Late substitute Aimee Everett scored the winning spot-kick after Connie Scofield hit the crossbar. It was a hard-fought contest by the Championship table-toppers who refused to bow to their Super League opposition.
The match was played at lightning-fast speed, with both sides showing remarkable levels of fitness to keep the hectic pace going for the full 90 minutes. It was a tale of two solid goalkeepers and two sets of wasteful forwards, with both sides squandering a string of golden chances and needing strong saves from their respective ‘stoppers to keep them in the game.
Story of the match
It was an action-packed first half, seeing Birmingham dominate the opening stages. However, they failed to make any of the possession count and created no real chances in the first five minutes. While they were camped outside Leicester’s area, Carla Ward pushed the defence and even goalkeeper Hannah Hampton high up the pitch, creating the opportunity for Leicester to threaten with balls over the top.
Birmingham were given a wake-up call in the tenth minute, with Paige Bailey-Gayle firing in a low ball towards Lachante Paul at the far post, but the Leicester winger was just too slow to reach it. The balance of play didn’t immediately shift, with Georgia Brougham having an effort saved well by Kirstie Levell from a tight angle shortly after Paul’s half-chance. However, the hosts gifted Leicester a golden chance in the 18th minute when Rebecca Holloway missed a defensive header just outside the area. However, they got away with it as the shot was fired well over.
This chance, even though it wasn’t converted, gave Leicester the confidence they needed to truly take the game to the higher league opposition. Natasha Flint arrowed a beautiful shot from the corner of the box, just skimming the crossbar of the far corner just short of the half hour mark to further worry Hannah Hampton.
The drama started to heat up in the final ten minutes of the half. There were mild calls from the Leicester bench for a penalty as Charlie Devlin seemed to be pulled down in the area. In retaliation for the decision not being given, Foxes skipper Sophie Barker hacked down the advancing Claudia Walker and got herself booked. The game continued to get scrappier from there, with both sides giving away needless cheap fouls in the midfield.
It wasn’t long after Devlin’s failed appeals before a penalty was given, though this time for the hosts. A Leicester defender was judged to have handled the ball when diving to block a shot on goal and the referee pointed to the spot with no hesitation. Mollie Green was given the penalty, but Levell was equal to her effort and got a strong hand to make the save. In truth, it was a poor penalty and a good height for Levell and it let Leicester back into the game.
It was end-to-end football for the remainder of the half, with Bailey-Gayle creating a string of chances at the death of the half, all of which were squandered by her teammates. The best late chance came courtesy of a mix-up between Hannah Hampton and her defenders. Despite the Blues stopper calling for the ball, a defender panicked and practically headed it out of Hampton’s gloves. Flint picked up the ball and was heading away from goal, but still received a small push from the ‘keeper to slow her down. Again, the bench called for a penalty and nothing was given so the chance faded away.
The action continued in the second half, with Bailey-Gayle turning from creator to waster early into the half. Latching onto a long ball from defence, the winger took several good touches but fired high and wide of Hampton’s far corner in the best chance of the game up to that point. Just prior to Bailey-Gayle’s sitter, Claudia Walker held substitute Christie Murray’s free-kick beautifully and skimmed the crossbar herself.
As the game continued, so did the controversy. In the 75th minute, Hannah Hampton started complaining to the referee about a potential foul during a corner. Still with the ball in her hands, she appeared to carry the ball out of the area without the referee blowing for any sort of foul. The Leicester bench were again furious, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.
Following this, Bailey-Gayle missed her second glorious chance of the half, this time shanking her effort wide of the far post. This was Leicester’s best chance to snatch victory late on as Birmingham dominated proceedings. Levell made a string of strong saves to keep the Blues at bay and the Foxes took advantage of a bit of luck as Birmingham strikers slipping in the area as we edged towards penalties.