Rovers Ladies suffered Lancashire Cup final heartache for the second season running, after losing 2-1 to local rivals Preston North End.
Rovers, who lost last year’s final on penalties, took a deserved lead through assistant manager Amanda Goodwin, but former Rovers forward Keeleigh Savage returned to haunt her old club, grabbing a goal and an assist.
Sophie Flynn received her marching orders late on, as Rovers’ chances of claiming a ninth county crown in their 11th consecutive final faded away.
Rovers made a bright start, controlling the early exchanges. Captain Hannah Forster had the game’s first chance on four minutes, but after making space for a shot, she blazed over the bar.
Preston’s first sight of goal came on 12 minutes, but Mel Ball shot comfortably into the arms of Jo Hutcheson from the right-hand side.
Rovers remained on top and opened the scoring midway through the first half. Keira Walsh set Nichol Forster free down the left, the striker set the ball back to Goodwin, who curled a sublime shot into the bottom corner. It was the midfielder’s first Rovers goal since scoring against Preston in the Lancashire Cup final three years ago!
Preston threatened on 34 minutes, as ex-Rover Jenna Carroll headed over a free-kick from close range, before the turning point in the game arrived five minutes before the break.
Rovers almost made it 2-0, as Walsh’s superb ball over the top found Nichol Forster, who flashed a left-foot shot across the face of goal. The keeper must have got a slight touch, as from the resulting Walsh corner, Helen Seed’s goal-bound header was hacked clear off the line. Straight up the other end, Preston broke quickly through Gemma Watson, who got to the byline and her cut-back was smashed home by Savage.
On the stroke of half-time, Watson’s crisp strike went just past the upright.
Preston made a change at the interval, as Sophie Jones was introduced, but it was Rovers who came close to scoring a second early on. Less than a minute after the restart, Walsh crossed for Nichol Forster, but she couldn’t make a clean connection in front of goal. From the resulting goal kick, the Preston keeper played the ball straight to Nicky Emery, but her attempted left-foot curler was comfortably claimed.
Preston ought to have added a second on 49 minutes, as a cross from the left landed at the feet of Savage in the centre, but she dragged her shot just wide.
However, Savage made amends five minutes later by setting up what proved to be the winner. After controlling a ball into the box, she slipped in Jones to her left and the substitute slotted home.
Rovers resorted to efforts from distance, as they looked to find an equaliser. Walsh saw a 30-yard shot saved just under the bar, whilst at the other end, Savage’s first-time hooked volley forced a fine save from Hutcheson at full stretch, before the Rovers keeper again denied Savage at the back post.
Gemma Donnelly’s side were left with a mountain to climb on 74 minutes, as a frustrated Flynn was sent off for picking up two bookings in quick succession, but Rovers refused to give up.
A minute later, another 30-yard drive from the impressive Walsh just cleared the crossbar and it was fitting that the final chance should fall to the England Under-19 international – the best player on the park – whose crisp cross-shot from the right was well saved by the Preston keeper at her near post.
All eyes now turn to Rovers’ relegation battle, with an important Premier League Northern Division clash at Derby County this Sunday.
ROVERS: Hutcheson, Fleming, Seed, S. Hardy, Bourne, Flynn, Emery (Westerman 87), Goodwin, H. Forster, Walsh, N. Forster.
Subs not used: Pennington, Savage, Adams, Manning.