Having visited Mill Farm to watch Fylde Ladies F.C. on two occasions already in their 2016/17 campaign, and with plans to attend their final game of the season against Middlesbrough; I had grand thoughts in my mind of a Fylde trilogy for X-Reds.
Then a couple of weeks ago when looking up their results and upcoming fixtures, I spotted a new fixture listed against recently crowned Women’s Premier League North champions Blackburn Rovers. The full time website was showing that this game was to be played in Swindon however, undeterred, I began to make plans on how to get there before realising: why the hell would Fylde be playing Blackburn in Swindon.
As you will be unsurprised to hear and much to my relief, the game was not to be played at the County Ground in Swindon, but the County Ground in Leyland.
When I remembered the plans for completing the ‘Fylde trilogy’ in the game against Middlesbrough I briefly considered just going to this game as a supporter, before remembering that now it is fully acceptable (kind of) to split the final part of a trilogy into two parts. So that is what this is, part one of part three with part two of part three coming in a couple of weeks.
Fylde are a team that I’ve come to, unapologetically, really like; with the trio of X-Reds they have in Yasmine Swarbrick, Olivia Wild and Eve Kennerley and the overall atmosphere at the club. I’ve even got a Fylde scarf and a handy bottle opener keyring. So despite Blackburn having an X-Red in their ranks in Jess Holbrook (Ellie Stewart also now on the Rovers playing roster but ineligible to play in this game), I headed to the game – the Lancashire Women’s Challenge Cup final no less – in full support of the Coasters.
Manager Conrad Prendergast made four changes to his team from Fylde’s last game away at Nottingham Forest; Yasmine Swarbrick – who scored in this fixture last year – and Eve Kennerley named on the bench along with Laura Walker.
Danielle Brown returned between the posts while Development Squad graduate Leah Foster led the line up front – supported by Olivia Wild playing further up the pitch than usual, playing just behind Foster yet ahead of the midfield.
The back line had England youth international Olivia Wilkes at right back, Alice Forshaw on the left and captain Charlotte Farrell partnered by Jenna Carroll in central defence.
Danielle Young, Chloe Adam, Kim Turner and Hannah Forster completed the line-up for the Coasters.
With the air of a typical Cup final, a tense first half was played out in Leyland with not much in the way of clear cut chances for either side.
In the opening ten minutes Foster closed down Blackburn goalkeeper Danielle Hill, winning the ball and cutting it back to Forster yet the defence recovered well and were able to clear their lines.
Then at the other end Holbrook struck an effort that took a deflected to land safely in the arms of Brown.
The biggest chance came when Faye McCoy, who scored twice in the derby at Mill Farm late last year, seen a header cleared off the line by Turner and, almost immediately, up at the other end Wilkes’ cross appeared to hit a defenders hand only for the referee to wave away Fylde’s calls for a penalty.
Fylde came quick out the blocks in the second half, leaving Rovers temporarily stunned, Wilkes sent a fizzing cross along the 6-yard box yet it couldn’t quite reach Wild – who had made a great run to the back post – and the defence were able to clear.
A series of Blackburn set pieces were then turned away by Fylde; Wilkes heading one clear, Brown catching one and a third headed onto the crossbar after being swung in by Holbrook.
With 35 minutes to play, a welcome sight came from the bench as Swarbrick was introduced in a straight swap for Foster. Then, five minutes later, came Kennerley. The duos impact was immediate and their fighting spirit clear as they battled for every ball.
Swarbrick up front and chasing everything and everyone, closing down the ‘keeper and dropping back to defend and Kennerley giving the Coasters a bit more steel in the middle of the park, winning the ball and constantly looking to move it forward.
Unfortunately for Fylde, Blackburn would eventually capitalise on one of their set pieces. McCoy heading the ball over the line and providing the league winners with the cup winning goal.
In the games closing stages as the Coasters chased an equaliser – and came close through Wilkes driven strike from distance – both Wild and Carroll were forced off through injury.
It is a crushing blow to lose a final, to lose a final by one goal, to lose to your local rivals.
However this Fylde side can take pride in how they applied themselves, going toe-to-toe with Blackburn who have lost only once all season and there are plenty of positives the Coasters can take into their final few games of the season, and then on again into 2017/18.
Fylde face Middlesbrough at Mill Farm in their final game of the season on Sunday 14th May, 2017 – 2pm kick-off.
Photo credit – SMP Photography