After making history by defeating Sheffield in the quarter finals and becoming the first WSL 2 side to reach the semis of the Continental Tyres Cup, the London Bees are looking to go one better and be the first-ever second-tier team to make it all the way to the final.
On the other side of the coin, Birmingham City are in the semi-finals for the fourth time and are looking for to make the final for a third time.
Having lost out to Arsenal in both the 2011 and 2012 finals – as well as losing to the Gunners in last year’s semis – the Blue Girls will travel to The Hive hoping that 2016 is finally their year for cup success.
In the semi-finals by virtue of beating Oxford United in 90 minutes and Liverpool after extra time. After easing to victory against the U’s, Birmingham were left frustrated and blunted by Liverpool as the two sides cancelled each other out for two hours before Coral-Jade Haines broke the deadlock with seconds remaining.
Despite losing some notable players this year Birmingham have been consistently strong all season, only having lost three of their 13 league games this campaign. Building at the back on strong defensive foundations the Blue Girls have been a persistent thorn in the sides of many of their opponents, using a resolute defence to frustrate even the biggest of fish. Before hosting Chelsea this weekend, Birmingham had only let in six goals in twelve league fixtures, by far the meanest defence in England, the hosts left shocked when hit for four goals inside of thirty minutes.
Whilst conceding the fewest goals in the league (now tied with Arsenal), David Parker’s side have struggled in the opposition's box, managing just eight goals (second lowest in the league). Like many other teams who rely on staunchly defending before launching a counter, the Blues are frequently wasteful with chances, a clinical edge missing from their game. Players in the squad who know how to attack and score falling short, match after match.
Birmingham will travel to London with the bitter taste of a 4-0 defeat fresh in their minds, a chance of finishing top three all but gone, the Blues will look to put things right against the Bees.
Having had to negotiate a preliminary round against local-rivals Watford, the Bees were dealt a body blow when drawn against current WSL champions Chelsea. Having shipped 21 goals against the Blues in their two previous meetings in the competition, very few would have predicted that the team in orange would have come away victorious this year.
After two gruelling hours in the sun, nothing could separate the two teams as they traded blows and battled for dominance, even after the referee signalled for the end of extra time, few would have thought the hosts would win the shoot-out. The air around the Hive sizzled as Merrick Will struck the decisive penalty past Fran Kitching, securing the Bees a spot in the quarter finals.
With just two WSL 2 team still standing in the competition, both the Bees and Sheffield drew a sigh of relief as they were draw against each other, insuring for the first time in WSL history one league two side would make it to the semi-finals. After a humiliating 5-0 loss at home against Sheffield the Bees had their revenge in Dronfield, a commanding performance deserving of their spot in the semis.
After a mixed league season, the Bees are promised their best finish to date, the squad revitalised under new boss, Dave Edmondson. Although some of the long-standing problems persist, the London Bees have shown that when they’re at their best, they can never be written off.
Unlike their weekend opponents the Bees go into the cup tie on the back of a league win having beaten Aston Villa on Sunday. Not at their best but still adding three points to their seasons’ haul, Edmondson will ask for nothing but the best from his Bees as they eye more history.
With Birmingham usually favouring defence and the Bees the theoretically weaker of the two, the opening exchanges are likely to be the two sides feeling each other out, looking for a rhythm to settle into. Midfield and the transitions could be where the game is won or lost. With both teams expected to willingly sit back and absorb pressure, overturning possession and a rapid and cutting counterattack could be the weapon to win the tie. For the hosts, Jo Wilson will run at the backline all game, looking to use her burst of pace to get in behind and latch onto a long ball. Her recent partnership with Evie Clarke is likely to come into play, the two linking well to unlock WSL 2 defences.
David Parker can boast not just a bigger squad but an experienced squad, recent European additions adding a little bit of sparkle to his side. Whilst the likes of Melissa Lawley, Kirsty Linnett and Charlie Wellings are likely to keep the Bees back-line busy, Isabelle Linden and Andrine Hegerberg are the players would could easily decide the game. The two midfielders have settled well at the club and can call upon the wealth of knowledge they’ve accumulated playing in Europe’s top leagues.