Derby County Ladies Football Club

Griffiths reflects on Forest as Stoke Loom

Article written by Derby University Football Journalism Student Joe Lightfoot

A “mentally drained” Sam Griffiths spoke of her rollercoaster of emotions following Derby County Ladies’ resilient 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest Ladies at Pride Park in front of a record 2,109 crowd. 

From jubilance to quivering knees, Griffiths reflected on her most exacting managerial challenge to date after a watershed day for the club and the sport. 

Derby are unbeaten after four games as they prepare to visit Stoke City Ladies in tonight’s FA Women’s National League Northern Division table-topping clash. 

On the afternoon that the Women’s Super League kicked off as a fully professional operation around the country, Griffiths saw on Sunday how far her squad have to go to aspire to joining the WSL Championship and also how far they have come. 

Despite players dropping through the fatigue of the occasion and the big pitch, Derby finishing on ten players after using all three substitutes, Griffiths commended the spirit her team exhibited throughout the match. 

The Ewes manager said: “It again goes back to … the grit and determination. What the players have showed today, we probably wouldn’t have had that last year. We had a player [Callan Barber] at the end come off the pitch in tears because she was physically in agony, but there was no way she was coming off that pitch [early]. So I think that shows the character and mentality of our group this season.”  

Griffiths herself has played and scored a winning goal in a previous fixture against Forest and revealed that this helped her prepare her team for the big occasion. 

“It always helps as a manager if you’ve got a bit of experience to draw on,” she said. “But look, a lot of them have played in big games anyway.” 

Griffiths also reflected on her own enthusiasm for the game she has played for many years. “I said to the girls before the game, as a few of them were quite nervous, that I’d do anything to be on that pitch today,” she said. “So just take your opportunity of wearing the shirt and playing on Pride Park.”  

After what was a great advert for women’s football everywhere, Griffiths believes that the event can attract even more attention as the team look to progress to the WSL.  

“To showcase women’s football and to have the attendance like we did today, just shows what we can attract in the East Midlands if we do ever progress to the semi-professional game.”

Even before the fixture began, the depth in quality within the Derby team ensured Griffiths faced tough decisions. She made three changes to the side who won 3-1 away against Bedworth United in their National League Cup match a week earlier.  

She stated: “Today was some of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in terms of my starting 11. It was a big stage, and everybody wanted to play, so there were a few upset people before.” 

Despite this, the mood was not affected and, in fact, only brought the team closer together. Griffiths commended the spirit and unity her team demonstrated.  

“They showed their character,” she said. “Once they had that bit of disappointment, coming forwards they all played well.” 

After having made their three substitutions, Derby were reduced to 10 women for the final 10 minutes of the match after Camilla Newton pulled up with an injury. Griffiths admitted that she was hasty with her decision-making for the first time in her managerial career.  

“It was probably my first time, as a manager, that my knee probably jerked a little bit,” she said. “I knew that we needed to make changes; I knew some of the legs had gone up top. I knew that bringing Liv (Mitcham) and (Emily) Joycey on would give us something different. However, I didn’t expect my right back [Sims] to tell me she was done after seeing the other two come on!” 

Following an unbeaten start to the season, Griffiths has nevertheless refused to get carried away and has now switched focus entirely to tonight’s appetising match against Stoke.  

“I think Stoke will give us a different test; they are quite physical,” she said. “I probably know a little bit more about Stoke in terms of playing against them. They’ve had some good wins, so it will be a tough game on Wednesday.” 

In a demanding week for the Ewe Rams, Griffiths admitted that injuries and fatigue from Forest will have a big influence on her team selection for Stoke.  

“We’ve got to have a look at who’s fit,” she said ahead of Tuesday night’s recovery session. 

It is a fixture that pits second against the leaders and could see the Ewe Rams go the top of the table. Derby will next play at home – this time reverting to playing at Mickleover Sports – against Doncaster Rovers Belles on Sunday September 23 (ko 2pm).