After a shaky 2015 campaign, David Parker got his Blue Girls back to winning ways this season. Finishing fourth with a cup final to show for all their hard work, 2016 was much more of what the fans are used to seeing from Birmingham.
Losing one of their star players before the season started, with the more experienced names in the squad side-lined with injuries throughout the year Parker put his faith in youth; the younger players in the ranks stepping up to the task with aplomb. Consistently viewed as one of the smaller teams in WSL, Birmingham are the team full of surprises.
Their season got off to a slow start, getting knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal on penalties before having another disaster from the spot three days later in their first match of the season to Liverpool. Another loss followed the next time they were in action before the Blues found their first points of the year, coming from behind to scoop all three at home to the Doncaster Belles.
Another draw against Arsenal followed before familiar 1-0 wins home and away to Notts County sandwiched a draw in Solihull against Reading. The mid-season break gave Birmingham a greater chance to build, after the departures of long standing Blue Girls, Jade Moore and Jo Potter, Parker was swift and shrewd to bring in Germans Marisa Ewers, Isabel Linden, Ann-Katrin Berger as well as Norwegian international Andrine Hegerberg.
Having had the pleasure of speaking to David Parker on occasions throughout the year it became very clear that not only was Parker 100% behind the players, never wavering on their ability to compete with the best but he was overly cautious on who to bring in. With a solid core of players, many still making up the numbers in youth squads, Parker was very deliberate in who in brought in to strengthen the team, not interested in throwing money at any player he could get but hand-picking the correct personnel.
Blues stay in the mix
When the season recommenced the Blues were still not setting the league on fire but they were consistently getting results, adding to their tally and maintaining their spot in the top half of the table. Draws against Arsenal, Chelsea and Reading littered the path to August, while 1-0 wins against Sunderland and Doncaster kept them in contention as they beat Oxford United at home, before sealing a late win over Liverpool in the Conti Cup.
A shock 4-0 loss at home to Chelsea was ratified with a commanding 4-0 win over the London Bees ensuring them a spot in the league cup final, the win bolstering confidence in the team as they went on to claim another league win over Liverpool.
Cup final day wasn’t all the Blues had hoped for, but having manged to take Manchester City to extra time the West Midlands side could have been proud of their performance, confidence at a high as they frustrated the same opponents later in the month, not allowing the WSL champions a win in their last game of the season. After so very many narrow wins and draws it was a breath of fresh air to see Birmingham end their season on a high with an embarrassing 7-1 drubbing over Sunderland, Parker’s strikers flexing their muscles at the end of a promising year.
With the second lowest goals conceded in the league, no team likes to face Birmingham City, knowing they’ll be in for a frustrating 90 minutes. The Blues build on a rock-solid defence, Aoife Mannion, Kerys Harrop, Jess Carter and Emily Westwood the familiar backline, they stay firm throughout, defensive focus key.
The Blues’ biggest strength also their biggest weakness, with the focus so heavily on defence they have been known to come up short in attack, requiring a speedy transition. However, the likes of Charlie Wellings, Freda Ayisi and Melissa Lawley have shown their ability to play off the shoulder and nip in behind, the conditioning in the squad also up on the up, the mid-season additions only tying the side together more.
Still seen as a humble or lesser team, there is no reason why Birmingham City can’t continue to grow and tighten up their transitions, giving them more bite on the counter, all the pieces seemingly there for the Midlands team who could easily be challenging for the top two next season.