City Women (Houghton 90+2) 1-0 Notts County Ladies
Competition: FA Women’s Super League 1
Venue: Academy Stadium, Etihad Campus (att: 1,173)
Date: 23 March 2016 (19:00)
City Women salvaged victory from the jaws of a disappointing draw with a last-minute free-kick at the Academy Stadium last night, courtesy of captain Steph Houghton. The England skipper slotted home from 25 yards out to give City victory in their opening Super League match, and a much-deserved 3 points, after the Blues completely dominated almost all of the game.
Nevertheless, it could have been different for County on a cold night at the CFA; after weathering City’s initial storm, the Lady Pies were awarded a penalty, when referee Joseph Johnson saw Jill Scott bring down Jess Clarke. The sometime England winger failed to take advantage, however, not even troubling Karen Bardsley in the City goal, as her spot-kick went well wide.
Let off the hook, City piled on the pressure even more, and myriad corners and chances later, Johnson pointed to the spot again, this time in Notts County’s 18-yard box. Midfielder Dani Buet upended the ever-industrious Nikita Parris, but City’s Toni Duggan struck a soft penalty at County’s Megan Walsh, keeping the scores level.
With frustration mounting – by this time, given all their possession and chances, City really should have been ahead – the Blues ratcheted up the pressure even further. Having volleyed wildly before City’s pen, new girl Kosovare Asllani did get the ball in the back of the net for the Blues, but was ruled offside.
Further goal-line clearances, profligacy from City – including in front of an open net at one point – and assuredness from Walsh (who started ahead of England ’keeper Carly Telford) kept the tie deadlocked at half-time. With a young, untested subs bench (manager Cushing named three Development Squad members as his reserve options), it was hard to see where the City breakthrough would come from. Despite the Blues’ levels of possession, and despite their attacking line-up, dogged County defending resulted in a match that had 0-0 written all over it – or so it seemed.
Lacking a little creativity and ruthlessness, City missed Izzy Christiansen, injured in the FA Cup win at Liverpool on Saturday. Weekend hero Georgia Stanway, who scored a stunner in the Cup tie, was also absent due to international duty, and as the tie wore on, with the Blues labouring, it was frustrating that inspiration couldn’t come from somewhere. Players such as Jane Ross, making her competitive home debut, buzzed around and got involved, but struggled to turn half-chances in to something more concrete.
Credit must be given to County, however; a strong line-up, with many familiar names to followers of the women’s game, proved difficult for City to break down, and the Lady Pies defended astutely in numbers. For all Scott and Daphne Corboz’s attempts to hold the ball up in midfield, for all Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze’s overlapping runs, City didn’t make Walsh work hard enough; corners invariably went straight to County heads, or didn’t get past the first woman, and chances flew either just wide, or straight to a grateful Walsh’s palms.
To be fair to City, it’s hard to find that decisive pass or shot when there are eight or nine bodies in the penalty box. After Scott and Duggan again missed chances, Houghton stepped up in injury time to give City one last shot at victory. An earlier set-piece had worried Walsh into yet another save, but this time the skipper produced the goods, curling a delightful free-kick around the wall, where it bounced past the unfortunate Walsh.
It was harsh on County, who had thwarted City superbly all night, and who had often threatened to break away and score a sucker-punch. With a decent crowd of 1,000-plus (1,173 was confirmed at the stadium, and for a midweek school night, that’s excellent), and even the hints of an embryonic atmosphere, the dramatic finale let the majority of the CFA crowd go home happy. Blues fans had better hope that Duggan and co. are saving more goals for Monday, when City take on title rivals Arsenal, in a match that could already have a big impact on where the WSL top spot settles this season.
City Women: Bardsley, Bronze, Houghton, McManus, Stokes, Corboz, Scott, Asllani Parris, Duggan, Ross
Unused subs: Hourihan, Tynan, Paul, Beattie, Kemp
Notts County: Walsh, Krantz, Bradley-Auckland, Turner, Buet, Crichton, James, Yankey, Clarke, Williams, White (Whelan 83)
Unused subs: Telford, Luik, Weston, Hassall, O’Neill
Official Player of the Match: Corboz
My Player of the Match: Bronze (for her desire and pressing in the latter stages of the second half. Zaba-esque)