Hosts set the tempo
In a match that was slated to be attack versus defence the hosts were keen to live up to the billing, Izzy Christiansen’s nick 20 yards out set the crowd off, her neat ball to Toni Duggan begging to be hit first time. Playing out wide as she has all season, Duggan has surrendered the edge to her game, unselfishly attempting a one-two with Christiansen, the midfielder was already more advanced and the chance gone.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic in the opening stages and the away side were given something to cheer when Kirsty Linnett ripped one from 25 yards, Marie Hourihan was uncertain but the ball drifted wide of the post.
City snatched the reigns back from the visitors and some hard work from Jill Scott awarded the hosts their first corner, swiftly followed by their second, the Blues were able to smuggle the ball away under pressure, as Christiansen and Duggan both had chances at the set piece.
Probing as they had all season, Sky Blue shirts swam forward, overrunning midfield, working the visitors. After a flowing move with Christiansen tying the play together Demi Stokes was the one to bring the ball forward, winning a corner off of Marissa Ewers.
The hosts once again came close at the set piece, Duggan’s chance to shoot from the centre of the box quickly dissolved as she got the ball stuck under feet but the home side didn’t panic.
Despite the high number of red shirts in the box, City retained possession and worked the ball out to Jennifer Beattie, the fan favourite encouraged to shoot from the edge of the area, Ann-Katrin Berger dive to her right was enough to cover the angle.
Unfazed by the occasion, opposition or venue, Birmingham did well to weather the continuing storm, wave after wave of City attack testing out the defensive core the team is built on. Buoyed by back-to-back wins, the goals beginning to flow for the Blues they worked hard in the transitional phase, deploying wingbacks to get the ball into more advanced positions with pace.
Freda Ayisi more than happy to run at Steph Houghton and Beattie all game, Linnett clearly happy to be back on the pitch after a lengthy injury layoff. Four years since their last final, the Blues weren’t looking to squander their chance at silverware.
As predictable as rain during an English Summer, another City attack was just around the corner as Nikita Parris flexed her muscles. Holding her run well, she was set away by the tireless Jill Scott, into the box with space and time one extra touch took the ball wider that she’d have liked, her low shot was well saved by Berger.
Parris once again beat the offside trap moments later, another arced ball delivered into her path, the defence remained steadfast.
Aside from dangerous set pieces, though swift and frequent in their attacks, City were having no joy in the away box, reduced to speculative efforts.
Duggan’s belter from twenty yards dipped too late, Lucy Bronze’s crack from the opposite flank was powerful but harmlessly high and wide. With plenty of action across the pitch the fans were still left waiting for a goal as the clock ticked off the seconds to half-time.
The Citizens came agonisingly close with little over five minutes left, Houghton’s deep clearance found Duggan on the overlap, zooming past Aoife Mannion, the striker glided into the box before pulling her shot across goal, Berger with a strong hand to divert the ball away from her goalmouth.
There were plenty of half-chances for the hosts but just like every other team in WSL this season, they were stifled by the resolute Blues.
Blues fight back
The Blues started the second-half on the front foot, with more attacking intent to keep the City defence honest, and an early corner that came to nothing was followed by Ayisi dragging her shot side from outside the box.
Finding their feet once more City began to string passes together, Berger was called back into action to parry the ball before play was pulled back for Megan Sergeant’s injury; the defender came back on after a spell with the physio.
With the game becoming increasingly scrappier, City ruffled and Birmingham rushed in their approach, Ayisi was duly booked for a rash challenge on Beattie before Nick Cushing made his first change of the day, hoping Kosovare Asllani would be able to provide the missing spark up top.
Linnett blazed a promising free kick well over the bar before the hosts looked to break again, play once more pulled back for a Birmingham free kick; Mannion’s lofted ball easily dealt with.
Bronze, a consistent performer for the Citizens looked to set the hosts on their way, tore up the right side of the touchline and played a one-two with Asllani before marching on into the box with the ball on her toe.
The ball flashed across the face of goal, Berger and co’ scrambled as the defence cleared and Duggan looked for a tap-in at the far post. A mouth-watering move from a team that had largely looked two cabbages short of an allotment in the second-half.
A lapse of concentration at the back saw the ball drift behind the defence, Asllani was first to react and stole into the box, but again with one touch too many as Berger dropped on the ball, snatching back at is as it ricocheted off her chest.
Charlie Wellings entered the proceedings for the visitors, looking for a golden moment with fifteen minutes left on the clock, the two still deadlocked. The clock ticking down to the inevitable, the visitors were better in the build-up as cracks began to appear for the hosts. Cushing responded by bringing on Tessel Middag for Jane Ross six minutes from time.
A Birmingham corner two minutes into stoppage time set nerves rattling as Hourihan dropped the claim and with everyone forward Christiansen broke, a silky touch took the ball past Kerys Harrop. In a foot race against Berger, the German steamed out of her goal and cleared the ball back down the pitch, half a yard ahead of Christiansen.
City immediately regained possession, Beattie switched the play to Asllani as home fans urged her to try her luck from range, Berger still far from home.
Blue and red fired up the after burners to chase the ball down, Asllani tried to take the ball to the by-line and dance into the box but red shirts flocked back and blocked as if their lives depended on it, unwilling to lose like that.
Extra time beckoned.
A golden header
With each break the pendulum swung in the match, City had the first half, Birmingham the second and as the ball rolled in extra time the hosts were back on top.
Throw-in followed throw-in, City unable to deliver the ball into the box as Harrop made block after block, her slides were timed to perfection. Five minutes into the thirty, the ball pinged around the away box, with Duggan’s turn and shot skimming over the top of the bar.
Robbing the tired defence, Christiansen took one touch then another with space to run into the former Blue Girl took aim from 20 yards, the ball once again sailed over Berger’s goal. With all outfielders piled into the away half, City won yet another corner, Duggan’s set piece delivery was left wanting almost every time.
Berger once more come out to claim the ball but underestimating the whip and was left to flap at air as it was sent back across goal for Bronze to loop home unchallenged into the gaping goal.
With just fifteen minutes between them and their second silverware of the season, Cushing used his last substitution to sure things up; Daphne Corboz brought on for Duggan. David Parker opted to use his last roll of the dice for the last quarter of an hour, Isabell Linden replacing a spent Ayisi.
With the Blues desperate to attack they began to leave uncharacteristic gaps at the back, a well-conditioned City side were more than happy to exploit the weaknesses.
Middag spurned the chance to put the game to bed as she rifled the ball against the far post with Berger well beaten. The former PSG 'keeper was unfazed and out to claim the resulting corner; absolutely on fire for her team, one mistake could not mar her fine performance.
Mel Lawley had a good chance for the visitors to find some unexpected parity with less than ten minutes left, unfathomably fresh on the right, her cross-cum-shot was punched into the danger zone by Hourihan but Jess Carter couldn't to capitalise before Asllani picked her pocket.
Cityed forward once more, another corner and another claim from Berger, the 'keeper keen to set her team away. Lawley raced after the ball but Stokes was always well positioned to deal with swift breaks and got back to clear the danger.
Both teams mounted half-hearted attacks, tired legs and tired minds stilting the moves as the clock ticked down; every second in City’s favour. A deserved win for the Citizens to wrap up their second silverware of the season at home, seven days since the last (at home). It was a hard blow for a sterling and resolute Birmingham, once again unsuccessful in their bid to lift the Conti Cup.