Keele Tournament Ladies Squad Stoke-on-Trent based Keele University held for the first time ‘the Keele International Cup’, the tournament is usually known as the Umbro Cup and based in Manchester staging huge competition for all involved within football, Men’s, Women’s, Girls and Boys, however this time there was more focus on international side’s entering, plus an upside it was based in Staffordshire for the first time ever. Many teams were in the competition this weekend and the Keele cup saw the likes of Man City, Everton, Brazil, Liverpool, Wolves, Stockport, Chorley, Solihull, Stoke plus many more.... Teams were split into categories upon entry the three categories were: Elite Women’s Competition Senior Women’s Competition Recreational Women’s Competition Stoke City Ladies FC were entered into the Senior Women’s Competition, as the Elite saw teams such as Everton, Blackburn and Liverpool who are 2/3 tiers higher than them and this being an ideal situation for Pre-season could only be tough and non motivational for some of the Youth played within the squad of 18 from Stoke City LFC. Stoke City Ladies FC started with an impressive 4 – 0 victory over Salford Ladies FC, which for us was by far the best start we could have thought of, with Stoke Fielding a squad of partly last season’s players, new players from trials and players coming back from injury it was very much all in and all hands on deck so to speak. With a gruelling two days of football and at least 4/5 games on those days, energy preservations was a priority, Vicky Mitchell Head Coach decided in the 2nd game to rest players in a game that looked like it was going nowhere and rest players ready for the game which was a must win Sunday Morning. The second game had finished in a draw, but a worthy point in the table was earned. The third game Sunday morning saw the excellence of rested players from Anna Lowndes having a superb weekend of football, fitting in a position that isn’t her first choice but having an outstanding tournament saw that she can be slotted into a position wherever and she will captivate in only good for Stoke. With Injured player Rachael Blunt returning after a season out of 1st team football it was almost as if she hadn’t been missing for that season, most memorable achievement for her was assisting Captain Kelly Pinner’s goal of the tournament, a corner kick which was met by the oppositions head and cleared away however Blunty nicked the ball of the nippy winger and targeted the danger zone where most Stoke players were and with Kelly Pinner taking one look at goal struck the ball beautifully on the volley with the ball headed straight for the bottom right corner leaving the Keeper gobsmacked that such a move had just been done. Stoke finishing the 3rd game of their group with a win of 3-0 getting top spot to face the runners up of the 2nd group. After a long wait, the time had come for the Semi-finals and Head Coach Vicky Mitchell and assistant coach Scott Carson made no changes in the starting 11 of the 4th game this weekend, with players having blisters on each toe and girls having very heavy and tired legs the ultimate prize was still in sight so again pulling everyone together was the main focus in their lead to victory. With momentum very much in the player’s minds the Semi’s was only going to finish with the right result the positivity the team was showing only made it right that they succeed from this game, with results in the favour of Stoke and ending in a 4 nil victory the time had come to face Winners of the 2nd group Manchester City LFC. With Kick off an hour after the Semi it was hard enough without facing a young Man City Side who were in fact holders of this trophy from when it was played in Manchester as the Umbro Cup, the time had come and nothing but honest endeavour was coming out of the Stoke team, with battered and tired players all over the pitch it was hard to ask for anything more from them than what they had given so far, as a determined and domineering side with so much pride for Staffordshire they never let their heads go down when Manchester City had their chance with a set-piece on the edge of the box and striking the ball superbly to the keepers bottom right and out of reach of Natalie Hall who up until that time had kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament. With the final heading into half time at 1-nil to Man City it was about time that Stoke City taught the young side a thing or two, with Stoke City dominating much of the play, winning at least 90% of the challenges and working set pieces it was time for them to pull one back with some great attacks down the flanks saw the ball roll out of play ready for a Stoke Corner, with Anna Lowndes stepping up to take the corner all the big guns from the back had made their way to the edge of the box and was ready to attack the play, with Stoke having high hopes in this tournament to represent Staffordshire and Stoke City FC well they were all in the right place at the right time and with a bit of cheeky play from Chantelle Gallagher keeping the keeper and the defender busy in the box Lowndes saw her chance and from the corner drifted the ball into top corner with the keeper having no chance of reaching it. Game on 1-1. Second half was much the same as first half, great challenges throughout, good play, route one football from both teams as fatigue was setting in, it was Stoke who put most of the pressure on but Man City held it up well. Penalties was upon us as the game finished 1 – 1, a great game of football had come to an end and unfortunately it came down to the gruelling spot kicks. With only 3 players from the Stoke team wanting to take penalties it was hard for them to accept the result may or may not go our way, with staff trying to keep them positive it was a horrible way for either club to go out of the tournament. Kicks begin and players finding it hard to breath at times saw each keeper make outstanding saves and players missing spot kicks, it was a highly pressured penalty shoot out game to watch and all supporters backed each bunch of girls till the final kick, with penalties going to sudden death stage it was do or die attitude for Stoke they had come so far and didn’t want to fall at this hurdle and get knocked out this way, they only needed Goalkeeper Natalie Hall to stop the next shot and the shouts from the players of encouragement was superb, Manchester City’s player stepped up hit it hard a low, Hall was correct in her judgement and managed to get her right hand to it and keep it out of the net to win it for Stoke City Ladies FC, celebrations had begun and the girls all threw a final sprint towards Hall who was buried under the biggest pile on we had ever seen. With Stoke Finishing as Winners within Staffordshire for the players it all seemed so worth it... A massive congratulation’s for the ladies 1st silver wear of this season and followed by that hopefully more to come..... Huge congrats to each player that took part at the weekend, you have made us all very proud. Great efforts by all.