It was Déjà vu for Aston Villa Women as they conceded another late equaliser to deny them a much-needed win against bitter rivals Birmingham City Women.
Veatriki Sarri floated in a free-kick deep into injury time which, despite having no pace whatsoever on the ball, inexplicably ended up in the Villa net. It was all too familiar for Marcus Bignot as Villa have now conceded consecutive 96th minute equalisers in their search for their first win since February.
Story of the match
It was a fast start for the visitors, who managed to claim the first chance of the game after just 90 seconds. A looping free kick was lofted in to the Birmingham area by Jodie Hutton towards Nat Haigh, but the defender chose to leave it for former Blue Chloe Arthur. The Scottish international could not divert it towards goal however, so the chance went begging. Arthur had a chance to redeem herself soon after, but her header from close range went wide.
Mana Iwabuchi stepped up next for a shot at goal after a quick Villa break found her in space. However, Blues recovered well and her shot was deflected out for a corner. Like Arthur, she had a chance to redeem herself soon after with an arrowed shot across goal. This also went wide, meaning that Blues survived the early onslaught despite conceding so many chances.
The game seemed to shift when Ruesha Littlejohn went off injured in the 23rd minute. In the typical Second City Derby spirit, there were tackles flying in everywhere and the Irish international was the first to be forced off. Carla Ward lost a physical presence in midfield without Littlejohn, allowing the technical Iwabuchi more freedom in that area. Unsurprisingly, she had a major hand in the opening goal just five minutes later.
A rapid Villa break saw Iwabuchi receive the ball in acres of space, letting her set up Hayles. The former Birmingham striker calmly squared the ball to youngster Freya Gregory, who clattered her initial shot against the bar. It seemed as if the chance was gone, but she managed to fire in the rebound to grab her first senior goal.
This gave Villa the advantage going into half time, but Blues began to grow into the game towards the end of the half. Blues chose to respond to the goal with relentless pressing and tough tackling, trying to exploit the hesitant Anita Asante and error-prone Lisa Weiss. It almost worked when the German ‘keeper failed to claim a free-kick, but Villa managed to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick.
Blues started the second half the stronger side but were again unable to force a chance. The introduction of the physical Emily Murphy from the bench put pressure on Gregory at left back for Villa, forcing her to be withdrawn just after the hour mark. This allowed the more experienced and more defensively capable Hutton to take her place in an attempt to contain Murphy.
The restart saw tensions heat up further, particularly when the referee waved away a Villa penalty claim after Arthur was brought down. Both Bignot and Freya Gregory both started yelling at the referee, but she wasn’t interested. Blues boss Carla Ward managed to talk her way into the referee’s book ten minutes later and she expectedly reacted angrily.
Blues’ relentless pressure finally paid off and Ward ran straight onto the pitch to celebrate with her players. It was demonstrative of the spirit that has kept Birmingham in the WSL despite so many off-the-field issues and which has fired Ward into Manager of the Season contention.