Iesha Rollins’ superb hat-trick fired Derby County Women U20s to a 6-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers to remain top of the FAWNL Reserve Midland Division.
Rollins’ trio of goals were added to by a brace from Anita Gaspar and a spectacular goal from Isabel Sheridan, who struck in her sixth successive league start to give their hosts a first taste of defeat at the Sir Jack Haywood Training Ground this season.
Derby remain unbeaten in the league and were value for victory which sends them four points clear of rivals Nottingham Forest, who did not play this weekend, ahead of the two meeting in a crunch game in two weeks’ time.
The young Ewes will play Chesterfield at Grange Park next weekend in the final of the Derbyshire County Cup.
Manager Dan Dobrzycki hinted beforehand that there may be ‘a few surprises’ to the lineup and made six changes to the side that comfortably beat Long Eaton United last weekend.
Midfield duo Laila Abadi and Holly Otter returned to the side along with Sheridan and defender Sasha Brassington.
With the first team not in action, Marli Rhodes-Andrews and Anita Gaspar came into the team while in-form Laura Monk and regular captain Rosie Hunt were both unavailable.
The Ewes got off to a flyer and took the lead with little more than two minutes on the clock. Sheridan showed good strength to win the ball back in midfield and Gaspar was able to pick out the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
It was a neat finish and Gaspar was immediately showing why she has scored five senior goals so far this campaign.
Looking to increase their advantage, Sheridan would be denied by a combination of woodwork and goalkeeper minutes later. Derby’s top scorer first saw her strike bounce off the post and, when she looked destined to tuck home the rebound, would then be kept out by a stunning save from Abby Dadson.
Some brave goalkeeping from Lola Smith allowed her to thwart Amy Hare after it looked as though the Wolves forward would beat the Ewes shot-stopper in a footrace.
On 21 minutes, Derby were inches away from doubling their lead. A pair of Wolves defenders failed to pick up on a long ball forward and Rollins found herself in some space. Her half-volley was fired marginally wide with Dadson rooted to the spot.
Rhodes-Andrews and Gaspar were next to try their luck, the latter’s left-footed strike dragging wide after Rollins had done superbly in the press to win the ball back high up the field.
Wolves were looking to utilise the long ball for Hare where possible, while Derby maintained a set-piece threat and nearly scored when Sheridan’s header was cleared after meeting an Otter corner at the back post.
Two minutes before the break, Rollins scored what felt like the crucial second goal in the contest. Rhodes-Andrews did well to keep the ball in play and Sheridan’s expert ball over the top was perfect for Rollins to score past the onrushing Dadson.
Hare struck a weak effort at Smith from a Darcy Cartwright cross shortly after the interval, as the hosts looked to respond instantly at the start of the second half.
But it would be the Ewes who extended their advantage just minutes later. After a fantastic ball from Gaspar had set her away, Rollins slotted home for her second on the afternoon.
Wolves soon had their best chance yet when Smith kept out Hare from close range, before Newton executed a perfectly timed challenge to deny Grace Gregory inside the penalty area.
The Ewes would have had their fourth if not for the brilliance of Wolves goalkeeper Dadson. Her outstretched leg excellently kept out Rollins at the front post after Rhodes-Andrews had fizzed a delivery across box.
The hosts would pull a goal back as the game approached the hour mark. Beth Grady converted from the penalty spot after Brassington had brought down Cartwright in the area.
Smith displayed her goalkeeping heroics to keep the margin at two when she kept out a well-timed Phoebe Hill volley low to her left.
Rollins latched onto the end of a long ball forward for Derby, but with the attacker leaning back, her bouncing volley sailed over the bar.
The game had turned into an end-to-end encounter and Wolves’ dangerous striker Hare was able to create some space on the penalty spot. After the ball landed at her feet, Newton blocked her goal-bound effort well.
Substitute Eleanor Humphrey was inches away from finding the far corner after Rhodes-Andrews had showed great aggression to slide in and win the ball back in Wolves’ defensive third.
Derby added a fourth goal on 81 minutes and it was certainly the pick of the bunch. Sheridan struck a remarkable effort from 25 yards beyond the reach of Dadson to take her ever-growing tally to 21 goals in all competitions. She proved to be a very popular goalscorer.
It was 5-1 a few minutes later. Alex Owens played an expert cross for the darting Gaspar, who flicked a leg out and guided the ball into the far corner to put the icing on the cake in a clinical Ewes performance.
Rollins again latched onto the end of a long ball forward to extend Derby’s late rampage with two minutes to play. Her third goal was sealed to put the icing on the cake in a clinical Ewes performance and netted her 15th goal of a blistering eight-game spell.
Derby County (4-2-3-1): Smith; Owens, Brassington, M. Towers, Newton (A. Towers); Otter (Humphrey), Abadi (c); Rhodes-Andrews (Barnes), Gaspar, Rollins; Sheridan. Subs: Goodwin.
Manager Dobrzycki was understandably pleased with the result but suggested the margin of victory was perhaps unrepresentative on the game, praising the opposition in the process.
He said: “We’re delighted. We were confident that we if we got our shape right and we did everything we'd worked on, we could influence the game and get a win.
“I didn't see a 6-1, if I’m honest. I don't want to say flattered us as we did play really well, but I thought Wolves were good in patches as well, but we are absolutely delighted.”
The Ewes raced into a fast start, taking the lead inside the opening three minutes, but Dobrzycki was pleased with the overall performance throughout the first half.
“We made a really good start,” he said. “It was one of them where we missed an absolute sitter at 1-0 or 2-0 and it could have killed the game where Shez [Isabel Sheridan] has had a chance, which obviously she's made up for with the performance and a goal in the second half.
“It was a great start and generally, even without having the ball, we looked dangerous and we knew where we could hurt them. That followed for most of the first half.”
The timing of Rollins’ opening goal that doubled the visitors’ lead proved crucial, slotting past Dadson after neat work from Rhodes-Andrews.
“She took it really well,” Dobrzycki said of Rollins. “She's confident at the minute and I'm sure Iesha won’t mind me saying she’s struggled with confidence sometimes, but she’s been able to help herself.
“She's been excellent and she scores big goals as well. She’s scored important goals before and takes them incredibly well. There wasn’t a bad goal today.”
Dobrzycki had little complaints on the penalty: “I haven't seen it back on the video. Their coaches were very insistent that it, I can only go off that. But if that’s the only slight on that performance in terms of the defenders, they were absolutely fantastic.
“All I would say is, when we have to review, we've conceded against West Brom, we've conceded against Wolves twice in the two games and they've all been a set piece. We haven't conceded in open play in a long time, which is great, but let's cut out all the set pieces.
“Part of that is to do with the level we're at, if I'm honest. I can’t make any comment on the penalty today as I’ve not seen it, but I wasn't happy with the West Brom goal or the Wolves goal in the last game.
“We've got the video and we've got the evidence that we didn't think that was a foul. I know that sounds a little bit bitter, but it's one of them where I don't think we did too much wrong to concede those goals.
“Going back to those clean sheets, I think there's a difference between a clean sheet from open play and a clean sheet from set pieces. As much as we want a real clean sheet, the defence know that, while the ball is rolling, we're doing our job. We’ll look to carry that on.”
On Wolves, Dobrzycki reiterated his praise and highlighted a key moment in the second half that turned the game into the Ewes’ favour.
He said: “There were a strong opposition. You can look at the score and think that's a hammering and it's absolutely not the case.
“I think we should have gone 4-0 up. I say should, but it was a very good save from their goalkeeper. They go down the other end it was an incredible run from their number nine, she took the ball off us on our edge of the box and went all the way, the pass was great and it’s 3-1.
“There were chances at 3-1 and getting the fifth goal of the game really knocked the stuffing out of them and we went on and did what we can do. If they got it, it could have been a different game and a difficult game.
“It was very much a tough game, I thought in parts they dominated in midfield so a lot of credit to Wolves. We just need to look at what we can do slightly differently to probably win those battles, as well as all the other battles we have won all over the park.”
Both Rhodes-Andrews and Gaspar, who are first team regulars, came into the side on an afternoon where the first team did not play.
On the pair, Dobrzycki said: “They’re great girls. Obviously we know Marli, she's come through our system, whereas Anita has been external. They came in, they showed a great attitude and I can’t say enough good things about them.
“It's a one club approach really from the club. If you look at Wolves today, they had three girls part of their first team and I think it's important. They haven't got a game, they have come down and helped us with Laura [Monk] and Rosie [Hunt] being out and they did really well.
“Anita’s scored two lovely goals, I thought Marli was outstanding with her work rate and her understanding. It really helps you when you are low in certain positions. We’re really happy.”
Kick-off was at the earlier time of 12pm. Asked whether that made much difference, Dobrzycki dismissed the idea and suggested he preferred the earlier start.
He said: "If you asked most of the girls, they like to get up and get them out of the way. It’s only us who have had to get up early, I think Wolves haven’t had too so much.
“It’s probably not too much to do with it but if we're going to play like that every time it's an early kick-off then I'll take them every week.”
Confidence is sky-high in the group but Dobrzycki emphasised the importance of the taking each game as it comes ahead of the final of the Derbyshire County Cup against Chesterfield next Sunday.
He said: “It's that old thing about taking every game at time. It's a cliche, but actually that's what they're doing and they can see the bigger picture.
“We looked at and we said we've got five big games. We've got five big games, six before that. So we looked at West Brom, Wolves, Long Eaton, we’ve got a cup final. We’re probably halfway into that now, we've got two massive games now.
“We’re just taking them week by week, the girls are training really well, they’re playing really well, and we've got a massive wave of confidence now that we can take into these last few big games.”
Goalkeeper Smith also spoke following the game and highlighted the importance of the match build-up as well as her disappointment at the loss of her clean sheet through Grady’s spot-kick.
“I think we played really well,” she said. “We prepared for it really well. We were all up for it after the draw before [in the reverse fixture] and I think we wanted it more than them.
“I think I did alright. The only thing is the penalty, not really much I could have done about that. I did think it was a penalty, but there's not really much you could have done. It was a good penalty.”
Smith also spoke about the dressing room ethic and discussed how much she is enjoying playing alongside her teammates every week.
“They’re a ball of laughs, honestly,” she explained. “They make everything so fun and nothing's ever miserable. Everybody always tries their best.”
Report and Reaction by Kallum Brisset