Birmingham Ladies reached the semi finals of the FAWSL Continental Cup after a 2-0 home victory over Doncaster Rovers Belles on Sunday. Goals either side of half time by Eni Aluko and in form Jodie Taylor meant Blues moved to 7 points out of 9 in the group and finish second, as Bristol Academy's superb 4-0 win over Everton meant they topped the group on goal difference.
It was very much a developmental squad selection from boss David Parker, with Centre of Excellence stars Anna Wilcox, Hannah George and Harley Simpson all rewarded with a place on the bench, and hopefully valuable experience of being in the first team environment for a big game. All in all there were three changes to the side that beat Chelsea 4-2 in their last game, Marie Hourihan replaced Becky Spencer in goal, Kerys Harrop came in for Emily Westwood alongside captain Laura Bassett at centre half, and Jo Potter made way for Izzy Christiansen in the centre of midfield. There two sides met earlier in the season, Blues running out emphatic 4-0 winners in the league encounter at the DCS Stadium, and the hosts went about trying to emulate that scoreline early on, and only an offside flag prevented striker Taylor from opening the scoring on 11 minutes after a fine finish.
England under 19 goalkeeper Mary Earps was in for a busy afternoon, and she was tested by Taylor again after a clever turn on the edge of the area, but she shot was well held by the Belles keeper, and she did even better to hold onto a rasping drive from Rachel Williams from the edge of the box before 20 minutes were up. The visitors were clearly more confident than their last trip to the Midlands following their superb away win at Lincoln in their last fixture, and they were causing the Blues side a few headaches, Alyssa Lagonia and Aine O'Gorman working well on both flanks to support Millie Bright and Jess Sigsworth up front, but it was to be the girls in blue who opened the scoring on the half hour mark.
Clever, sharp passing between the Blues' front line culminated in a delightful flick from Taylor into the path of the on rushing Aluko, whose pace drove her past the Doncaster defence and after a touch to control, she placed her shot perfectly into the bottom corner of Earps' net to make it 1-0. The link up play between the attacking players in the Birmingham side must have been a joy to behold for the watching England at Team GB manager Hope Powell, with Aluko, Williams, Carney and Taylor all in fine form ahead of the summer's olympics.
The second half was very much a similar story to the first, Blues attacking at will and Doncaster trying to soak up the danger and attack on the counter, and the visitors introduced tricky winger Bethany England in place of O'Gorman at half time, but it was Blues with the major chances still. Taylor was perhaps unlucky not to be awarded a penalty as she went down under a challenge in the area, but the referee waved away her claims. Williams, Taylor and Aluko all had efforts on goal but the score remained 1-0 until the 71st minute. Substitute Emily Westwood, on for Chelsea Weston, played a sublime ball over the Belles defence which Taylor latched onto, twisted and turned out of a couple of challenges and calmly planted the ball past Earps for her 6th goal of the season, and surely she must be in serious consideration for an international call up. Despite Jade Moore limping off late on, Blues eased the game out and could look forward to their next game, a massive top of the table clash away at Arsenal. The victory, and second place in their group, meant a semi final away to Lincoln Ladies at the beginning of September, whilst Arsenal will travel to Bristol Academy in the other semi final.
Player of the game: Jade Moore. Was missing her partner in crime Jo Potter for today, but again put in an outstanding shift in the middle of the park, winning tackles, never shy to receive a pass in a tricky area, and moving it on quickly and efficiently to the danger players. In the second half, she was asked to play out of position at right back after Weston went off, but again she worked hard to win possession and showed her class in front of Hope Powell. Unfortunately for Powell, England and Blues she limped off before the end with what looked to be a recurrence of a knee injury, and all three will be hoping it does not sideline her for too long because she is fast becoming a very integral player to club and country.
Blues: Hourihan, Weston (Westwood 59), Bassett (c), Harrop, Unitt, Carney (Potter 64), Moore, Aluko, Christiansen, Taylor, Williams (Ballard 74)
Subs not used: Wilcox, George, Simpson, Torkildsen
Doncaster: Earps, Little, Oxtoby, Cunningham, Chadwick (Hills 72), Lagonia, Holtham (c), Lipka, O'Gorman (England 46), Bright (Russell 64), Sigsworth
Subs not used: Sowerby