A Sunday morning trip up to visit my Mum was followed by a short hop over to the War Memorial Ground to watch what I hoped would be Stourbridge Women's third promotion in three seasons. Their opponents were fourth-placed Northampton Town, a team I had watched in a very entertaining 1-1 draw with Doncaster Belles just two weeks previously (Late Belle). I knew from that game that The Cobblers were a very competent team and The Glassgirls would certainly not be coasting to the league title. They could expect stern resistance from their opponents.
Considering that I have been to the War Memorial Ground more often than any other ground (apart from The Hawthorns), I don't often write blogs for Stourbridge home games, so I have not done a ground description in the past. Time to fix that, even if I am a little biased. Although strictly speaking Dudley is my home town, I started going to Stourbridge games in the 70s and therefore class Stourbridge as my home town team.
The WMG is and has always been, in my opinion, a fantastic example of a non-league ground. Despite sharing with the cricket club, which makes the ground three-sided, there is normally a good atmosphere at the ground. The majority of the Old Wharf Road side of the ground (the Jones & Attwood side to those of us of a certain age) has covered seating and standing spanning almost the full length of the ground.
Of course, on the open side where the cricket square is situated, there is stil lthe famous Victorian pavilion in the background. If you have not visited the WMG, you should.
Could this be the biggest game in Stourbridge Women's history? Hard to say because, for the past few years, they've made it a habit to break records and have big days on a very regular basis. However, to put this one into context, a point today would see The Glassgirls attain promotion to the National League Regional Premier Division, the third tier of women's football in England. Considering their position three years ago, this is the equivalent of the Stourbridge men's side getting into the football league, in terms of promotions.
As it stood before kick-off, Stourbridge led the division from Sporting Khlasa and Doncaster Belles, with Northampton in fourth. The only team that could catch The Glassgirls was Doncaster but even then, they would need to win all four remaining games whilst Stourbridge lost all three of theirs, an unlikely scenario. That being said, regardless of Doncaster's result at Leafield Athletic, a Stourbridge point would make it mathematically certain.
Current form and recent history were certainly on the side of the Glassgirls. They best Northampton 2-1 at Harpole in the reverse fixture last September. Niamh Deasy giving Stourbridge a half-time lead. The same player then doubled the advantage early in the second period, before Favour Omenazu pulled one back. Stourbridge also started the day unbeaten at home, winning nine and drawing one so far. They had not lost at all in the league since the opening day 2-0 defeat at Sheffield FC.
In Niamh Deasy, Stourbridge could lay claim to the league's top scorer, with 22 goals in 24 games. However, Northampton could boast two players well into double figures, Alex Dicks (16/25) and Jade Bell (13/12).
Last time out Stourbridge gained some revenge for their opening day defeat by beating Sheffield 3-1. Northampton went down by two goals to one at Lincoln City.
Both sides seemed to take a little while to settle into the game but when they did it was the visitors who were first to come close. A dangerous corner into the Stourbridge box caused a few problems and Amie Preston had to be very alert to make a good block from Vicky Barrett's close range shot. However, Stourbridge responded in kind a few minutes later when Jo Daniel did well to parry an Alex Nicklin shot, the ball ran loose but was just too far out of Roxie Harrison's reach for her to get a clean strike and the ball went over the crossbar. The two chances settled the sides down but it was the home side who began to look the more dangerous. Harrison again got in on goal only to be stopped by Daniel and the assistant's flag. Then, on 24 minutes, Lois Jefferies made a good run to the byline before lifting a lovely cross over Daniel towards the far post. Unfortunately for The Glassgirls they couldn't get anyone on the end of it.
Stourbridge were now really starting to ramp up thei rgame but the Cobbler's defence looked organised and resolute.
Just before the half-hour mark Nicklin, who was now starting to pull strings in midfield, lofted a glorious cross onto the head of Jefferies, but Daniel was in the right place to make a comfortable stop. Then a minute later, as a reminder that the home side could not relax, Jade Bell, who had been quite quiet until that point, drove into the penalty area before lifting a cross-shot over Preston and against the bar.
Jo Daniel was called into action again on the 34th minute, holding onto a Lois Jefferies free-kick after Harrison had been pulled down in full flight on the edge of the box. The relief was short-lived, however. Three minutes later Daniel was helpless as Mil Rogers turned sharply in the box before firing in a shot that took a deflection, sending it past the keeper. The ball hit the inside of Daniel's right-hand post before rolling across the line and spinning back into the net on the opposite side. 1-0.
Northampton tried to press for an equaliser before the break but the Stourbridge defence stood solid, demonstrated by Amie Preston coming out to claim a ball into the area just before the whistle. A safe pair of hands despite taking a knock as she collected the ball. That's the sort of goalkeeping that gives defenders confidence.
HT Stourbridge 1 Northampton Town 0. A really good, competitive game of football. The Glassgirls definitely had the overall edge and deserve their lead. However, they know they can't afford to give the Cobblers any chances.
The narrow escape prompted Stourbridge back into life. Left-back Meg Hadley did well down the left flank, creating enough room to get a near post cross in that Lois Jefferies, under pressure, could only nod just past the post. However, with only just over 20 minutes remaining, Stourbridge knew that another goal would seal the deal. This duly came on 67 minutes and, once again, it was the delivery of Alex Nicklin that created the goal. The midfielder put in a perfect cross that evaded Daniel's reach but dropped perfectly for Lois Jefferies to add the finishing nod from almost on the line. 2-0. Jefferies than got a yellow card for belting the ball over the stand in her celebration. Letter of the law I know, but a bit harsh in the circumstances.
The second goal may well have been the game winner but on 73 minutes defender Jess Bate demonstrated the sort of dedication to the cause that wins games and championships, sliding in bravely to prevent an almost certain goal. A real body on the line clearance.
With fifteen left to play Northampton's Fay Noble picked up a yellow for a foul on Hannah Fishwick and was then sent to the sin-bin for comments made to the referee in the aftermath. With Northampton two down and a player light, the Stourbridge bench began to warm-up in anticipation of the final whistle celebration. On the pitch, the players began to relax and turn on the style, playing some delightful football, best demonstrated when Niamh Deasy, on as a substitute, produced an audacious back-heeled pass to set up Fishwick only for her shot to go just over.
At the other end Alex Dicks tested Preston and Jade Bell, who was still buzzing around, got into the penalty area before hitting a cross-shot narrowly wide of Preston's right-hand post. Another Stour substitute, Angie Morley, got in a shot to test Daniel again but the Northampton keeper got fingertips to her effort to turn it away for a corner. There was time for Amber Lawrence to shoot over from the edge of the box before the referee blew for the end of the game and cued up the celebrations of the Stourbridge player, coaches and supporters.
FT Stourbridge 2 Northampton Town 0. A wonderful achievement for The Glassgirls and one that is thoroughly deserved. Only two points dropped at home all season and the title clinched with two games to go. Doncaster also won, 3-0 at Leafield, but it didn't matter. Stourbridge will have some cracking local derbies to look forward to next season as they go up against the likes of West Brom, Wolves and Coventry United. Next weekend's trip to fourth placed Peterborough United will be something of a celebration but you can't see this team letting off just because the title has been confirmed. Stour won the reverse fixture 4-0 and will, no doubt, be looking for something similar.
Northampton, for their part, played well and did much to make the game an entertaining spectacle. This is the second time I have seen them play in two weeks and, if they can retain their squad, they could well be a force to be reckoned with next season. A very good side with the ability to hurt teams. They welcome Solihull Moors to Harpole next weekend. An Alex Dicks double helped them to a 2-1 win at Damson Park earlier in the season.
Stourbridge: Preston, Bate, Levick, Heaselgrave, Hadley, Moran(c), McGovern, Nicklin, Rogers, Harrison, Jefferies. Subs: Deasy, Fishwick, Lawrence, Glover, Morley
Northampton Town: Daniel, Barrett, Noble, Wait, Omenazu, Bell, Farrow, Artemiou, Dicks, Mumford, Boote(c). Subs: Luttman, Brewin, Reboul, Doig, Richards
Ground Number: Re-visit