City Women

City Women 2-0 Arsenal Ladies: match report

City Women (Ross 60, Duggan (p) 80) 2-0 Arsenal Ladies

Competition: FA Women’s Super League 1
Venue: Academy Stadium, Etihad Campus (att: 1,914)
Date: 28 March 2016 (15:00)

The WSL 1 season may be only two games young, but City Women’s match on Easter Monday was already something of a title decider. In a season of just 16 fixtures, every point counts, especially when they come at the expense of title rivals. Picking up a victory at home to Arsenal was just what the doctor ordered for City, ensuring the Blues’ 100% start in this fledgling WSL season remains intact.

City began brightly against the Gunners, in much the same vein of form as they did against Notts County last week. Crowds at the CFA will learn to expect this; heaps of possession, and commanding, attacking football from the off. First blood almost went to Arsenal, however, after referee Michael Salisbury awarded the North London outfit a free-kick on the edge of the area, following Steph Houghton’s challenge on Asisat Oshoala. The City skipper picked up an early, slightly harsh, booking for her troubles, and Fara Williams almost punished City further, striking the crossbar with a sublime set-piece that had City ’keeper Karen Bardsley beaten.

Nevertheless, the pendulum of luck swung heavily in City’s favour on 12 minutes, when an excellent ball from Lucy Bronze on the right found Jane Ross tussling with Arsenal centre-back Jemma Rose. When Ross got herself between Rose and the ball, there was little for the defender to do, apart from bring the City striker down. Salisbury didn’t hesitate in reaching for his pocket, and suddenly City were facing only 10 women.

The Blues struggled to take advantage, however, dominating possession as they did last week against County, but failing to find that cutting edge in the final third. To be fair to Arsenal, they defended exceptionally well once Rose was given her marching orders, but with the likes of defensive stalwarts Casey Stoney and Alex Scott in your back-line, you’d expect little else. After Demi Stokes tested Arsenal stopper Sari Van Veenendaal with a shot from outside the box, Dan Carter was sacrificed for Leah Williamson, Arsenal boss Pedro Martinez Losa choosing to rebuild his back four rather than play 70 minutes plus a player down in defence.

Indeed, the Gunners adapted well to playing with 10, as so many teams do, and City failed to make the extra woman count in the first half. At times, it even seemed as if Arsenal would be most likely to score first, with Oshoala proving a constant thorn in City’s side. Abbie McManus’ goal-saving tackle prevented the African Women’s Player of the Year from opening the scoring after 20 minutes. Despite being a player up, Cushing’s side were being made to work hard by Arsenal, with Scott in particular being called upon to break play up.

One City player who did manage to stretch the game was the effervescent Lucy Bronze; having provided the pass which resulted in City gaining a one-woman advantage, Bronze continued to wend her way through the massed Arsenal ranks, creating one half-chance which Jane Ross couldn’t head on target. A Duggan shot which struck the post brought the first half to an end, with Arsenal going back to the dressing rooms the happier of the two sides, having weathered City’s storm.

Defender Dominique Janssen replaced Oshoala at half-time, in a move which suggested that the Gunners planned to thwart City for a further 45 minutes, with the aim of travelling back to London with a valuable point. The CFA crowd – all 1,914 of them, a superb attendance – were having none of that, and spurred the Blues on, as corner after corner racked up for City. Nikita Parris, who netted against Liverpool in the FA Cup last weekend, brought out the best in Van Veenendaal once again, and Duggan once more saw a shot go wide. It was all getting slightly frustrating for City; a player up, having dominated possession so much, the girls should really have been ahead long before the second half. It’s at times like this when you worry about the attacking potency of the team, and about whether the squad really is strong enough (past a great starting XI, is there really strength in depth?). Trust Duggan and co. to blow the biggest raspberry possible in the face of all these worries, in emphatic fashion too.

With 65 minutes on the clock, a restless CFA crowd letting their frustration be known, Duggan mugged Williamson on the right-hand side, brilliantly snatching the ball off the defender, before crossing perfectly in to the box for a dashing Ross to head in to an open net. It was a great, dynamic opener, worthy of any game of football, and particularly fitting for such an important match.

The weight lifted off their shoulders, City surged forward with more confidence. Arsenal’s cages were visibly rattled, and less than ten minutes later the Gunners had another scare, when Kosovare Asllani struck a beauty goalward, only for Van Veenendaal to pull off another top-draw save. With just over 10 minutes left to play, City did double their lead, Parris again proving her worth by winning a second penalty in as many games. Whether Salisbury should have pointed to the spot is up for debate – Janssen looked to have up-ended Parris outside the box – but Duggan made all talk academic, as her penalty went in off the post. Having missed a spot-kick last week against Notts County, getting off the mark this season will have calmed the Liverpudlian striker’s nerves, and was the least she deserved after a dogged, tenacious performance.

The Blues saw the remainder of the game out comfortably, as Arsenal began to lose their discipline; defender Emma Mitchell, who had troubled Parris all game, was lucky to stay on the pitch. All in all, this was a stunning victory for Cushing’s team, and one which could well deal a psychological blow to one of City’s main title rivals. The league season is yet young, but the Blues have started it off full of vigour. They can go into Sunday’s FA Women’s Cup quarter-final fixture against Sporting Club Albion even more full of confidence now.

City Women: Bardsley, Bronze, Houghton (c), McManus, Stokes, Corboz, Scott, Asllani, Parris, Duggan, Ross
Unused subs: Hourihan, Tynan, Paul, Holland, Kemp
Booked: Houghton

Arsenal Ladies: Van Veenendaal, Scott (c), Mitchell, Rose, Stoney (Corredera 74), Losada, Williams, Nobbs, Carter (Williamson 17), Van De Donk, Oshoala (Janssen 46)
Unused subs: Byrne, De Pablos, McCabe, Henning
Booked: Scott, Mitchell
Sent off: Rose

Official Player of the Match: Corboz
My Player of the Match: Scott (the way the England international holds the ball up and creates options for City in the middle of the park is special)

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