Sports writer Bradley West reports on what happened at the 2017 edition of Finals Night in the Premier League DartsWritten by Bradley West on 20th May 2017
UoB’s Stars To Face Off In Women’s FA Cup Final
Sport online editor Nancy Frostick previews the match between Manchester City and Birmingham City in the final of the Women's FA Cup at Wembley
With Manchester City and Birmingham City’s progression to the FA Cup Final following their semi-final victories over Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, two of UoB’s women’s football stars will go head to head at Wembley on the 13th May. Former UBWFC captain and England international Izzy Christiansen will line up for Manchester against current UBSport Scholarship athlete Aoife Mannion in the second cup final between the two teams in the last year. Whilst Manchester City ran out 1-0 winners in last year’s Continental Cup final thanks to an extra-time goal from Lucy Bronze, Birmingham put up a strong fight and will be looking for revenge on the biggest stage in domestic women’s football.
“Another thing City will take into account ahead of the FA Cup Final is the fact that they needed two displays of individual brilliance from Lucy Bronze in their last two matches against Birmingham to rescue some points
In their first ever FA Cup final, City have continued their successful year and could be still be on track for four trophies within nine months following their league and League Cup double last season. Having finally got their Spring Series campaign underway with a testing 1-1 draw against Birmingham – a trial run for the cup final, perhaps – the reigning WSL 1 champions will be one of the favourites to win the shortened league format despite fighting for trophies on multiple fronts. City’s recent Champions League semi-final loss against Lyon will be at the forefront of the squad’s minds - after going the whole of 2016 unbeaten, even defeat to a team with such international pedigree must have been hard to take. Another thing City will take into account ahead of the FA Cup Final is the fact that they needed two displays of individual brilliance from Lucy Bronze in their last two matches against Birmingham to rescue some points: a solution which might not work every time against such stubborn opponents.
Since they were re-launched in 2014, City have become a leading example of how a men’s club can support and sustain an efficient and world-class women’s football team with a mix of home-grown and international talent. They have the financial backing and facilities that means their starting line-up is a star-studded affair with World Cup winner Carli Lloyd having joined their ranks on a short-term deal from NWSL outfit Houston Dash. No doubt she will be one of the first names on the team sheet alongside the abundance of England internationals that fill out the squad with Lionesses captain Steph Houghton, Toni Duggan, Demi Stokes, Jill Scott and Lucy Bronze just a few internationals on the roster.
One of the eight City players called up to Mark Sampson’s England squad is former UoB student Izzy Christiansen. Kicking on from her PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year in 2016, Christiansen has established herself as an essential player in midfield for both club and country. Providing a constant attacking threat as well as breaking down play in the middle of the park will present an interesting challenge for a resolute Birmingham defence.
Should things pay off for City in the next few months, it is fair to say it is only what the club deserves for really demonstrating the importance of devoting time and energy to women’s football. In a bit of a turbulent time across the WSL, City are a fantastic example of where a bit of money and good recruitment have changed things for the better. Although they’ve had a busy fixture schedule coming into this match, there’s no reason the squad won’t put in a performance of the sort we are used to seeing.
The Blues have gone from strength to strength in the last year thanks to some savvy recruitment mixed with an already talented squad. The additions of the likes of Andrine Hegerberg, Ann-Katrin Berger and Ellen White appear to have made the difference to a side that will play in their second cup final in nine months. With a steady start in the Spring Series so far under new manager Marc Skinner, there are plenty of positives for Birmingham to take into the final that should give the team plenty of confidence – not least the fact that they have more than matched their opponents on their last two outings. Always difficult to break down thanks to a well organised and compact defence, Skinner’s side will want to exploit some of the defensive frailties apparent from Manchester City’s recent match against Reading which ended in a nail-biting 3-2 win for the reigning WSL champions.
It's not all defence with the team, however – you don’t reach a cup final without scoring goals. The bar twice denied Birmingham in their Spring Series match against Liverpool, with Freda Ayisi looking a real threat and taking the game to the Reds with some mazy drives into the box. Ellen White has really hit the ground running since arriving
from a difficult spell marred with injury at Notts County and is a player with domestic prowess that Birmingham have lacked since they lost fellow England international Eniola Aluko and Karen Carney. Notably, the PFA Young Women’s Player of the Year Jess Carter will likely start after a stellar season in 2016. Carter will have the tricky job of keeping Lucy Bronze quiet down the right wing but it is a challenge to which the 19-year-old should rise.
At the heart of the Blues’ defence will be UoB student Aoife Mannion, who has stepped up to every challenge thrown her way since signing from Aston Villa in 2013. Solid performances in the Champions League in 2013 and for England at youth level mean Mannion has plenty of experience at the top-level of women’s football – best evidenced by the fact that Birmingham had the second best defensive record behind (you guessed it) Manchester City in the WSL last season.
Should Birmingham keep Manchester City at bay long enough to frustrate them, there’s no reason why they couldn’t pull off a shock win – after all, anything can happen at Wembley. It feels as if this group of players are really on the cusp of something so if they can make all their hard work up to this point pay off, it might just be the start of great things at Birmingham City.