It was a case of 'Sheffield Revisited' after a second successive penalty shoot-out victory for the 'Poly', as Northumbria are better known, over favourites and old rivals Leeds Met. But this year the match was played in bright afternoon sunshine on the energy-sapping expanses of Bramall Lane, whereas the 2010 win was an evening game played under floodlights at the Sheffield United ground.
It was something of a Sunderland past and present reunion as Leeds Met included familiar faces Rachel 'Shorty' Lee (the Carnegie skipper), Hannah Chisholm and Sarah Danby, while half the Northumbria side are Sunderland squad members, plus recently-departed long-serving goalkeeper Helen Alderson, now a Doncaster Rovers Belle in the new Super League.
An even first-half, with few chances, appeared destined to be scoreless until an innocuous challenge just inside the Northumbria penalty box was judged a foul by ref Ryan O'Mahony.The 'victim', Natalie Haigh, of Leeds City Vixens, picked herself up to fire the spot-kick just out of Alderson's reach, giving Leeds Met a 38th minute lead. Carnegie looked to have it in the bag when Jade Moore doubled their lead with a header, on 65 minutes. But a late 'Poly' comeback was triggered by Abby Holmes' stretch volley from Becky Salicki's flighted free-kick on 83 minutes.
The equaliser came going into the 90th minute after intense Northumbria pressure saw Julianna Draycott spill a Sarah Wilson hot-shot into the path of Janice Wills, who gleefully tapped in the rebound. Northumbria almost won at the death in normal time with several near misses in the four minutes injury time. The final whistle was met with relief by Leeds, who appeared out on the ropes, but they found a 'second wind' in the extra half-hour. Northumbria's one good chance of extra-time came from a Holmes' free-kick, which skimmed the Leeds' bar at the end of the first 15-minute half. A late Leeds surge brought four good chances in the last five minutes of extra-time, with Sunderland 'old girl' Sarah Danby hitting the bar and putting another into the side-netting, while Alderson stayed 'big' to block a couple of other goal-bound attempts.
But it was Northumbria who were 'spotless' for the second year running from the penalty spot. Alderson pulled off a brilliant diving save from the opening kick of the shoot-out, from Jessica Wright, to give Northumbria an advantage they would not spurn. Sunderland quartet Salicki, Poly skipper Sarah Unwin, Holmes and Sarah McFadden all coolly slotted home their penalties. Although Moore, Haigh and Danby all converted their kicks for Leeds, the Northumbria victory was confirmed when Sophie Walton's attempt bounced out off the bar, to give Northumbria a 4-3 penalty victory.It sparked jubilant scenes from the Poly squad, including several pre-rehearsed routines, the pick of which was coach Gaz Lee's ten-pin bowling 'strike' as the Northumbria players fell in unison to the turf. As Unwin lifted the trophy in 'Lion King' fashion she was engulfed by her ecstatic team-mates. We're told the celebrations went on long into the night back in 'Toon', but that is another story.
Northumbria: Helen Alderson, Amber Whitley, Jane Riddell, Sarah Wilson, Becky Salicki, Sarah Unwin (captain), Abby Holmes, Hannah Marshall, Sarah McFadden, Janice Wills and Julie-Anne Waitman. Subs - Jess Hooper, Hannah Atkinson, Kelly Howe, Alicia Murray and Nicole Doyle.