then didn’t win a League game from October until mid January but then we’ve won 4 of our last 7 since then which has put us within a sniff of the top 3 again. All in all, I’d say we’re doing OK!

Maisie Marston: Looking back over the last couple of years, the Blades have finished in the top half of the Championships - in the 2019/20 campaign they even reached second place. At the moment they’ve not quite matched their previous success; they’re sitting in 7th position, just three points shy of the top three.

They’re unlikely to be able to come close to Liverpool and Bristol City, but there’s still potential to climb in the standings, especially considering their recent form. The team are on a bit of a winning streak after emerging victorious from their past three games, most impressively with their clash last weekend against third placed London City Lionesses.

London City Lionesses v Sheffield United Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
Wiktoria Fronc of London City Lionesses battles for possession with Alethea Paul of Sheffield United during the Barclays FA Women’s Championship between London City Lionesses and Sheffield United Women
Photo by Jacques Feeney - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

RR: Who have been your top performers this season? Are there any youngsters who’ve broken through into the first team?

JS: It’s hard not to look past Lucy Watson when discussing our top performers, she came in at the back end of last season and at just 18 years old has been a crucial attacking outlet after Wilkinson left. She’s got 7 for the season in all comps and has an eye for the spectacular with some cracking goals against Durham and London City Lionesses that a well worth a watch. Neil Redfern has put a real impetus on blooding youth through though and we currently have 7 academy products that are consistently in and around the matchday squad at the minute.

Aside from the youngsters, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk has has a top season up front, getting into double figures and Fran Kitching has had another good season between the sticks. Georgia Robert has been a brilliant addition to the heart of defence and is a real physical presence she’s brill. Other’s who deserve a mention are battling midfielder Maddy Cusack and Kasia Lipka with the two of them combing to add some steel to the central area.

MM: Of course our star striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk is always one to watch. In her last appearance she scored her 10th league goal this season, it was her fifth across the last four games.

In terms of youngsters, you need to keep an eye out for Lucy Watson, Sweetman-Kirk’s strike partner. Lucy is just 18 and she’s got youth international caps under her belt, and is believed to have been approached by Man City and Man United. She managed to net her seventh goal of the season against London City Lionesses - it was a superb finish off the crossbar from quite a distance.

United have no shortage of young talent. Just this week striker Chene Muir has stepped up from the youth team, so it’ll be interesting to see what part she plays in the remainder of the season.

Republic of Ireland v England - UEFA Women’s U19 Championship Qualifier
Lucy Watson of Sheffield United and England before the UEFA Women’s U19 Championship Qualifier match between Republic of Ireland and England at Markets Field in Limerick.
Photo By Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images

RR: What is the support like for Sheffield United Women?

JS: The support is usually decent I’d say, we don’t usually play games in Sheffield itself with the team based just over the border in Derbyshire at Chesterfield’s Technique Stadium but we usually average around 250-300 which I think is pretty good considering the distance fans have to cover to get to the ground.

We did set the Championship record attendance earlier in the season with 4,100 turning out to Bramall Lane to see us play Liverpool. It’d be nice if we could have somewhere to play in Sheffield though because the interest is definitely there but I think the distance to get to Chesterfield is a bit of a sticky wicket.

MM: The club has a really dedicated fan base. There are plenty of young girls in full United kit who go down to the pitch at the end to take photos and chat with the players, and lots of families come along. Personally, I’ve only ever been able to attend the Bramall Lane matches in person, but one earlier in the season hosted a record attendance of over 4,000 - so the support is strong!

Sheffield United Women v Liverpool Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
Sheffield United fans applaud players following the Barclays FA Women’s Championship match between Sheffield United Women and Liverpool Women at Bramall Lane on October 09, 2021 in Sheffield, England.
Photo by George Wood - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

RR: How would you describe the matchday experience? Is parking good enough, good environment, good facilities, merchandise for sale, etc?

JS: I’d say so! There’s a big car park at the Technique that I don’t believe you have to pay for to get in but if that’s a bit full, just around the corner from the ground is a Tesco the size of E.T’s spaceship that has a lot of parking, plus, you can get a meal deal whilst your there even if they are going up for none club card members but that’s a rant for another time

MM: When I’ve been to the Lane, it’s been an exciting, friendly atmosphere. Technique is about a 20 minute walk away from Chesterfield train station and there are direct buses from Sheffield, but there’s also parking inside the ground. On the day they sell programmes for £2. (I’m not sure about other merch at the Technique, sorry!)

RR: How is the support from the men’s side and club as a whole regarding the women’s team?

JS: The promotion of the women’s team from the club itself is fairly good I’d say, there was definitely a big push for the Liverpool game and there have been a few offers to make ticket prices appealing and the women’s games almost always get a plug during half time announcements during the men’s games.

I think the thing that brings it down a bit is that there doesn’t seem to moving the team onto the next level to try and push for a WSL place. We’re still part time when a lot of clubs in the league are full time and then there’s the whole playing in Chesterfield debacle that was mentioned earlier.

We were due to be having the first purpose built stadium for a women’s team a few years ago in Don Valley but due to the ownership battle between McCabe and Prince Abdullah that plan to have the women play there has been shelved which is extremely disappointing.

It’d be nice for the clubs hierarchy to show more of an active interest in the women’s team.

MM: Being able to play at Bramall Lane is very exciting and I think that this, as well as their commitment to host EURO 22 matches, shows Sheffield United back women’s football.

Sheffield United v Crystal Palace - Premier League - Bramall Lane
Sheffield United owner Kevin McCabe (left) and England manager Gareth Southgate
Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images

RR: Finally, our usual score prediction question. How do you see this game panning out?

JS: It should be a very tight game! We’re in similar positions in the league table and the two games we’ve already played this season have been pretty tight, I’ll go for a 1-1 or a slightly boring 0-0

MM: The Blades are in good form and I have faith they can extend their winning streak, but I know that when they’ve met Sunderland before it’s been a tough match. I’ll say 2-1 to Sheffield United.

John’s blog The Friday Night Rocket League covers most things Sheffield United and he also writes occasionally for the Dem Blades fanzine.

Maisie is a writer for Bauer Media and blogs about politics and culture.


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