Manchester City Women 1 Birmingham City Ladies 0
Women’s Super League
Sunday 12th July 2015, 2pm KO
Fresh from the euphoria of a much deserved third placed finish at the World Cup in Canada the second half of the Women’s Super League kicked off at the City Football Academy.
For City their World Cup stars, Captain Steph Houghton, Toni Duggan, Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze and Jill Scott, just over a week since beating Germany in extra time, all started to ensure that the record crowd of over 2,000 were not to be disappointed at missing their first chance to see them. It was different for Birmingham as they opted to leave Jo Potter and Karen Carney on the bench with captain Jade Moore the only starter who made the trip to Canada.
The two sides entered the stadium to a standing ovation and then proceeded to kick off 2015/16 season (in the men’s calendar) with a thoroughly entertaining game of football in which the home side ran out deserved 1-0 winners thanks to a Toni Duggan goal just before the hour mark.
Nikita Parris could have had a hat-trick as she missed a string of chances at the death to make it more comfortable for City but in the end they were worthy winners in a match which finished with eight England internationals on the field.
Five talking points from the game:
1. Steph Houghton MCWFC’s Vincent Kompany – This might have been more of a compliment in 2012 when Manchester City’s captain was at the peak of his form after lifting City’s first Premier League title but it’s still a fair comparison as they have a few similar. Houghton had a terrific World Cup and was a real inspiration to her team, she’s a clear leader for both City and England, but on an afternoon when she could be forgiven for being jaded and coasting in a game City dominated, Houghton put in an accomplished performance which included the odd Kompany-esque rampaging run through the middle of the park. Houghton is a real rock in the centre of City’s defence and has deservedly received the plaudits including the fans player of the match award.
2. City show tactical flexibility – One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about women’s football in general since the beginning is how much more of a tactical game it can be. City started the game with a front three of Duggan on the left, Parris through the middle with Natasha Harding on the right with a midfield duo of Jill Scott and Isabel Christiansen behind them as Jennifer Beattie protected the back line. For much of the first half there was frustration as Duggan, out on the left, tried to make the run, cutting inside to try and find Parris and then get in a position for the return. Often she was forced to try and take a ball she didn’t want and shoot or beat a player when it needed someone stronger to hold the ball up. Parris herself was often given long through balls to chase but they were readily scooped up by the Birmingham keeper leaving Harding as the only one to make headway until she was forced off in the first half due to injury. With the front three attempting to interchange it left Christiansen and Scott somewhat in no man’s land as they didn’t press in their opponents half, expecting the strikers to do so, allowing Birmingham to pass their way out of trouble relatively freely meaning that City’s strikers were being forced far too deep when not in possession. When they did win it back, City couldn’t find Christiansen the room in the hole to hold the play and play the pass whilst the impressive Lucy Bronze was never given the opportunity to get forward in the opening 45 minutes.
In the second half manager Nick Cushing altered the style, City pressed in the Birmingham final third much more with Duggan coming more central (she’s wasted out on the left) and the narrower shape allowed Bronze to roam down the right hand side much in the way Micah Richards used to do. Bronze possesses real purpose when in the final third and her ability to give and go gave City a real attacking threat down the right whilst allowing Johnston the room to play off her and get the cross in. With the move of Duggan much more centrally side pressed much higher up the field allowing Beattie to collect any clearances inside the Birmingham half and immediately heap the pressure back on the visitors defence. The goal came from a sustained period of City pressure which saw Scott power her way into the area and drill a low cross across the six yard box for Duggan to finish.
3. Football that’s for everyone – Waiting for the turnstiles to open I was taken aback by the number of kids with their new City shirts and the names of the women’s players on their backs. Not just Duggan or Houghton but players like Parris and Christensen. There is sure to be some criticism in some quarters as to the women’s team somewhere (I’ve heard some people say the Academy Stadium is a waste of money!) but the people at MWCFC games skews differently in background to Premier League games and genuinely offers everyone a chance to support City and watch football in some capacity in a terrific experience of watching football. Add the end of the match the City players all came off to applaud the supporters and meet with them after the game, a really classy touch by City.
4. Is Jennifer Beattie City’s best player? – Every team needs a spine, whilst we all dream of players like David Silva and Sergio Aguero someone has to do the work to get them the ball and that’s why players like Nigel De Jong become cult heroes at City as they do they work without getting the praise. For MCWFC that player is Jennifer Beattie who arrived from Montpellier at the start of the season. Strong on the ball, fearless in the air and in the tackle, Beattie might be the best City’s player and at 24 already has 89 caps for Scotland. It was comfortable for City yesterday primarily because Beattie sits in front of and protects the back four and reads the game very well. She’s quick to anticipate the danger, never gives the ball away and has barely made a mistake in the five games I’ve seen her play this season.
5. It takes two teams to make a game – Having seen City take on the champions Liverpool, the inaugural winners Arsenal and the current leaders Chelsea and earn two narrow defeats and a creditable draw I was keen to see what it would be like when City faced a team that they were (at least supposed to) be comfortably. With Birmingham winless and already succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the CFA in the FA Women’s Cup this was as good as chance as any for City to rack up a big win.
However Birmingham’s game plan wasn’t merely to sit and soak up pressure and they too tried to play their way into the game. In the first half it was Karen Bardsley who was the busier of the two goalkeepers. Second half sub Karen Carney is clearly their top player and with Fran Kirby moving from Reading for £60,000 you wonder if Birmingham are relegated will she snapped up by the so-called bigger clubs.
Two other players who stood out for me where right back Meaghan Sargaent who had to deal with Toni Duggan playing on the left wing and contained her well whilst she wasn’t afraid to get forward and at 21 years old there could be a lot to come from her. Another standout was England U23 international Kirsty Linnet, the tall Birmingham number nine was plonked out onto the right wing but although she didn’t see much of the ball, she made some excellent runs, found plenty of space, had a good touch and looked a threat when she got the ball. It was a hard working performance from Birmingham who can take a lot of positives from the game.
Overall, it was a massive three points for City in a thoroughly entertaining game, as with Liverpool upsetting Arsenal 3-1 in the tea time kick off they couldn’t afford to lose ground on the top two by dropping points. Thanks to two goals from Fara Williams, the first a superb 25 yard volley, City are only four points behind Arsenal in the second Champions League place with a game in hand. Whilst they couldn’t rest their World Cup stars with some much attention on the league post World Cup its key that they don’t wear out those who’ve been to the World Cup as we’ve seen in the first half of the season that when two or three of them are missing they aren’t quite the same team.
City: Bardsley, Stokes, Radtke, Houghton (c), Bronze, Beattie, Christiansen, Scott, Harding (Johnston 16, Corboz 82), Duggan, Parris.
Unused subs: Brooks, Brougham, Lipman, McManus.
Goalscorer: Duggan (55)
Birmingham: Spencer, Sargeant, Carter, Mannion, Harrop, Ayisi (Potter 71), Allen, Linnett (Westwood 86), Moore (c), Lawley, Haines (Carney 46).
Unused subs: Simpkins, Edwards, Windell, Torkildsen.