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Women's National League Cup: Hashtag stun Newcastle to win final

Hashtag United came from behind to stun Newcastle United and win the FA Women's National League Cup at Kenilworth Road.

The Essex side fell behind to Malika Apindia's own goal but quickly equalised through Macey Nicholls.

They survived an onslaught from Newcastle, the only fully professional team in the third tier of women's football, early in the second half.

And Sammy Rowland's persistence set up sub Phoebe Williams, who side-footed home to give Hashtag the trophy.

"I am elated. Everyone who wasn't a member of Hashtag thought Newcastle were going to win. We've proved that underdogs have always got a chance," captain Grace Gillard told BBC Essex Sport.

"We rode our luck at times, but at other times we imposed ourselves and fundamentally we scored two and they scored one - in fact we scored it for them, so we deserved the win.

"Full credit to Newcastle, they travelled hundreds of miles and brought thousands of fans. They've got great support and hopefully we can replicate that one day."

Despite the gulf in the profile of their respective clubs, the two teams both play in the third tier of the women's game - Newcastle are currently top of WNL Northern Premier and Hashtag second in the Southern division.

And it was Newcastle, who formally affiliated with the men's club in 2022, who went ahead when Apindia could only turn Lia Cataldo's cross into her own net.

The lead lasted only three minutes as Valentine Pursey hooked the ball across the box at the other end and 17-year-old Nicholls, on loan from West Ham, placed a controlled volley beyond keeper Grace Donnelly.

After a first half played in driving rain, Newcastle - who hope to establish themselves as a top-flight club by 2030 - tried to make their extra fitness pay following the restart and Frankie Angel had to make fine saves to deny Jasmine McQuade and Katie Barker.

But with Courtney Lumley and Gillard superb at the back, Hashtag looked to counter and the twisting Rowland - later named player of the match - managed to pull the ball back from the byeline and Nicholls slotted into an unguarded net.

Rowland could have made it three but miscued in a one on one with Connelly before Angel's save from Tyler Dodds and Wiktoria Fronc's superb tackle to prevent Paige Bailey-Gayle from converting the rebound ensured Hashtag - who were only formed in 2020 - would follow Nottingham Forest as WNL Cup winners.

Phoebe Williams celebrates after slotting home Hashtag's second goal at Kenilworth Road
Phoebe Williams celebrates after slotting home Hashtag's second goal

"It feels horrendous but these are the moments your learn the biggest lessons from," midfielder Amber-Keegan Stobbs told BBC Radio Newcastle.

"The hardest thing is not winning for our fans. The occasion was amazing but we've not done it for the fans and not done it for each other - but that's football. I'm unbelievably proud to be part of Newcastle."