A match report by Sam Clewarth
Team Sarah (Red): Emily “Red” Lester, Sandy Yere, Loren Attwell, Sophie Thomas, Sarah Richards ©, Anna Pickering, Lucy Strutt, Roshini Prince-Navaratnam, Jane Watkinson, Jodie Spillings, Natasha Carlton
Team Shanie (Blue): Kim Best, Ellen Holmes, Simone Jarvis, Sophie Hirst, Chloe Burditt, Olivia Murray, Jodean Wadsworth, Emily Salvin, Shanie Donohue ©, Charlotte Marshall, Sophie Mills
The Sarah Richards Testimonial took place in order to honour her exceptional commitment to the club following her decision to finish her playing days at the end of the season. The match itself, which saw past and present AFC Unity stars come together for the occasion, was extremely entertaining and provided a memorable day for Sarah.
Things did not start well for Sarah’s side however, as a Jodean Wadsworth header at the near post saw Team Shanie go 1-0 up very early in the match. The Reds responded well to the goal and they created a couple of decent chances, including an outstanding long-range volley that was well saved. Despite these efforts, the Blues were very dangerous on the break, with a tidy finish into the top left corner from Sophie Mills giving them a two-goal advantage. The Blues were very much in the ascendency following this goal, with Team Sarah goalkeeper Red Lester making a couple of very important saves.
The Reds were given a way back into the match, though, as they were awarded a penalty for a shove in the area (which looked so dramatic one might think it was pre-planned!) Sarah stepped up to the spot, but it wasn’t meant to be as she blazed the ball over the bar. Only a couple of minutes later though, Team Sarah finally got their first goal of the match as Jane Watkinson slotted past the keeper following an excellent through ball. This was a crucial goal for the Reds as they suddenly took control of the match with only 10 minutes of the first half left. Just 2 minutes after this, they picked up an equaliser with another very clinical finish from Lucy Strutt; the momentum remained with them until the break and they were very unfortunate to not take the lead after a flurry of impressive attacks.
The fast pace of the game continued as soon as the second half continued. Team Sarah looked eager to regain their momentum from the end of the first half and they instantly forced an outstanding save from keeper Kim Best. Team Shanie looked like they were starting to gain a foothold in the second half until the Reds caught the keeper out with a speculative shot from Natasha Carlton to make the score 3-2. Shortly after this, Team Sarah continued their dominance as Lucy Strutt placed a shot in the bottom right corner from just inside the box to get her brace and Team Sarah’s fourth of the game. However, just as it looked like the Reds were going to run away with the game, Team Shanie showed great character and determination to pull a goal back courtesy of Sophie Mills with a brace of her own. The ball was not cleared well enough from a corner and Mills showed great composure to strike it to the right of keeper Red Lester. Shortly after this it looked as if the Blues had got an equaliser from a corner, but Lester tipped it over from point blank range.
A few minutes later, Team Sarah were awarded a free kick about 18 yards out. Sarah almost grabbed a goal in her testimonial here as she cracked the ball against the crossbar and the follow-up was blazed over by Jane Watkinson. The Reds remained in control of possession for most of the second half and were continuing to create opportunities at this point, however Team Shanie looked like a constant threat on the counter attack. This suited the Blues who had the better chances as they searched for an equaliser. Team Shanie looked likely to equalise but Lester made a huge save to keep the Reds ahead. This save was pivotal as immediately afterwards Team Sarah showed great attacking instincts and poached a fifth goal from Lucy Strutt for her hat-trick, which looked to have secured her side the win. Yet the game still had more to offer and the Blues responded straight away to this setback with Charlotte Marshall spectacularly curling one into the top corner to make it 5-4 to Team Sarah.
This signalled what was the end of a truly thrilling match! Both sides displayed both excellent and entertaining football and it was the dream outcome for Sarah on her testimonial, with the occasion certainly being a fun, fantastic and memorable one.
Note: The Sarah Richards Testimonial collected an incredible 170 items of food for the Sheffield Food Collective as part of our extended Football for Food campaign and she has since been appointed Director of Football!