Derby County Women Under 20s confirmed their champion status in the FA WNL Reserve Midlands Division at Moor Farm as they overcame Sporting Khalsa 6-2 in a hard-fought affair.
Dan Dobrzycki's side made tough work of the game, having to come back from 2-1, but the Ewe Rams managed to preserve and continue their unbeaten league campaign with a single fixture to go.
Ruby Barnes got the all-important opening goal just before half-time when a lovely corner from Sarah Newton reached the head of Barnes, whose header looped the ball gracefully over the head of the Khalsa shot-stopper and rippled the back of the net for 1-0, going into half-time.
The Ewe Rams were pegged back to 1-1 in the 53rd minute when a long-ball forward mixed with a Khalsa player putting pressure on Lola Smith, resulted in the ball evading the keeper and rolling into the back of the net with the goal given despite calls for a foul on Smith.
A second would follow soon after for the side in yellow and blue when Smith parried out a shot from outside the box, but the ball could only fall to Chelsey-Leigh Wright, who smashed the ball home from close range to turn the game completely on its head at 2-1.
Barnes thought she had her brace and an important equaliser when a Sarah Newton rocket rattled off the crossbar, allowing Barnes to tap in, but the goal was called offside.
The ball would be in the back of the net again, though, and there would be nothing wrong with it this time. It landed to Newton outside the area; she struck it sweetly past everyone in the box and into the goal to get the Ewe Rams back into the game.
Derby regained the lead after Sheridan capitalised on a miskick from the Khalsa defender that landed straight at her feet, allowing the Young Ewes' topscorer to toe-poke the ball past Horswell to make it 3-2.
The game would be put to bed when Sheridan was brought down in the box for a penalty; Alex Owens stood over the ball from 12 yards and powered the ball into the net to make it 4-2 to the hosts.
Leila Abadi made it five when substitute Charlie Duthie-Thompson's cross found the midfielder lurking on the white line of the 18-yard box; her volley gave the goalkeeper zero chance of saving it, and the ball nestled into the bottom corner.
A sixth would find its way into the net through Duthie-Thompson, who beat the offside trap after a pass from Sheridan and cooly slotted it past the keeper to end the game in jubilation as the final whistle confirmed the title would be heading to Moor Farm.
Dobrzycki praised his side for getting the win by any means necessary against a battling Khalsa side.
He said: “It was all about getting the win however we could. We made massively hard work of it, to be fair. I don't think we played well enough as a team necessarily, but I thought being a goal up in the first half was probably fair.
“A lot of credit should go to Khalsa - they made it really difficult. Then the panic set in a little bit from us as coaches and players when you go 2-1 down and again, very, very rare mistakes from that defence.
“I've made no bones about it that this is the best defence I've worked with. We spoke about it before the game that they may be due to a mistake with the defence being perfect for so long, but the way they bounced back was unbelievable.”
An offside call denied Ruby Barnes a brace, and Dobryzkci spoke about how this frustration pushed his team to victory.
“I was a bit surprised with my players because even at half-time, I didn't sense the fire that they've taken into all these big games,” he admitted.
“I don't know if it was nerves, but after that disallowed goal, they seemed to get the bit between the teeth, and once we got the second goal, they really rose up.”
The Under 20s still have Lincoln City to face in their final game of the FAWNL campaign, and the head coach wants his team to finish on a high.
He said: "They're proud as players; they would be disappointed if they came away with anything but a win against Lincoln. When you can go unbeaten, you want to do that.”
Words by Riley Somerville