Birmingham Ladies returned to action following the summer break for the Olympics with a well deserved 3-1 win over WSL rivals Lincoln Ladies. Goals from Jodie Taylor, Chelsea Weston and the returning Karen Carney sealed the victory for the Midlanders, despite Bonnie Horwood pulling a goal back for the Lady Imps.
The hosts welcomed back Team GB duo Carney and Rachel Williams to the starting line up, but were without the third member of the Olympic Quarter Finalists Eni Aluko, as she was out preparing to sit her exams. Rachel Unitt and Becky Spencer were also out for Blues with injuries, but youngsters Anna Wilcox, Harley Simpson and Hannah George were all on the bench. Lincoln had Sophie Bradley available after coming back from GB duty, but captain Casey Stoney missed out on the game due to suspension following her dismissal in the previous WSL game against Liverpool.
Lincoln settled early in the game and kept possession very well, Remi Allen pulling the strings in the middle of the park, but the chances came the way of the FA Cup Winners. Carney bent a 25 yard free kick goalwards which was tipped wide by Imps keeper Nicola Hobbs, and from the resulting Jo Potter corner, the England winger hit the bar with a shot into the ground. As always, Potter's set pieces were causing the visiting defence problems, and another corner found the head of Williams, but her effort drifted just wide. Shortly afterwards, Carney swung in a corner from the opposite side which Emily Westwood headed towards goal. Taylor guided the ball goalwards but Hobbs was well positioned to make a good save on the line, but the pressure continued and on 18 minutes Blues opened the scoring.
Right back Chelsea Weston has provided a number of assists this season, and she added another with a tremendous diagonal pass over the top of the Lincoln back line, and there were no surprises to see the deadly Taylor race onto it, poke the ball past the onrushing Hobbs and comfortable poke home to make it 1-0 to take her into double figures for the season, an achievement only matched by Arsenal's Kim Little.
Lincoln were finding it hard work to slow down the wave of attack after attack from the home side, and Jade Moore was next to test the busy Hobbs, racing through the defence but firing straight at the keeper. 2 minutes before half time, another Potter corner was cleared out to Izzy Christiansen, whose shot from the edge of the area was blocked, but only into the path of Weston, who drilled a stunning shot through the mass of bodies and past Hobbs who stood no chance to score her first goal of the season. The goal was reminiscent of her goal last season away at Bristol, and she displayed her ability once again here.
Ex-Birmingham forward Precious Hamilton replaced midfielder Sophie Walton at half time, but again Blues were the brighter of the two teams, Potter going close with a shot from distance, and the home side continued on the front foot. On the hour mark, Remi Allen brought Christiansen down 25 yards out, a tackle for which she was booked. Carney took responsibility of the set piece and curled a wonderful effort into the bottom corner of Hobbs' net, giving the keeper no chance and making it 3-0 to last years WSL runners up.
Almost immediately Lincoln pulled a goal back, Hamilton turning and sending an inviting cross into the box and found Bonnie Horwood at the back post, he stabbed the ball past Hourihan in the Blues goal to give Lincoln a lifeline. Blues went about trying to regain their 3 goal gap straight away, Williams and Taylor both forcing saves out of Hobbs after great work from Carney, who was growing into the game with devastating effect. Horwood had a shot cleared off the line by the ever impressive Moore, and Taylor was unlucky not to grab her second of the day when she broke clear one on one, beat Hobbs but saw her effort bobble back off the far post, but there was to be no comeback from Lincoln and Blues ran out 3-1 winners.
The win closed the gap on the teams above Blues in the league, with Everton holding Arsenal to a 2-2 draw, meaning Blues are now 6 points behind leaders Arsenal, and only one point behind the Merseyside outfit, but with a game in hand over them. This win over Lincoln will give David Parker's side great confidence for the rest of the season, and if Aluko and Unitt are available for those games, it will add good strength in depth, but the spine of the side is crucial to their success, which was evidently on display against Lincoln, and at the top of that spine is perhaps the pivotal piece of the jigsaw.
Jodie Taylor has performed wonders this season, not only with her goals but her all round general play, and in particular her incredible work rate, all of which was on full show against Lincoln, and for which she was voted player of the match in Birmingham's epic FA Cup Final victory over Chelsea. Her movement has been too good for the majority of defences this season, and she has struck up a formidable partnership with Rachel Williams up front for Blues, who compliment eachother very well. The short one touch passing and link up play between these two and the midfield has been instrumental in some of the goals scored this season, but she showed on Sunday that she can also use her pace and intelligence off the ball to latch onto long balls. Her 10 goals have been crucial for Blues, and she is in a rich vein of form which hopefully will continue for the remainder of the season. She will continue to get chances with the quality of service coming from around her, and there is undoubtedly more to come from the 26 year old, hopefully not just in a Birmingham shirt, but also the national shirt.
Birmingham: Hourihan, Weston, Bassett (c), Westwood, Harrop, Christiansen, Moore, Potter, Carney, Williams, Taylor
Subs not used: Simpkins, George, Wilcox, Simpson, Ballard, Torkildsen
Lincoln: Hobbs, Alleway (Sergant 79), Daly, Bradley, Barker, Clarke, Allen, Walton (Hamilton 46), Horwood, Cantrell, Staniforth (Megan Harris 68)
Subs not used: Martha Harris, Emily Roberts
Player of the match: Jodie Taylor