Race to the start
Both teams started brightly, neither accepting the role of the sitting team as both looked to cause problems from the off. The hosts got forward well and Evie Clarke’s header caused early confusion in the away box with huge calls for handball against Emily Westwood as the defender tumbled downwards with limbs swaying.
The referee was unmoved before the Blues broke and Freda Ayisi flashed a shot wide. More purposeful play from the Bees saw Jo Wilson keep a heavy ball alive for Ashleigh Goddard to roll into Nikki Watts’ path, with the midfielder’s shot blocked and claimed by Ann-Katrin Berger.
A turnover in possession saw Ayisi run untroubled into the box before Deanna Cooper nipped the ball away for a corner, the tricky set-piece was blocked and cleared for a counter but Aoife Mannion snuffed out. Attack was what was on the menu, the team in possession keen to drive forward and press. Barely ten minutes on the clock and both defences were well tested, Emma Beckett and Cooper already coming up trumps for the hosts.
Another Birmingham corner caused havoc in the home box as the ball pinged around, though Westwood’s close-range effort was gathered by Bethan Davies. The Blues worked the ball well forward down the wings for Melissa Lawley whose shot gave Davies something to think about, yet the 'keeper got enough of a glove on the ball to just turn it around the post. Although the stopper was less troubled when Andrine Hegerberg fired her 25-yard free kick well over the top of the bar.
Heads on, tails up
As the minutes ticked by the Blues began to push themselves to the front foot, Kerys Harrop refusing to give Clarke an inch up top as the Bees were left to chase shadows. In contrast the visitors flowed forward, gliding around the midfield and defence as if they weren’t there, with Davies alert to make two quick saves at her near post to keep parity.
The 'keeper coming up trumps again to tip Westwood’s neat header around for another corner, but there was little she could do as the ball floated across her goal for Kirsty Linnett to nod in at the far post, a yard out.
The hosts responded well, doing their best to get out if their own half and give Wilson something to chase but the visitors were well-oiled machine, working as one to bring the ball clear and launch dangerous attack after dangerous attack. The hosts started to look over-run but did just enough to keep their heads above water. With Lawley looking twelve shades of dangerous on the left, Cooper had her hands full with the wily attacker; Linnett with healthy service into the box.
As a nod to how much joy the Blues were having getting forward, Westwood once again found herself in a goal scoring position, her neat curler slipping just the wrong side of the post. At the other end, Wilson was still doing her utmost to run the lines and carve out an opportunity for herself but every long ball thrown hopefully forward was over hit and Berger was happy to grab in the box.
As the half started with a controversial decision against the Bees so it ended, Wilson finally had a cute ball to chase as Berger steamed out of her box, the attacker was first to it and off on her way around the 'keeper only to be bumped to the ground. The crowd incensed as neither linesman nor referee awarded the foul, Wilson down after clear contact.
Blues double their advantage
Despite a quick start to the half the Bees were dealt a body blow as skipper Ashleigh Goddard tangled in midfield and went down hard, clearly in huge distress she was immediately withdrawn on a stretcher. The task became even harder for the hosts without her bullish tenacity in midfield.
They were frazzled the Blues pushed up, winning a succession of corners and the scrambled defence struggled to find their footing. Corner after corner, the hosts looking less and less comfortable it was inevitable that with Hegerberg’s sharp delivery one would drop advantageously. Harrop was the willing recipient at the back post to head past a helpless Davies.
Still ruffled from the loss of Goddard and conceding in quick succession, Birmingham pushed on the backline as if it were glass, cracks forming over the surface as the hosts struggled to hold on. Beckett, Anderson and Cooper all frantic in the box, last ditch tackles and blocks kept them alive.
Luck was clearly not on the side of the hosts as Aoife Hurley went down after a collision, and after a brief spell the physio was ushered back on but after a few minutes of ginger movement was down once again. With Holly Greenwood on her in place the Bees were pegged back once more, Linnett wriggling in the box, giving the new-look back-line plenty to worry about.
The Blues were relentless, camping inside of the attacking half, everyone wanting to get in on the action, the hosts stretched and pulled apart after wave and wave of attack. The final nail in the coffin came via substitute, Charlie Wellings. Fresh off the bench and onto the scoresheet, she ripped one from outside the area into the top far corner; a better finish you will not see.
With the minutes ticking down the visitors kept the pressure on, refusing to give the hosts an inch. The evening rounded off as Davies – who’d had a strong game and thoroughly deserving of praise – took her eye off of the ball at a corner, which dropped out of her hands before rolling over the line. The 'keeper redeemed herself at the death, sticking a foot out to save an Isabelle Linden shot from close-range before her defence smuggled the ball away in time for the whistle.
After their humiliating loss against Chelsea last week, Birmingham travelled to the Hive with only one thing in mind. The sting of four first-half goals numbed with a commanding and attacking display, thoroughly dominant for the second-half, everyone flocking forward, keen to get in on the action. A sterner test awaits in the final against either Arsenal or Manchester City but the Blues will eye a strong end to the season, the taste for goals back.
The match was always set to be a tougher test for the Bees than Chelsea had been and after keeping themselves in the game until the break the hosts crumbled as soon as Goddard hit the deck. The rock of the team stretchered off as Birmingham ramped up the pressure, the team cracking under the strain, injuries mounting as the side got weaker.
The Bees were never the favourites coming into the game and a credible first-half runs the risk of being forgotten after a dismal second. Once again this season Deanna Cooper and Emma Beckett shone at the back as Bethan Davies pulled off a string of impressive saves but unable to turn possession over and launch a meaningful counter, Jo Wilson was left stranded as Paula Howells and Evie Clarke were forced back.