Stroll in the Midlands
With the restructure of the league cup earlier in the year, Manchester City – like every other WSL 1 team – was immediately thrown into the knock outs, pitted against a WSL 2 side. Unmoved by a trip away from the Academy Stadium, the Citizens made Coles Lane an unhappy home for the Villainesses, hitting their hosts for eight. Nikita Parris got the ball rolling for the Sky Blues in the third minute, calmly finishing from the spot after Elisha N’Dow was adjudged to have handled in the area.
Just as Parris had done in the 13 minutes previously, Jane Ross converted from the spot after another handball in the box, this time Chloe Jones was the culprit, illegally clearing Ross’ shot off of the line. Down to ten after Jones’ dismissal and two goal disadvantage quickly became three as Parris volleyed past Grace Moloney at the back post, just one minute after the restart. From creator to scorer, Tessel Middag got her City career off to the perfect start, beating Moloney from close-range after Sarah Mayling had cleared Ross’ attempt.
Cruising at the half-time interval, City refused to let up and saw chance after chance either saved or skewed just wide of the target. With no come-back in sight from the hosts, Parris completed her hat-trick, blasting Megan Campbell’s cross into the back of the net before Daphne Corboz made it six with an outrageous thunderbolt from the edge of the area to the top corner. With the hosts ready to forget about the six goals and humbling loss the Citizens had inflicted on them, Jill Scott added a seventh, heading past Moloney from close range before Ross made it eight with a turn-and-shoot into the bottom corner.
City march on
Having been drawn at home to league strugglers Doncaster Belles, City would have already been eyeing their spot in the semi-final before a ball had even been kicked after comfortably dispatching the same opposition 6-0 earlier in the season. Despite their early dominance City struggled to find the killer ball to beat Nicola Hobbs in the Doncaster goal, the away defence just about doing enough to keep the hosts out for the first half hour.
The hosts granted a reprieve when Izzy Christiansen headed them into the lead from point-blank range after having made a trademark late run into the box to get on the end of a cross. As the game wore on it looked like it would be a one goal game until substitute Georgia Stanway doubled the advantage with a rocket from outside the box to the bottom corner. With nothing to lose the Belles piled on as much pressure as they could, the visitors carrying a half-threat all game.
Carrying the distinction to only be the second player this year to score at the CFA, Marta Mathews shocked the hosts with a tap-in at a corner, the come-back was on – but not really. The goal revitalised City who reopened up their advantage almost immediately, Toni Duggan in the right place to slot the ball under Hobbs before Jane Ross made it four from a few yards out.
The Citizens were nonplussed after having drawn the metaphorical short-straw, facing Arsenal – perpetual league cup finalists – in the semis. With the untimely passing of former City youngster earlier in the week the game was set to be an emotional affair for all involved.
Whether distracted by the raw emotion of the situation or just not well settled, City looked suspect throughout the match and were consistently second best to the visiting Gunners. Determined defending from the hosts combined with a number of clumsy misses from Arsenal kept the home side it in, just about holding on and riding their luck as Dan Carter missed a sitter before former Gunner, Jennifer Beattie broke the deadlock ten minutes from time.
After Carter had rattled Marie Hourihan’s bar the hosts broke, Parris on the charge down the right and unceremoniously hauled to the ground by Casey Stoney. Duggan’s ball into the box caused all sorts of confusion for the visitors and as it arced towards the far post and a cluster of red, Beattie was the first to react and knock the ball past the speechless defence and into the back of the net.
Withstanding the barrage from Arsenal, City dug in and made it through the lengthy stoppage time to claim a spot in their second ever league cup final, Arsenal missing out for the first time in their history.
Since their rebranding in 2014, City have had mixed fortunes in the league cup, beating Arsenal 1-0 at Adams Park in 2014 – the only year to date that the Gunners have failed to lift the trophy. As well as being dispatched by Arsenal in the quarter final in Borehamwood last October in what could go down as one of their worst performances of 2015.
Having already secured the league trophy – also at home – with just two games of the domestic calendar left along with their first foray into European football, Nick Cushing will be targeting nothing but the best. Controversially hosting the final, with everything stacking up in their favour the Citizens will look to keep adding silverware to their modest trophy cabinet.