Portsmouth and Sheffield both hit by play-off eligibility ruling

Sent Her Forward exclusive

Helen Mitchell, manager of Sheffield FC (Photo: Ben Webster)

Sheffield FC manager Helen Mitchell has sympathy with Portsmouth’s plight (Photo: Ben Webster)

Sheffield FC’s manager says she has sympathy with Portsmouth’s goalkeeper plight and says she hopes the teenage stand-in who will be thrust into Sunday’s Premier League play-off has a “fantastic” game.

With questions still surrounding the validity of the FAW Premier League decision to bar any players who have not appeared at least three times for their clubs during the league season, it has emerged that both sides will be denied the opportunity to field their strongest sides for the biggest game in the league’s history.

As disclosed by Sent Her Forward, Portsmouth will be prevented from fielding second-choice goalkeeper Michelle Beazley in place of the suspended Sadie Blakely because she has not yet played in three Premier League games since joining the club on deadline day in March.

But Sheffield, too, have been hit by the ruling, and manager Helen Mitchell admits she will not be able to field the side she would have liked in the play-off, which will almost certainly send one of the sides into the Super League.

She told Sent Her Forward: “I do [sympathise with Portsmouth], of course. But it’s the rules to which all clubs have signed up to abide by at the start of the season. That particular rule is preventing us from playing certain players in the play-off final, as well – players who we want to play.

“It will affect us in different ways, but it’s a rule that both teams have to abide by. We’ve got players who are devastated to be ruled out of such a big game, and I particularly feel for Sadie [Blakely], as she’s been Portsmouth’s number-one-choice goalkeeper all season and has played almost every game.”

The dramatic story:
Portsmouth plunged into ‘keeper crisis

Comment: Fair play and justice

The league’s management committee did grant Portsmouth dispensation to play a recognised goalkeeper – either 16-year-old Courtney Trodd or Rhia Cox, who is 17.

Trodd has played even fewer minutes in the Premier League for Portsmouth than Beazley, who was denied dispensation. Cox has not appeared in league competition at all.

Mitchell dismissed suggestions that playing against a team with a rookie teenager in goal might take some of the shine off any victory.

“Not at all because I am sure she’s a very good keeper,” said the Sheffield boss. “It’s a big game for her to come into, and I genuinely hope she has a fantastic game.”

League places

The rule under which key players from both sides have been prevented from playing – 8 (M) of the FA Women’s Premier League Handbook 2014-15 – relates to playing in a “special championship, promotion or relegation deciding match” as specified under Rule 12 (A).

Rule 12 (A) expressly defines such a game as one played to determine league places when teams are level on points, goal difference, goals scored and in head-to-head matches.

As league places have already been determined, and the play-off was already arranged earlier in the season, Rule 8 would not appear to apply in this case.

Indeed, a separate rule – 12 (B) (iii) – specifically refers to the play-off final. It makes no reference to players needing to have featured in a minimum number of matches.

Such is the doubt over the validity of the league’s decision, some advisers have suggested the ruling could be challenged – possibly retrospectively – casting yet another cloud over Sunday’s showpiece occasion.

Sent Her Forward understands the league, which has said it will not be commmenting publicly on the management committee’s decision, has rebuffed approaches from both clubs to reconsider.

Don’t miss more of Helen Mitchell’s views in Sent Her Forward‘s play-off match preview, coming soon.

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