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A rollercoaster of a day ultimately ended in delight for Sheffield FC as they were crowned Northern Combination Champions at the first attempt, although their staff, players and supporters were put through the full spectrum of emotions during a memorable afternoon at Bradford City.
A very hard fought 2-2 draw earned Sheffield a point when three was needed to guarantee the title, but with Sheffield Wednesday losing 1-0 at home to Mossley Hill, that solitary point was sufficient to put Sheffield out of reach of their city neighbours.
Bradford City took the lead against the run of play after 26 minutes when Clare Fawcett finished really well after a couple of defensive slip ups by the visitors which allowed City's leading scorer just enough time to pick her spot. Sheffield fought back and levelled proceedings four minutes before the break when Steph Spence headed in from a Carla Ward corner.
Sheffield came out really fired up for the second half and should have put daylight between them and their opponents as two gilt-edged chances went begging, and then Bradford's keeper, Mel Garside-Wight, pulled off a superb save to claw Melissa Cook's towering header out of the top corner. Sheffield took the lead on 57 minutes when Carla Ward chased down a through ball and slotted a cool finish into the bottom corner to send Sheffield's supporters into a frenzy. But Bradford would not lie down and showed massive character to contain Sheffield, and then to haul themselves level when Caroline Omboyi slid in to stab a goal mouth scramble home after super work up the right from Tammika Clarke. In the final 20 minutes, Sheffield threw everything at Bradford, but City held firm thanks to some determined defending and a couple of great saves by Garside-Wight.
The final whistle was met with huge disappointment from Sheffield, but dejection soon turned to jubiliation moments later as the news filtered through that Mossley Hill had beaten second placed Sheffield Wednesday. The Bradford City players offered their congratulations by coming back onto the pitch to generously applaud their opponents in a typically sporting gesture, and Sheffield's celebrations could begin in earnest.
Sheffield FC have enjoyed an impressive few seasons with the team now having won three league titles in four seasons, and they have not failed to finish outside of the top two for the past six campaigns. "We honestly never expected to be in this position at all," admits Sheffield manager of eight seasons, Helen Mitchell. "Yes, we had a very good pre-season and were confident that we'd be able to compete at this level, but we never imagined for a minute that we'd be coming away with the title at all, never mind with two matches still to go. It's been an amazing season and we're all very excited about winning another league title."
Sheffield have come a very long way in a relatively short space of time. Formed in 2003 and playing at the bottom of the women's pyramid, the Club were completely over-shadowed for a long time by more established teams in the city such as Sheffield United Community and Sheffield Wednesday, something that has altered only very recently. A huge amount of hard work and dedication from staff and players enabled the team to start to progress up the ranks, gaining recognition, and securing their first promotion in 2007-08 having been runners up the two previous seasons. This first success proved the catalyst, and the team has enjoyed three unbelieveable seasons, culminating in the latest success which will bring Women's Premier League football to the Club for the very first time.
"The last few years have been so exciting," explains Mitchell, "but it's still more than a little bit hard to believe we'll be playing FA Women's Premier League football next season! The players have been so brilliant again this year - they live and breathe it, and we couldn't have asked for more from them.
"We've been so lucky to have such a fantastic group; they have worked extrememly hard each week, and I am thrilled for them to have achieved what they have. They are such a credit to the Club, and Nigel [Hughes - assistant coach] and I are immensely proud of them.
"Next season will be an enormous step up for us, and we're under no illusions about that, so we will enjoy the moment now, then get our heads down, build and work hard in the summer to prepare for another new challenge."
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