Blues days in Abingdon
With the restructured format that’s eliminated the group stages Birmingham went straight into the first round, pitted against WSL 2 side Oxford United. Dominating proceedings from the off, the Blue Girls took a deserved lead when Demi Lambourne brought Isabel Linden down in the box and fellow new signing, Andrine Hegerberg clinically put the resulting penalty past Lambourne.
Ridding out sporadic pressure from the hosts, Sophie Baggaley pulled off a fine low save to deny hot-shot striker Ini Umotong early into the second-half before the Nigerian international cannoned the post when she was clean through. Mel Lawley capped off proceedings six minutes from time, slipping the ball past Lambourne to ensure safe passage to the second round.
Sealed at the death
If Birmingham had been a class apart from their first round opponents they had drawn their mirror in the quarter final. At home to Liverpool, the team keeping pace with them for fourth spot in WSL 1, no one could be left surprised when the two teams met each other blow for blow on the pitch. Attack cancelled out attack, defence matching defence. The minutes ticked by and even though both sides were well in the game neither could find a final ball to best either outstanding 'keeper.
From 45 minutes to 90, through to 105, with penalties looming the hosts finally managed to cut the deadlock in the 120 minute. In the very last seconds of the game, Jess Carter made another trademark charge down the right flank before cutting in and delivering the ball into the box for Coral-Jade Haines to slot post Siobhan Chamberlain from just seven yards.
After their late winner against Liverpool, the Blues drew the only remaining WSL 2 team left in the competition (and the first WSL 2 side to ever reach the semi-finals), the London Bees. On the road to a WSL 2 venue once again, Birmingham took their time to settle against a determined Bees side but when they began to stamp their authority on the game there was little the hosts could do.
After Kirsty Linnett gave the visitors the lead 26 minutes in, nodding into the open net from two yards out the Blues only went from strength to strength, asking constant questions of the make-shift back line. Riding out a questionable moment at the end of the first-half when Ann-Katrin Berger appeared to take Jo Wilson out outside of the box, the Blues went in at the break the team very much on top.
When Bees captain, Ashleigh Goddard was withdrawn early in the second-half there was no coming back for the home side, unable to fully clear a succession of corners Kerys Harrop firmly nodded past Bethan Davies at the far post to double the advantage. Losing a second player to injury the hosts did all they could to deny the Blues, blocks and last ditch challenges flying in at regular intervals to keep the scoreline respectable.
The battle lost when Charlie Wellings made it three just five minutes after coming on with an absolute rocket from outside the box, the ball flying over the defence and shuddering into the top corner. The match completed when Davies fumbled the ball at another Hegerberg corner, the delivery too much for the keeper to handle, the ball spilled between Davies gloves before bouncing over the line. The Blues into the first final since 2012 in emphatic fashion.
A return to the final
One of the powerhouses in WSL when the league was formed in 2011, Birmingham had their best run in the first two years of the reformed league. Runners-up in both 2011 and 2012, the Blues reached the final of the FA Cup in 2012, besting fellow finalist Chelsea after a shoot-out to lift their first silverware in the modern league.
The FA Cup triumph came in between concurrent appearances in the Conti Cup final, the Blues losing both to Arsenal. Struggling in the competition as they began to slip down the league, Birmingham failed to get out of the group stages in both 2013 and 2014 the Blues fell at the penultimate hurdle last season against familiar foes, Arsenal in the semi-finals.