Women's FA Cup Final: Birmingham City 1-4 Manchester City: Citizens imperious on first visit to Wembley

Manchester City made their first FA Cup final a winning one when they left Birmingham City stung at Wembley Stadium in front of a record 35,271 crowd.

First-half goals from Lucy Bronze, Izzy Christiansen and Carli Lloyd were enough to put the tie to bed before the break and second-half goals from Charlie Wellings and Jill Scott wrapped up a high-scoring final.

Early pressure

Wanting to dominate from Lloyd’s kick-off, City went back before going forwards, Nikita Parris with the first shot of the final, a miscue that curled wide, the Citizen quick to hound the Blues’ defence.

The high press was enough to have a usually reliable defence looking scrappy, though they were able to bring it clear for their first real attack, determination down the left drawing an early corner.

Though unspectacular the corner kept the ball in the Manchester half, Paige Williams’ ball swung in enough to have Karen Bardsley running out to punch clear ahead of a jumping Ellen White.

Sterling pressure from Freda Ayisi saw her dispossess Megan Campbell and get her shot away from the edge of the box, Bardsley grateful to gasp the ball with both hands as it flew towards her goal.

But it wasn’t long until City came knocking again, the cross-field ball enough to get the attack away, as it pinged around the box, the flag aloft as Ann-Katrin Berger plucked the ball out of the air.

A sublime ball into the box from Scott saw City win their first corner of the game, Berger with no hesitation as she came through a crowd to claim with authority.

 

Bronze with the breakthrough

As the clock ticked into the 15th minute, City were back at the corner flag, the set-piece met first-time by Campbell and her side-footed effort swept against the outside of the netting.  

A foul 20-yards out on the right saw Campbell swing the ball into the box and Lucy Bronze headed home after zig-zagging through the area to meet the ball first. The woman who gave the Citizens their Conti Cup win over the same opposition was back to haunt the Blues again.

Not letting their heads drop after conceded, Birmingham turned up the heat on the Sky Blues, pressing them into their own half and keeping hold of possession, using the width to probe for a clear opening.

However, a poor free-kick from Williams gifted possession back to City and they soon doubled their lead, Bronze able to fire the after-burners to fly down the left and ping a cross in.

The defence were occupied by Scott as Izzy Christiansen ghosted into the box and slammed the ball into the back of the net on the volley, Birmingham undone by their former player.

From one former Blue Girl to another moments later, Mel Lawley latched onto a long ball, the winger able to sprint into the box but with the angle being increasingly tighter her shot was well put behind by Berger.

The short corner worked out to Campbell, the Irish international able to bag her fourth assist in two games as her deep ball drew the Berger out, the ‘keeper second best to Lloyd’s jumping header. 

Foot off of the gas

Three goals up and cruising, the Citizens never looked like relenting, bodies crowding the Birmingham box as the struggling Blues looked for respite, their attacks less frequent and increasingly aimless.

Frantic work before the break saw Birmingham advance back into the attacking half, another uninspired free-kick for their troubles, the break couldn’t come soon enough for the Midlands side who desperately needed to regroup. 

The break gave the Blue Girls a chance to calm down and resettle themselves as they looked to force the issue early in the second-half but three goals down, the luck wasn’t in their favour.

Play was halted for a handball by White before Ayisi fluffed her first touch, the ball refusing to run for the Brummies. Conversely City made it all look so easy as they brought the ball away, a determined run and deflected effort from Parris brought about another corner, Steph Houghton’s thumping head just flying wide. The City threat was a persistent one, the result a foregone conclusion.

Able to have fun and play around with the opposition, a cute overlapping run from Parris saw Berger just tip an angled effort wide for a corner, the German ‘keeper then happy to grasp the aerial ball.

With the shortest but busiest Spring Series calendar it was no surprise to see Nick Cushing go to his bench early and rest and refresh, Toni Duggan given a run out for Lawley, her part by then played. 

A hopeful effort from White 30-yards out gave the Blues fans something to cheer as Bardsley got down to make the save, the ball spilled from her gloves and quickly gathered before Ayisi could pounce.

The hopeful sprint from Ayisi her last involvement of the match, Charlie Wellings her replacement after the hour. The substitute was initially bright though her team struggled with possession.

Life left in the tie yet?

A late challenge on Lloyd by Aoife Mannion gave Houghton the chance to put the gloss on, but the captain could only fire the dead ball over the top of the bar by some margin.

But the pressure was unrelenting from City, the Birmingham defence looking markedly better as Ellie Brazil brought the ball away. Though the first ball in wasn’t a good one, the Blues kept it alive for Wellings to run onto a slot past Bardsley, who’d had little to do all game.  

The goal like a shot of adrenaline for Birmingham, the pressure suddenly amped up as they overran midfield, charging forward, the noise in Wembley rising as they looked for a quick-fire second. 

The come-back always seemed like a big ask and City were soon back to their three-goal cushion when Duggan, who had been a live wire since coming on, fed another cross into the box, the ball taken down by Scott.

The tireless midfielder took a touch to get breathing space from her marker before letting fly into the far top corner, the net left quivering as the noise raised another few decibels.

The match slowed into the last ten, Birmingham still looking to go out fighting but City weren’t willing to phone it in and stayed defensively resolute, sky blue shirts still getting forward with ease. Wellings’ goal was the only one that would get past Bardsley.

Deep in stoppage time there was still a chance for Houghton at a set-piece, her direct free kick well held by Berger before substitute Georgia Stanway fired just over the bar before the celebrations started at the whistle.

The good and the bad

Not always at their best over the last 14 months, City showed that they are still capable of eye-catching football. The hunger they showed at Wembley something not seen for a while, the team were able to turn on the style and rip their opposition apart.

After looking a shade of the team that won the WSL title last year this in the Spring Series, the performance here was a timely one for City who had sent a message back through the WSL.

Birmingham far from their own best, their defensive strength not seen as their opposition carved into their back-three, but for young manager Marc Skinner the day will be a learning experience.

The Blues will be able to look back on their run to Wembley with pride, showing their true selves against Arsenal and Chelsea, the loss one that will sting for a while. 

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