Isabel Sheridan’s penalty proved decisive as Derby County Women U20s moved closer to the FAWNL Reserve Midland Division title with a 1-0 victory against rivals Nottingham Forest.
Sheridan’s spot-kick, which was won off her own neat footwork, marked her ninth consecutive goalscoring appearance for the Ewes’ prolific top goalscorer.
In a game that saw little separate the league’s top two teams, Derby found the marginal advantage in front of a strong crowd at Eastwood to ensure their league destiny is in their own hands.
The gap to Forest extends to four points with just two matches to play, the young Ewes requiring one more win for the title.
Manager Dan Dobrzycki was understandably delighted with his team’s performance on an afternoon where a number of first-team regulars were unavailable.
“That’s the proudest I’ve been as a manager,” he said. “We were short-handed today, there’s a lot of people not here, but we came into the game with genuine confidence that we could do the job.
“Every one of the 13 players in the square today were immense. What a job they’ve done today.
“The maturity they had was remarkable, the average age was just 17 years and 10 months. They knew if we didn’t concede then we would have a big advantage in the title race.”
After a slow but competitive start, Alex Owens was required to produce some instinctive defending on 14 minutes, thwarting Olivia Edwards on the line as she threatened to break the early deadlock.
Forest looked dangerous from set-pieces and Olivia Standeven headed just wide of the mark moments after Iesha Rollins won an important defensive header of her own to keep the hosts out.
As the clock ticked over the 30-minute mark, Derby sought about pressing the Forest backline. Ruby Barnes saw a strike blocked before Charlie Duthie-Thompson, on just her second U20s call-up of the season, curled over the bar.
While most of the play was in the Ewes’ own half, they looked a threat on the counter-attack. Captain Laila Abadi fired wide just before half-time after some excellent midfield work from Duthie-Thompson.
Chances continued to be at a premium in the second half and, on the hour mark, the Ewes had an opportunity as big as they come.
Sheridan somehow danced her way through the penalty area and eventually was caught in a tangle with Chelsea Bailey, the referee having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Derby’s top scorer picked herself up to dispatch from 12 yards into the bottom-right corner to give the visitors the lead.
Forest were denied a response by a combination of Sasha Brassington and Emma Porter. The pair kept out Summa Betts after she had caused problems surging down the left.
Minutes later, Mia Chiarizia cut in from a tight angle and saw her strike saved low by Porter, on what was the Ewes goalkeeper’s U20s debut.
With seven minutes remaining, Edwards headed wide of Porter’s post after Betts’ neat cross to the back-post. The offside flag would have come to Derby’s rescue in any case.
With the result still firmly in the balance, Eleanor Humphrey saw a low shot saved by Forest goalkeeper Alicia Grimmond after Rollins’ lay-off.
The Ewes saw out the remaining minutes to complete the double over their East Midlands rivals and move one step closer to the league title.
Following the game, Dobrzycki kept his feet on the ground ahead of the final two matches of the season, adding that the Ewes need to avoid any complacency in the run-in.
“We’re taking nothing for granted,” he said. “We don’t know if Sporting Khalsa or Lincoln City are going to drop a whole first team down.
“I certainly don’t think we’ve got one hand on the trophy. We just need to prepare well for the game.
“I trust those girls to go and do the job.”
Derby will be champions if they beat Sporting Khalsa at Moor Farm next Sunday.
Derby County (4-2-3-1): Porter; Owens, Brassington, M. Towers, Newton; Sheridan (Lane), Abadi (c); Duthie-Thompson, Humphrey, Rollins; Barnes (Goodwin).
Report by Kallum Brisset