Express & Star

Khalsa fightback sees them lift a first Women’s Challenge Cup

Sporting Khalsa made history on Tuesday night coming from behind to beat Leek Town 3-1 and win the Women’s Challenge Cup.


Khalsa ended Stoke City’s run of winning the competition every year since 2008 and put their name on the trophy for the first time.

After heartbreak in last year’s final, losing on penalties, Andy Mulligan’s side battled back at Evans Park after conceding inside just 50 seconds.

Lily Jackson’s perfectly directed and weighted through-ball found Leek’s Debbie Price, who made no mistake in firing home and giving her side an early lead.

But, that lasted until the 19th-minute when Laura Smith headed Sporting Khalsa level. Mulligan’s side had immediately looked for a response after going behind early in the game, and their relentless attacking paid off when Smith headed home with ease at close-range from a corner.

Khalsa’s Isabelle Austin-Short caused problems for Leek throughout the first-half and forced goalkeeper Beth Cottrell into several stops. The Leek shot-stopper was called into action on numerous occasions, but acted as a brick-wall for her side.

Level at the break, Khalsa began the second-period with purpose, and Lowri Walker forced Cottrell into a superb diving save to keep the score level. Leonie Joyce then rattled the bar from inside the box after the ball fell kindly at her feet, and Leek survived another early second-half scare.

Khalsa’s persistence paid off as Walker converted unmarked at the back-post, meeting a ball from the right-side in the 65th-minute to give her side the lead.

And, after Smith forced another fine stop from Cottrell with a long-range effort, Megan Cann secured the cup for Khalsa and completed the comeback. Again profiting from a corner like they did for their first goal, Leek failed to clear the ball from danger and so Cann converted at the back-post on the turn.

Smith – who led the comeback – was awarded with the player of the match award.