Great Plate

Amy Woodruff’s at home, Leeds are in the final

Written by: Flora Snelson
Photograph by: Lee Brown
Amy Woodruff celebrating her second goal for Leeds against Southampton, with a full squad of teammates joining in

Leeds United had very little time to mull over how the Division One North defeat to Stockport County put a significant dent in their promotion hopes on Wednesday. On Friday night, manager Rick Passmoor “cleared the air” with his players, urging them to focus on the chance to reach their first national final in a decade, by winning their FAWNL Plate semi-final against Southampton. By Sunday afternoon, the message had filtered through, and Leeds were back on fine form.

No two weeks are the same for Passmoor’s players. One Sunday, ‘keeper Carrie Simpson is facing a penalty from Scottish national hero Kim Little, another Sunday she’ll get two touches per half as Yorkshire Amateurs fail to get a sniff. One dependably random aspect of life as a Leeds player is the condition of their home pitch at Tadcaster Albion, in touching distance of the banks of the River Wharfe, which hold firm in off-season but are wont to bursting at times when United are looking to build home form.

This weekend, United centre-forward Amy Woodruff was outstanding, scoring a brace and helping her side to the final, but when asked about a great afternoon’s work, the first thing she mentioned was the state of the pitch. The Leeds players have a real love for the So-Trak Stadium. They see it as their home, the site of many successes, where this season they’ve only lost once. But the pitch is a long way from being the smooth surface they need to play a slick passing game. In Sunday’s semi-final, long balls stopped short of their desired target, and dribbling was more like basketball played with shins.

That’s why it was a relief when Woodruff added a second goal to Leeds’ tally in the last ten minutes. Southampton were technically sound but lacked a cutting edge in the final third. The majority of the first half was a scrappy affair, the ball bouncing from white to red and back again as both teams were trying to seize control. But while Woodruff sustained a vicious press right up to the final whistle, Southampton’s desire seemed to seep away toward the end of the tie, perhaps as their 250-mile coach journey began to tell.

With only one goal between the sides in the 84th minute, Leeds full-back Rachel Hindle stuck a foot in to tricksy Sirens attacker Rachel Okoro in the box. When the referee denied a penalty, Southampton protested, but their outrage was meeker than it ought to have been for a team on the verge of a knockout and fresh out of alternative ideas for an equaliser.

United’s own reaction at the final whistle was also relatively muted. Southampton hadn’t created much danger and the dependable centre-back pairing of Catherine Hamill and Bridie Hannon were on top of everything that came their way. But this sense of security was shallow. With turf so ragged, it only takes one random moment for a result to be snatched from a worthy victor.

The Whites did well to ride the uncertainty. For the opening goal, Danielle Whitham practically folded herself in half to bring the bouncing ball under control before kicking it long and perfect to Woodruff, who had the bumps on her side when she took a touch round the ‘keeper, beating the ball to the touchline and sliding it into the net.

In the 38th minute, Leeds came close to scoring a jaw-dropping goal. Holding off pressure from Katie Kingshott at a throw, Woodruff escaped the challenge via four kick-ups. She ignored the overlapping run of thrower Olivia Smart and drove towards the goal. Bobbles hardly bothered her as she beat four en route to the edge of the box. She played the ball to Abbie Brown, whose elusive turn put Laura Vokes’ head in a spin, but she put the ball wide of the post. It may not have been the goal of the season but Leeds were showing the scraggly pitch who was boss.

The So-Trak Stadium might not be perfect, but this season Leeds have built something there to be proud of. In her post-match interview, Woodruff was talking about the changes since last summer, and making “the first season count” for a lot of new people. Longer-serving Catherine Hamill was ticking off the firsts: going all the way to playing Arsenal in the FA Cup, now reaching a national final in the Plate. “It means loads — I’ve been here quite a long time now,” she said, “like thirteen years. I’ve never won anything as a team. I think that’s just one thing I really, really want.” ⬢


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