By recent standards this has been a disappointing few months for Wolves fans. Dumped out of the FA Cup, inconsistent league results, poor football, a plethora of injuries and the list goes on. But a shining light in 2021 has been Wolves Women. After two consecutive victories against higher division sides, they now face Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the 4th Round of the FA Cup, and on current form you simply cannot bet against them.
Yet 2021 did not get off to the best start for Wolves Women either. For the second consecutive season, their league campaign was declared null and void, winning every game they played and scoring 37 goals along the way. The squad were understandably distraught, but there remains the possibility of Wolves playing tier 3 football next season, with a league re-structure in the pipeline which would allow them to play at the level they certainly deserve to be. The heartache of the season’s curtailment had driven them on to progress in their FA Cup campaign, and the girls are absolutely flourishing.
Their second-round victory came after a penalty shootout win against Nottingham Forest at Castlecroft. The official Wolves media team were in attendance, with the game streamed live on Wolves TV, reaching out to over 1,000 fans. The media team were not the only club officials in attendance, with Executive Chairman Jeff Shi and Director John Bowater both in attendance. It was an enthralling encounter played on a knife edge, but for the vast majority of the game Wolves were certainly the better side. It was a goalless first half which Wolves dominated, looking comfortable in possession but they were unable to finish a number of half chances that they created. They were made to pay as Rosie Axten put Forest ahead just after the re-start. However, Nyah Edwards responded ten minute later with a stunning strike to level the scores and the momentum was back with the home side. Parity remained and the game entered extra time and within three minutes Wolves were ahead thanks to top scorer Jade Cross. However, Forest ensured the game went all the way after Axten got her second from the penalty spot. Wolves certainly did enough to win the game in 120 minutes, but penalties were forthcoming. Wolves goalkeeper Bec Thomas was the hero as she saved from Olivia Cook with the shootout in sudden death, much to the delight of those watching on. The save sparked ecstatic scenes on the pitch after a stunning performance, made all the more impressive by the short amount of preparation time the team had having been unable to train throughout the UK lockdown. Perhaps the only disappointment was the inability for fans to be there, with interest in the women’s side growing and over 1,000 watching on from home.
Watford, the Southern Premier Division league leaders stood between Wolves and a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Once again Wolves’ media team provided exemplary coverage for fans to enjoy, but could the girls live up to the occasion? Of course, they could, as they sank Watford as easy as Brits sinking pints on the night the pubs re-opened. Similar to the game against Forest, it was a closely contested first half that ended all square. However, there are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and a Jade Cross goal. So of course, it was Cross that gave Wolves the lead just nine minutes into the game. Wolves created a number of chances in the first half, but once again they were made to pay as with just minutes remaining before half time Katie O’Leary equalised for the home side from close range. But this was merely a bump in the road as Wolves’ second half was certainly enjoyed by fans making the most of the chance to watch on from home. Kelly Darby put McNamara’s side back in front, before Anna Morphet dispatched a spot kick to extend their lead after Tammi Geroge was fouled in the penalty area. Shortly after, Wolves were in dreamland as Palmer’s long-range effort made it four and pit the game beyond doubt. There were once again extraordinary scenes at the end as the players enjoyed their moment after the setbacks suffered in the past year. An emotional Dan McNamara spoke to Official Wolves after the game:
“Watford will be in the Championship in the next two years, and they’ve beaten them. I’m speechless… that’s what heart gets you, that’s what determination gets you, and that’s what a unified group gets you. They deserve that, as does everyone back at home as well
“What was effective is pressing their backline. I think they played out from goal kicks every time, which played into our hands.
“It’s about being effective and being effective was getting the ball into Jade Cross as quick as we could. I thought Jamila was fantastic up there and she put an absolute shift in, Ali as well, but they all have. They were absolutely tremendous.”
“When the fourth one’s gone in, it was just incredible, but I don’t think it was anything short of what they deserved. Jade will get the plaudits, but I thought Kelly Darby, Emma Cross and Anna Morphet defended like trojans.
“Anna’s just had the best 90 minutes I’ve seen her play in a Wolves shirt, marking an outstanding centre forward in Fatuga-Dada. I’m speechless, but I’m not shocked because that’s what you get from that group. They’re incredible.”
However, it is still very much feet still on the ground for the Wolves Women Head Coach as they prepare to go one better against Championship opposition next week; “We don’t get ahead of ourselves. Next week will be a totally different ball game because Blackburn haven’t stopped this year. Blackburn would’ve played for the whole time we’ve been off.
But I’m just enjoying it. This is what football is about, this is what I’ve been harping on about in all my interviews; these are the moments you cherish. This is what’s going to unite me and Anna Price in 15 years’ time when we’re walking around Wolverhampton.”
And the word ‘unite’ is certainly an appropriate word to some up this team. They are united like no other and most important of all, are an excellent football team who have deserved their wins in recent weeks. Whatever happens against Blackburn, this has been an extremely impressive cup run in the most difficult of times. With the possibility of playing tier three football next season still viable, and continued growth of support from Jeff Shi and the club, Dan and the team have every chance of success in the coming years with their undoubted ability and team spirit.
Best of luck against Blackburn girls, we’re all behind you!