Women’s League Cup: Sion aim to retain trophy while Cliftonville look for revenge

Women’s Premiership League Cup Final: Cliftonville v Sion Swifts

Venue: Stangmore Park, Dungannon Date: Thursday 31 August Kick-off: 19:45 BST

Coverage: Live text commentary, report and reaction on BBC Sport NI online

Cliftonville and Sion Swifts will lock horns in the Women’s Premiership League Cup final for a second year running on Thursday.

Sion came out on top in last year’s final at the Blanchflower Stadium but Cliftonville were without a host of Northern Ireland internationals for that game due to their involvement in the Women’s European Championships.

As a result, this season’s encounter, which will see the second piece of silverware of the women’s domestic campaign handed out at Stangmore Park, is expected to be even more hotly contested.

How they got there

Cliftonville, who are second in the league, had a slightly easier route to the final than Sion in terms of games played. Given they finished as Women’s Premiership champions last year, they avoided having to play a preliminary tie.

The opposition they faced were superior to the Swifts however, as the Reds knocked out Glentoran and Linfield on their way to the decider.

A fortnight after a 2-2 draw in the league, Cliftonville turned on the style to defeat the Glens 3-0 at Solitude.

After a goalless first period, three second-half goals, including a brace from captain Marissa Callaghan and a goal directly from a corner from Hannah Doherty, sealed the win and set up a last-four tie with Linfield.

The Reds then hammered the Blues 6-1 at Solitude to ensure a comfortable passage to the final.

They were 3-0 ahead at half-time on home soil, with Toni Leigh Finnegan opening the scoring with a free-kick, before Marissa Callaghan and Caitlin McGuinness extended their lead.

Abbie Magee and Fi Morgan netted soon after the restart before Keri Halliday scored a consolation for Linfield. Vicky Carleton then blasted home to complete the route.

Holders Sion meanwhile, who currently occupy third position in the league, thrashed Ballymena in the preliminary round 6-1 before securing a comfortable 4-0 victory in the quarter-final against Mid Ulster.

Chloe McGlade, Caoirse Doherty, Cora Chambers, Clare Crumlish were all on the scoresheet against the Sky Blues, with Aoibhe O’Neill netting a brace.

O’Neill then opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the quarter-final, with Doherty, Kerry Brown and Zoe McGlynn also scoring.

They were made to work a bit harder in the semi-final against Crusaders, but they duly obliged and came away from Seaview with a 1-0 win.

Cora Chambers’ superb solo goal near the end of the first-half was enough to send them through to the final for the third year in a row, as they lost the 2019 final.

Last time out

As aforementioned, these two sides contested last season’s final which marked the return of the League Cup after a two-year absence because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With Northern Ireland preparing for the group stage of the Euros, Cliftonville were without the core of their squad including sisters Caitlin and Kirsty McGuinness, Callaghan, Magee, Kelsie Burrows and Louise McDaniel.

Danielle Maxwell was also out injured, with the Reds fielding nine teenagers as a result and they struggled against a more experienced Sion side.

Chambers missed the chance to seal the victory in normal time as her penalty came back off the post on the hour mark after Fi Morgan handled the ball in the area.

The young forward would make amends early in extra-time however, capitalising on a mistake from Megan Moran, before finishing emphatically.

She sealed the victory in injury-time, slotting home after Zoe McGlynn squared the ball to her in the box to spark jubilant scene in the Sion end.

The two teams have met in two competitions already this season, with Cliftonville winning the league encounter 4-0 and the All-Island Cup game 2-1.

The final at Stangmore Park will be the Reds’ third of the season, as they lost the All-Island Cup decider against Galway United, before bouncing back to claim the County Antrim Cup with an emphatic victory against Crusaders.

Key players

It is set to be the battle of the strikers at Stangmore, as matches between these two sides seem to be quite close, although Cliftonville have come out on top in the vast majority since the League Cup loss.

Caitlin McGuinness has picked up where she left off in terms of her scoring form last year, netting 12 times in the league alone already this campaign.

The 21-year old is much more than just a goal scorer however, with her link up play and the ability to pick her moments when to shoot or instead lay it off to a teammate in a better position, key to how Cliftonville attack.

She is one of the first names on the team sheet and the Reds will hope she is firing on all cylinders on Thursday.

As for Sion, they possess their own prolific young forward in the form of last season’s final hero Chambers.

A player who is equally adept at shooting off both feet, she has been Sion’s go-to player in big games, and she has certainly delivered for them.

Chambers finished last campaign with 11 league goals, and has already found the net nine times in the league this term.

The 19-year old has scored in the last two rounds and will be confident of repeating her cup heroics from a year ago again on Thursday.

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