Arsenal Ladies 5 Leeds Utd Ladies 0 Nationwide Women's FA Cup Final by NICK WOOD
THERE must be no more sickening experience as a defeated footballer than hearing Status Quo's anthem Rockin' All Over The World ringing out while the winners celebrate a cup final victory and the vanquished reflect on a defeat of monumental proportions.
While Arsenal milked their moment in south-east London yesterday and the veteran rockers provided the soundtrack, Leeds went to salute their loyal band of followers who, in reality, had travelled to the New Den more in hope than expectation.
After all, the mighty Arsenal had gone three years without suffering the indignity of a single league defeat, collecting five titles in the last six years in all.
The Londoners had also collected six FA Cups in their illustrious history, while Leeds Ladies were in town to try to pick up their first, and manager Julie Chipchase her only one as manager at the third attempt.
But the fans had cheered their team to the last – and the players were quick to acknowledge their efforts while admitting that their own were not up to the mark.
The omens had looked good, and on the day of the game the West Yorkshire side had received good luck messages from Leeds United boss Kevin Blackwell and the boys, who are facing their own date with destiny against Preston at the end of the week.
But any thoughts that it was going to be Leeds' day were extinguished within two minutes of the start.
A cross from England star Rachel Yankey was almost turned into her own net by defender Lucy Ward, and when Yankey swung in the resultant corner, it was luckless Ward who connected ahead of Julie Fleeting to put her side behind.
It was the worst possible start – and Leeds never recovered from the shock.
Their match plan revolved around Jess Clarke and Sue Smith helping out veteran Karen Walker in attack when required, and then lending their weight in a midfield five when the League Champions attacked.
The pattern of the first half – and most of the second – meant a packed middle of the park, and the 36-year-old Walker foraging up front for scraps while being offered little support.
At the back, Chipchase's side were also in disarray with Mel Cook at right-back being given the runaround by a rampant Yankey.
Arsenal strikers Julie Fleeting and Kelly Smith – marked by Nicole Emmanuel before she replaced Cook on the right in the second half – attacked at will as Leeds struggled in the face of wave after wave of Gunners' attacks.
It should have been two after eight minutes when Yankey left Cook for dead, but her shot was well saved by Gemma Fay in the Leeds goal.
Referee Pete Crossley could have given Arsenal a penalty two minutes later when Fleeting tumbled in the box, but he waved play on much to United's relief.
Fleeting went close when she nodded over a deep cross from Smith after 20 minutes, and Leeds problems mounted five minutes later when Natalie Haigh was booked for bodychecking Lianne Sanderson.
It looked only a matter of time before the Gunners scored again and they then netted twice within 60 seconds to effectively kill the game 10 minutes before the break.
Arsenal made the most of a three-against-one situation when Sanderson played in Fleeting for the second and hardly had Leeds drawn breath than Fay was picking the ball out of the net again, having helped a 30-yard free-kick from Yankey into the net.
The keeper recovered sufficiently to deny Fleeting again by bravely diving at the feet of the forward, but at the other end Leeds at last had an effort of note themselves when Karen Burke shot wide following Walker's nod down.
Any chance of a Leeds comeback rested on an early goal after the break, but the one-way traffic continued towards the Whites' goal.
Kelly Smith almost converted Sanderson's cross and Fleeting's lob nearly deceived Fay before Chipchase called time on Cook's disappointing afternoon, sending on Sophie Walton – sister of Leeds star Simon – and placing Emmanuel in Yankey's firing line.
Fleeting spurned another chance and Kelly Smith hit the inside of a post as Leeds chased shadows, only briefly emerging from their own 18-yard box.
Fay brilliantly saved from Yankey and then denied the player again when she ran clear on goal after a clever pass from Fleeting.
Emmanuel was eventually booked for chopping down Yankey and after 71 minutes the danger woman was fouled again – this time in the box by Clarke – and Smith did the rest from the spot.
Two minutes later, full-back Alex Culvin's clearance was charged down by Sanderson who ran on to beat Fay easily for the fifth.
Thankfully, that was the scoring finished – and Leeds could at last contemplate the end of their nightmare.
Gemma Fay: at fault for third goal but some good saves 6
Mel Cook: struggled 4
Alex Culvin: Hard-working 6
Lucy Ward: unlucky own goal 6
Natalie Haigh: up against it 6
Karen Burke: fought hard 6
Natalie Preston: skipper tried hard 6
Nicole Emmanuel: battled well 6
Sue Smith: pick of the Leeds players 7
Karen Walker: disappointing last final. 6
Jess Clarke: battled 6
Sophie Walton (51): forlorn task 6
Sarah Owen (84)
Tania Panesar (84)
not used: Julie Grundy, Sophie Clough.
Emma Byrne: nothing to do 6
Leanne Champ: No danger at back 7
Alex Scott: never troubled 6
Faye White: Played captain's role 7
Anita Asante: In control 7
Jayne Ludlow: impressive - 7
Kelly Smith: in command 8
Lianne Sanderson: another top show - 8
Julie Fleeting: should have had more - 8
Rachel Yankey: outstanding 9
Mary Phillip: competent 6
Cori Daniels (83)
Rachel McArthur (77)
Ciara Grant (72)
Not used: Kirsty Pealling, Gemma Davidson.
Leeds 0 Arsenal 5 (Ward og, 2, Fleeting 33, Yankey 34, Smith pen, 71, Sanderson 76.
Shots on target
Leeds 3 Arsenal 10
Shots off target
Leeds 2 Arsenal 6
Leeds 6 Arsenal 6
Leeds 10 Arsenal 12
United 2: (Haigh, Emmanuel).
Pete Crossley – efficient enough.
THE fact is that today we were beaten by a very, very good Arsenal side – who played at the top of their game.
Everyone I've spoken to has agreed – no one has ever seen Arsenal perform to that level before.
They are usually very, very good but they would have beaten any side today – they were simply superb.
Having said that, we've got to be disappointed with our performance and we just never played in the way we're capable of.
but we've got to get over it.