206 fans saw Blues ladies completed a Merseyside double after they defeated Everton 1-0 in their opening Continental Cup game of the season thanks to an 88th minute penalty scored by Jodie Taylor. Blues made one change to the team that brushed aside Liverpool in the FA Womens Cup the week before, with Rachel Williams returning from suspension to replace Eni Aluko up front alongside Jodie Taylor. Fit again Kerys Harrop made the substitute’s bench, whilst for the visitors Alex Greenwood partnered Lindsay Johnson for her full debut.
The game started brightly for the home side, and they showed their attacking intent right from the off, winning a free kick in a dangerous position in the first minute of the match, and Karen Carney forcing a save out of England keeper Rachel Brown. Blues were again on the attack after 5 minutes, when good build up play from Taylor and Williams led to the latter shooting over when well placed, and two minutes later the same pair were linking up well, this time Williams winning possession and playing in Taylor, who shot just wide. Everton were struggling to get into the game, and it was again Birmingham who had the next chance, Emily Westwood rising highest but heading a Jo Potter dead ball wide. The visitors’ first chance came on 12 minutes, Natasha Dowie shooting wide after being put through by Toni Duggan.
The midfield battle was very tight, with Potter and Jade Moore up against England internationals Jill Scott and Fara Williams, with Duggan also dropping deeper to assist. On 20 minutes, Everton produced the best chance of the match, a Greenwood free kick just outside the box was whipped in and Toni Duggan met it 6 yards out, but could only glance the ball wide of Marie Hourihan’s goal. Birmingham continued to press forward, and always looked threatening from crosses and set pieces, and after Rachel Unitt’s cross was fumbled by Brown, Chelsea Weston met the ball on her weaker left foot and shot over, and two minutes later a Karen Carney drilled cross was inches away from both Williams and Taylor. The shape of both sides was flexible, Izzy Christiansen and Carney swapping wings throughout the half, and Duggan also drifting between the role of supporting Dowie and dropping into a midfield 5. Everton showed their counter attacking qualities on 31 minutes, when Gwenn Harries won the ball in her half, and broke through the Birmingham midfield, feeding Duggan who missed the target, and Fara Williams was next to benefit from the Everton break but again she couldn’t force a save from Hourihan. Just before the break, Jodie Taylor was very close to breaking the deadlock, cutting inside Greenwood in the area, but before she could get her shot away, Brooke Chaplen got back with a last gasp tackle.
Half Time: Birmingham 0 – 0 Everton
Five minutes into the second half, the hosts made their first change of the game, Eni Aluko replacing Izzy Christiansen, with Aluko playing right midfield and Carney switching to the left. Everton were certainly the better side after the break, playing with more cohesion and passing the ball quicker and better, making Blues work very hard to remain level. Fara Williams forced a save from Hourihan with a free kick on 58 minutes, but moments later Birmingham should have had a penalty.
Rachel Williams chased down a ball over the Everton defence, and just as she got into the area was hauled down by Everton’s number 6 Johnson, but the referee waved away the appeals, much to the dismay of the home team. England under 23 international Duggan was next to miss the target for the Toffees twice in the space of 3 minutes, first from a Harries cross from the left, and then from a cross on the other side she skied her chance. Kerys Harrop came on for Carney on 67 minutes, a straight swap with Harrop playing ahead of Unitt. Rachel Williams was a threat all afternoon for the Everton defence, but her afternoon was cut short after receiving a twisted ankle, and she came off on 73 to be replaced by Maz Ballard in Birmingham’s final change of the match, whilst Everton made their first and only alteration, with Nikita Paris coming on for Dowie.
In what was a hard fought game, the first booking off the game came in the 78th minute, when Becky Easton was cautioned for a cynical block on the advancing Jade Moore. Duggan was to have two more chances to open the scoring as the game approached the end, firstly latching onto a loose ball in the area, and poking past Hourihan in the Blues goal, but didn’t get enough purchase on the ball, and Unitt was able to clear off the line, and secondly bending a shot towards goal, but the Blues No.1 was behind it to keep her clean sheet intact. The pivotal moment came on 88 minutes, when a Jo Potter free kick on the right touchline caused panic in the Everton defence, and when Captain Laura Bassett went to lash the ball home, she was brought down in the area, and the referee pointed to the spot. With regular spot kick taker Williams off the pitch, the duty was left to fellow striker Taylor, who stepped up and confidently sent Brown the wrong way to give Birmingham the lead. The remainder of the match, including 3 minutes injury time, passed without any further chances, and Blues held on for a hard earned victory.
Full Time: Birmingham 1 – 0 Everton
Everton can feel a little hard done by in the fact they certainly had the better of the second half, but they were fortunate not to be down to 10 men and a goal behind earlier than they did concede. Birmingham showed they are a team that will not be beaten easily; they fought for every ball, and were strong and resolute when Everton pushed forward and pressed harder for a goal, and it was no real surprise that one of the Blues centre halves won Player of the Match, Emily Westwood being preferred to Bassett, but no-one would have argued had it been given the other way. Both sides move on next week to the quarter finals of the FA Womens Cup, Birmingham at home to Sunderland and Everton facing the tie of the round, away to holders Arsenal.
Blues: Hourihan, Weston, Bassett, Westwood, Unitt, Carney (Harrop 67), Moore, Potter, Christiansen (Aluko 50), Williams (Ballard 73), Taylor
Everton: Brown, Easton, Johnson, Greenwood, Chaplen, Handley, Williams, Scott, Harries, Dowie (Paris 73), Duggan