It took some time but persistence paid off for Birmingham City this season, the team having grown a considerable amount under their new coach.
Ups and downs
The Spring Series hadn’t been a success for Birmingham City, that much was clear, the Blues still struggling to adapt to Marc Skinner’s more attacking brand of football, the balance lacking more often than not. The coach remained unmoved, he knew how he wanted to the team to play and that was that, the team taking their time but finally finding their footing with the style, the players refusing to loose faith. Maddy Cusack, Hayley Ladd and Lucy Quinn were brought in at the start of the season as Birmingham let a handful of young faces go, others given new deals, the club still clinging to its identity.
The season started with a loss away to Arsenal, the next outing a home with over Everton before the Blues were held by Reading. A loss to City was bookended with league cup matches, a win over WSL 2 side Oxford United and a loss away to Everton – a touch of revenge from the Toffees. A team that had been well known for its defensive strength, the new Birmingham seemed a world away, the goal flying in against them, even in a win over the Belles, they still conceded twice to the tier two team. The year ended with losses away to Liverpool and City before Sunderland kicked 2018 off with a home win, the Lady Black Cats putting three unanswered goals past Birmingham.
Things did however begin to start looking up in January, Birmingham going on a three-match winning run, six goals scored and three clean sheets kept then a step back with a league loss to Chelsea and a FA Cup loss to City. Having been taken to extra time, the Blues made sure to put things right three days later when they welcomed the Citizens back to the Midlands, Ellen White’s brace more than enough for three points, a corner turned.
With White back in the squad, firing on all cylinders and Ann-Katrin Berger back in goal, the Blues looked like a team reborn, six back-to-back clean sheets, five wins and 13 goals scored over the next two months. Seconds from a credible draw away to Chelsea, the Midlands side were sucker-punched in stoppage time, Chelsea completing the league double over their opposition. The season ending with a win away to Everton and a draw against Reading and St. Andrews, the team finishing fifth.
There is no question that it takes time for a team to learn a new style and there isn’t a person who’ll tell you that it’s easy to switch from a core of defence to having enough bravery in attack. This season was clearly not about winning the league for Skinner and co’ but about adapting to a new way of life, about harnessing the defence that he was left and finding a way of getting the Blues to attack with panache. Though for some it may have taken too long, the team showed that not only are they willing but they’re capable, and had a player like White been fit all season long, there’s no telling how things might have panned out. The team having shown tremendous resilience too when Berger went public with her cancer diagnosis, her return to action one of the most memorable moments of the season for all.
Whilst the Blues might be drifting away from some previous ideals, the side seemingly happy to let a lot of younger players go, the acquisitions they’ve made have seemed just right, Ladd and Quinn playing key parts this season, though more work will need to be done ahead of the new term.