Arsenal Ladies 4 – 1 Leeds Ladies

To celebrate the second consecutive staging of the Women’s F.A. Cup Final at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, the whole city went football crazy for the bank holiday weekend. Competitions and training led by some of women’s football elite took place throughout the weekend within our own market square, topped off on the Monday by a packed crowd of 24,583 flooding in to watch the pulsating cup final.

Arsenal’s dominance over the years has been staggering, lifting five back-to-back league titles and collecting some 29 trophies in sixteen years of competition. They had come through the cup runaway winners in the four preceding rounds, scoring some twenty-nine goals, whilst conceding only four. Meanwhile, Leeds had rather fortuitously made their way to the final thanks to some fine stops from their promising young keeper, Carly Telford, in an unprecedented three penalty shoot-out victories.

From the kick-off it was evident to even the most ardent of Leeds fans that Arsenal were the better side. First to every second ball; quicker; stronger; hungrier for possession, this Arsenal side exuded the air of Champions.

A fine string of saves from Telford – easily the standout first half performer – and some wayward shooting by Arsenal’s front line combined to keep the scores level at half time. But the mounting pressure finally told in the 54th minute as another marauding run forward by winger Rachel Yankey, and her incisive pass through the Leeds defence, was finished off in style by Arsenal’s talismanic playmaker, Kelly Smith.

No sooner had Leeds had time to draw breath and they were picking the ball out of the net again, Lianne Sanderson’s free kick poked home by Jayne Ludlow. The floodgates were opening; just seconds after the restart, Arsenal got a third, Sanderson benefiting from a wicked deflection to take her prolific scoring record to 51 for the season.

It would have been easy for the Leeds girls’ heads to drop, but credit goes out to captain, Sue Smith, for her side’s determination to hang in there. Just a few moments later and Smith’s shot on the turn had rebounded off the post and into the path of bullish midfielder, Jessica Clarke, whose bullet diving header sailed into the roof of the net.

For a moment, the crowd dreamed of a miraculous comeback, but it wasn’t to be. Ten minutes later, Kelly Smith tapped in her second and Arsenal’s fourth of the day to ensure that it was the Gunners who walked away with this most prestigious of trophies once again.

By Steve Dew-Jones

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