For only the third time ever, United Ladies were granted use of Bramall Lane on Sunday for the SSE Women's FA Cup preliminary round tie with Leeds United Ladies.
Those many fans who supported the game not only set a new ladies attendance record of 546 but witnessed a real rollercoaster of game that went down to penalty kicks to settle the tie. Beyond the game itself it was proud day for United Girls and Ladies as the juniors provided many of their players as flag wavers, mascots and ball girls in a great show of unity within the United family.
United made two changes to their starting XI that dominated against Leicester City Ladies recalling Jodie Hartley to centre midfield and Evie Robinson to a back three. In the squad were two former Leeds United players, Hartley and, on the bench, Molly Cawthorn.
Leeds went into the game in eighth place in the parallel Premier League - North and included a former Blade Jemma White in their midfield. This was the first competitive meeting between the two clubs, though Leeds had beaten United 7-0 previously in a pre-season friendly.
The first half was fairly cagey and even. Tania Marsden warmed the Leeds 'keepers hands early on and later Millie Kenyon hit one of her left-foot volleys onto the roof of the net. At the other end Leeds forward Carey Huegett hit the sidenetting and would provide a threat all match. United also had a scare when a short clearance was hit straight back goalwards only for United 'keeper Houldsworth to recover and at a corner Leeds hit United's crossbar. The latter minutes saw United press with their own series of corners and had their best chance when Marsden's fierce shot was well saved by Laryn Coleman.
The Bladettes stepped things up straight from the restart and the game really came to life. A short backpass put Marsden in with a sight of goal but her chip went just wide. Kim Brown had a shot across the face and Marsden again straight at the Leeds keeper as the pressure began to mount. The breakthrough came on 51 minutes when left-midfielder Millie Kenyon broke into the box and drilled a fine low shot off the far post to put United ahead. United could have gone further ahead as Marsden got on the end of a Sophie Bell cross but couldn't keep the ball down and then Brown was on the end of a deep cross but headed just wide.
Leeds came back into game after this spell of United pressure and at one point the referee signaled for a penalty before realising his assistant had already flagged for offside. Leeds did, though, score when Huegett's free-kick from wide was slightly deflected past Houldsworth inside her near post to equalise.
Lifted by this, Leeds pressed on and a shot by Arianne Pharnham was deflected off a United boot to skim the bar. Another close call was a drilled cross by Huegett that United's Nat Froggatt got a foot to to deny a great goalscoring opportunity. Froggatt was outstanding all game in the heart of the defence and showed the form that earned her the United Player of the Month award for September.
United came back into the ascendancy next and should have gone back ahead when a cross from the right set up Marsden with Kenyon alongside at the far post only for Marsden's header to hit a post and the rebound bounce back onto her head again but somehow wide, the United forward ending up in the back of net but in disbelief the ball wasn't there with her.
However on 77 minutes Nat Shaw got on the end of a pass to finish neatly to put United 2-1 ahead, a goal she described afterwards as 'a dream come true' and her 11th of the season. It could have been more too as Shaw hit another one over and then a golden chance to finish the game with a one-on-one only for Coleman to make the save.
With five minutes left and United beginning to think their hard work had been enough, Leeds sneaked a goal out of nothing when 'keeper Houldsworth lost her grip on a cross and Liuli Dyson tapped in the equaliser. Sophie Bell's shot into the 'keepers arms was the last kick of normal time and we were to have extra time.
United Manager Dan O'Hearne motivated his players to dig deep through the fatigue and indeed went ahead for the third time when Marsden bravely got her head on a cross to make it 3-2, though, sustaining a bang on the head in the process. Shaw almost made it four but her 'goal' was correctly ruled offside. Leeds were still fighting and Huegett deflected a cross just wide and at the end of the first period she scored the visiting side's third equaliser in a scramble at a corner kick.
For the last 15 minutes United replaced both their forwards and sent on Jen Pearson and Eve Marshall. There were few chances by either side and the game finished 3-3 after 120 minutes of entertaining football.
For the first time in United's history a cup tie was now at a penalty shootout situation. Jorden Spurr went first and scored which Huegett equalised. Both second kicks were missed, Brown's saved and White for Leeds hit the crossbar. Sophie Bell put United 2-1 but Leeds next kick equalised yet again.
16-year old Eve Marshall bravely stepped up to take the fourth kick but her good shot was well saved and United held their collective breath as Dyson stepped up only for Houldsworth to tip her spot kick over to keep it 2-2. Jen Pearson then calmly made it 3-2 and Leeds missed their last kick to finally settle the game. United celebrated partially in relief after Leeds had doggedly pushed them all the way.
No rest for United as they travel the very short distance to Thorncliffe this Tuesday evening to play Steel City Wanderers in the league.
Blades: Houldsworth, Froggatt, Neary, Robinson, Bell, Spurr, Hartley, Brown, Kenyon (Cawthorn), Marsden (Marshall), Shaw (Pearson).