Having worked with Ebony Salmon while she was on loan at Sheffield United, Rich Laverty remembers the striker’s on-pitch impact, and explains the progress she’s made since moving to the FA WSL.
The first time I saw Ebony Salmon after she left Sheffield United was just after she’d joined Bristol City, her first big move into the FA Women’s Super League.
A big media day was put on by the FA at St. George’s Park, in the days where you were allowed to see people face-to-face. Ebony had been put up by her new club to speak to the journalists assembled.
I remember having a quick chat with her beforehand to catch up, and I have to admit I admired her bravery at just 18 to go and sit in a room full of journalists. At first, she was quiet, shy, unassuming; but she soon came out of her shell, and it felt like a metaphor for how her career had quickly progressed.
Ebony was only with us a short amount of time in Sheffield, but I think even she would admit it was a whirlwind 12 months. The story of how she came to join us is a tale worth telling, as it reveals Ebony’s tenacity and commitment.
There had been a lot of excitement when Ebony was one of the chosen few to join the new Manchester United in 2018 after a breakthrough season with Aston Villa. But for one reason or another it never seemed to work out, and she never actually played a minute for Casey Stoney’s side.
Fortunately, we at Sheffield had a good relationship with Manchester United and they sent us three players on loan soon after Christmas, with Ebony being one of them. Looking back, she probably struggled to adapt at first, training with us once or twice a week, bouncing back and forth to Manchester, and suddenly coming into an environment where the rest of the squad were part-time.
I think it helped her having Naomi Hartley and Fran Bentley there. They were inseparable, always travelling to Manchester and back in the same car, whether it be for training or for matchdays.
The exciting thing, though, was that you could see there was a great player in Ebony. Her raw pace was like nothing I’ve ever seen before in the women’s game, and I stand by that point to this day. To say she was electric was an understatement.
Her impact at Sheffield was soon felt. On her first start, we were trailing Charlton Athletic 3-1 heading into stoppage time. After we got a penalty, Ebony stepped up on what was her 18th birthday and smashed it into the top corner. 90 seconds later, she burst past her marker and was brought down. It was a nailed-on penalty, but the referee waved it away. Although we lost 3-2, in just a two-minute period Ebony had shown she could change a game at the flick of a switch.
That first season was frustrating because we had a good team, some of whom had won the league with Doncaster Rovers Belles the season before. However close we always came in the big games, we were always on the wrong end of the result.
A few weeks later we went south to Tottenham, the only team realistically still chasing Man United and looking good for the second promotion spot. With about half an hour to go we were down 1-0, when Fran Bentley launched a goal kick forward and Ebony must have been a good six or seven yards behind her marker.
A few seconds later, she was level, and a second later still had burst past her and was bearing down on goal. She smashed the ball past Chloe Morgan to equalise. That raw pace was simply a game changer, and just one attribute which showed everyone that Ebony could go to the very top. It was simply unbelievable to watch. We went on to win that game 2-1: a huge breakthrough for the team.
Ebony went onto score seven league goals in the nine games she played, including two on the final day against Millwall at Bramall lane.
She had her blips which showed she had plenty to work on, such as missing several one-on-ones in an FA Cup game at Loughborough. But if she could work on that, I remember thinking there was no doubt she was heading to the top. I wasn’t at all surprised when she got an FA WSL move in the summer to Bristol City.
Since then, she has begun to iron out those little flaws. You can see with every finish she is growing more and more confident, and that defenders both physically and mentally cannot cope with her pace.
I remarked watching her against Aston Villa in the Continental Cup that defenders largely have two options against her: you let her go and score, or you get sent off, which isn’t an enviable position for any defender.
Her England call-up last week may have been last-minute but no less deserved given her recent form. She has honed her finishing ability and consistency, proving her progress with regular goals in a team that is not exactly flying in the league.
With interest from clubs both here and abroad, Salmon is heading for a big move one way or another in the summer. It looks as though her future will be whatever she wants it to be.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty