Blues Ladies made hard work of their progression into the FA Cup Quarter Finals this weekend, eventually defeating WSL 2 side Doncaster Rovers Belles 3-1 thanks to goals from Remi Allen, Kirsty Linnett and a wonder strike from Jo Potter.
This was the first game to be held at Damson Park, the home of Solihull Moors, and Blues fielded a strong starting line up, with only two changes being made from the Champions League Quarter Final success over Arsenal. Both changes came in defence, Christina Torkildsen and, making her debut, Meaghan Sargeant replaced Aoife Mannion and Jess Carter. Belles also put out a strong side, the vast majority of which played a significant part in their previous WSL season.
It did not take long until Blues broke the deadlock, the first goal at their new home, and it was the impressive Allen who opened the scoring. A neat turn from Linnett on the edge of the box allowed her room to cross and, after evading the reach of Nic Hobbs in the Belles' goal, Allen timed her run to perfection to be in the right place at the right time to score her third Blues goal in as many matches, and increased her burgeoning reputation as a goal scoring midfielder.
If anything the goal led Blues to rest on their laurels a touch, and the fast, high pressing game the team displayed in the two Arsenal games was missing. As the first half went on, Doncaster enjoyed their fair share of possession, but rarely got into the final third due to the presence of Blues' midfield trio. Their best chance of the half came on the half hour, when Mille Bright found herself with what seemed an unguarded net to place the ball into, but her goalbound effort was superbly blocked on the line by Kerys Harrop.
Blues should have gone into the break two up. Potter's diagonal ball found Carney on the right wing, and following an excellent first touch her cross found Linnett inside the box, with Hobbs nowhere to be seen, but unfortunately for the former Arsenal forward she was leaning back as she connected with the volley, and her effort went harmlessly over the bar.
The second half played out very much the same as the first, both sides losing possession to easily and the game mainly being battled out in the middle of the park, but with fifteen minutes remaining Doncaster equalised. Jess Sigsworth rounded a couple of challenges to find herself inside the area, and her shot-come-cross was side-footed home by captain Leandra Little, a goal which the lower league outfit deserved, if only for their determination and hard work.
Following the goal, Blues appeared to wake from their slumber and began to regain control of the game. Carney found space following a good link up with Linnett, and the skipper's square ball fell to Mel Lawley, but the winger took one touch too many and allowed Hobbs to parry her shot behind for a corner.
Potter had wasted a couple of good set piece opportunities during the second half, but Belles conceded one foul too many two minutes from time when Jade Moore was bundled over on the edge of the area. Potter chipped the cross in which caused all sorts of confusion inside the area, and as the Belles defence attempted to clear their lines, an attemped clearance ricocheted off Linnett and looped over Hobbs to put Blues back in front, and they wrapped the tie up in injury time thanks to a piece of solo genius.
Hobbs raced out of her goal to prevent a Blues corner, and her clearance eventually fell to the left foot of Potter, the last place they would have wanted it to land, and the former Everton and Charlton midfielder fired home a tremendous effort into the top corner.
Blues will know they have to be better if they are to steer clear of trouble in the upcoming WSL season, but they will also know they are capable of much better, and will be hoping to get back to business in their opening league game of the season against Everton on Wednesday evening.
Credit to Doncaster, nobody could have begrudged them of their equaliser, and they should take great confidence from this game, as they strive for an immediate return to WSL 1 this season.
Blues: Spencer, Weston, Torkildsen, Harrop, Seargant, Potter, Moore, Allen, Carney (c), Lawley, Linnett. Subs not used: Baggaley, Carter, Mannion, Keryakoplis, Simpkins
Doncaster: Hobbs, Cunningham, Little (c), Roberts, Cresswell, Smith, Lipka, Bright, Chadwick (Williams 70), England (Mills 55), Sigworth. Subs not used: Knight, Johnson