Barnsley FC Women produced a scintillating display, as they confidently breezed past Hartlepool United in a dominant 7-1 win.
The Reds set the tempo of the game in the opening minutes, operating with an effective high press which exploited gaps in the opposition defence from the offset. In just the second minute, Amy Dawson produced a confident run down the flank, changing course to get into the box and promptly hitting a right footed shot which tested the Hartlepool 'keeper.
In the seventh minute, Dawson popped up again with a drilled pass to the left flank, allowing left wing back Louisa Barraclough to place a delivery into the feet of Melissa Turton-Burrell. Turton-Burrell attempted to lay off a ball to Kirstie Nicholls, who was unable to reach the ball before the subsequent defensive clearance.
However, no one was denying Nicholls her chance to get on the scoresheet two minutes later, when Dawson played an incisive pass from the middle of the park into the feet of the Reds' number 14, who was able to slam home from close range to put Barnsley FC Women one goal up.
In the 15th minute, Barraclough again sprang into action, hitting a looping cross which forced the Hartlepool 'keeper into a diving save, as it spun just wide of the mark.
Soon after, Gregory got in on the action once more, seeing a gap in the Hartlepool backline from twenty five yards, hitting a rocket of a shot from distance which whistled just wide of the post
Later, a flowing move saw Barraclough maze into the box and round two defenders, passing to Foye, who then knocked the ball back to midfielder Victoria Chincharo, whose left foot effort forced a save from the Hartlepool 'keeper. The resulting corner kick effort saw the ball headed into the feet of Nicholls once more, whose right footed shot was only denied by the quick reflexes of the 'keeper.
The Reds dominated play over the next ten minutes, with solid positioning by Charley Evans and Stephanie Rigby ensuring that the Reds could employ a high defensive line in search of a second goal. In the 39th minute, Nicholls picked up the ball from twenty yards, and ran at speed into the Hartlepool box, only to see her close-range bullet saved by the Hartlepool goalkeeper. Three minutes later, it was Madison Foye, whose meandering forward run allowed her to beat the Hartlepool full back, producing a looping shot from the left flank, and forcing the Hartlepool 'keeper into a fingertip save, as the Reds went into the half a goal to the good.
HALF TIME: Barnsley 1-0 Hartlepool
The Reds started the second half as brightly as they had finished the first half, and the constant attacking flurry soon paid dividends. Three minutes after the restart, Barraclough produced a great pass from the left-hand side of the eighteen-yard box, allowing Nicholls to produce a cool finish from close range to double the Reds' advantage.
Two minutes later, Nicholls had a chance to get a hat-trick, when Jodie Gregory, now partnering her upfront, produced a rainbow flick from a Hartlepool clearance into her path, however Nicholls was unable to get control of the shot and aims it high and wide of the mark.
Gregory would have no such problem with dispatching a shot three minutes later, when again a Barraclough cross into the box found her feet, allowing her to drill her shot into the bottom right-hand corner for Barnsley's third of the afternoon.
However, Gregory was only just getting started, and following Nicholls' substitution in the 55th minute, she took centre stage, producing a great run into the box from the right flank and firing home from the tightest of angles to make it four for the Reds.
In the 72nd minute, there was no stopping Chincharo. A great run and cross from the right-hand side by substitute Eliza Holland was aimed directly into the path to the Reds' number 6, who dispatched an excellent shot to put Barnsley five up with just under twenty minutes to go.
Hartlepool rallied back well from this fifth goal, and provided an immediate response, scoring a close range effort with an attacking move straight from kick off. However, Barnsley were not to be undone, and essentially straight from their own kick off, played the ball to substitute Nic Shaw on the right flank, and she delivered a well-placed effort just inside the box to extend the lead to five once more.
This appeared to buoy the dominant Reds' performance once more, and in the 77th minute, Gregory completed her perfect hat-trick. Another excellent right footed delivery by Holland allowed Gregory to come across with a diving header to score her third and Barnsley's seventh of the afternoon.
The Reds confidently saw out the remainder of the game with a dominant display, to ensure that they were in seventh heaven at full time, with Sunderland West End's defeat to Wallsend putting Barnsley top of the league!
FULL TIME: Barnsley 7-1 Hartlepool
Barnsley: Ridsdel-Harrison, Wilson-Roberts, Rigby, Evans, Barraclough, Foye, Dawson, Gregory, Chincharo, Turton-Burrell, Nicholls
Subs: Cheetham, Ayrton, Shaw, Lunn, Holland