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Rotherham Utd bounced back from just missing out on the Midland Combination title to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 at Staveley in the play-off between the Midland Combination runners up and Northern Combination runners up to decide which team will play Newcastle United for a place in next season's FA Women's Premier League Northern Division.
Having led the Midland Combination for much of the season and only losing their grip on what seemed automatic promotion in the closing weeks of the season, Rotherham could have succumbed to feeling it was not going to be their year and gone the way of several teams who fold in the play-offs after being so reassured for much of the regular season.
Wednesday had been unable to match the consistency of Northern Combination champions Sheffield FC Ladies and it was a tussle between them and Middlesbrough for the runners-up spot, Wednesday eventually claiming second place with a game to spare.
After neither side giving much away opening quarter, the game opened up with Wednesday enjoying a good spell which brought them the lead.
Carla Baxby brought down Rachel Skeemer just outside the box to concede a direct free kick which Sarah Hobson-Donohoe smashed against the bar with the ball being cleared to safety.
Next came an important save from Charlie Whitley to deny Katie Nutter who was unmarked in the area, but with only Whitley to beat from six yards out, it was the keeper who came out on top.
Wednesday went ahead at a corner with former England striker Amanda Barr firing home from the edge of the penalty area. However the goal only served to rouse Rotherham who then enjoyed their best spell of the first half.
Beth Smith, who started the season at Wednesday, equalised with a low shot past Danni Maslin to send the teams into the break on level terms.
Rotherham continued in the second half where they had signed off in the first by showing a greater attacking inclination and it paid rich dividends on 48 minutes. Nat Shaw probably should have scored, but Wednesday were reprieved at the expense of a corner worked short by Amy Pollock and Katie Davison with the resulting cross headed firmly into the corner of the net by Baxby.
Davison, Paige Crossman and Kirsty Richardson could all have increased Rotherham's advantage, but with the score at 2-1 and Rotherham having the better of the play, there was always the chance that Wednesday might cause their neighbours to regret their profligacy in front of goal.
However, as the clock ticked towards the final whistle, Wednesday never really caused panic in the Rotherham goal and the issue was settled in stoppage time when Pollock picked up the ball and advanced several yards before scoring from over 25 yards out.
Apart from their 8-0 defeat by eventual finalists Bristol Academy in the FA Women's Cup this was Wednesday's first defeat by more than a single goal margin since the opening day of the Northern Combination season when they lost 3-1 at Sheffield.
Rotherham had come from behind to win 3-1 at Midland Combination champions Sporting Club Albion a week earlier and the spring which was missing from their game in a few games in the run-in is now clearly back.
(Report by Julian Barker)
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