Birmingham City Women 1 United Women 3
Manchester United Women have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the FA Women's Continental League Cup with a hard-earned 3-1 victory against Birmingham City at the SportNation.bet Stadium in Solihull.
In what was the first ever meeting between the Reds and the Blues, Lizzie Arnot opened the scoring in the first minute, as her cross was spilt by Birmingham keeper Alexandra Brooks into her own net. And the hosts’ keeper was in the spotlight for our second, parrying Kirsty Hanson’s shot into the path of Jane Ross to score.
Marta Tejedor's side clawed a goal back before the interval, courtesy of a confident finish from Abbi Grant, and had multiple chances to draw level in the second half, with Freya Gregory hitting the post and Claudia Walker firing wide. Ella Toone restored our two-goal cushion in second-half stoppage time, thumping home a wonderful team goal.
After our 3-1 victory over Everton last weekend, Casey Stoney made eight changes to her starting XI. Emily Ramsey replaced Mary Earps in goal, while Kirsty Smith and Lotta Okvist were introduced in defence alongside Abbie McManus and Millie Turner, who both retained their positions in the line-up from the weekend.
Katie Zelem skippered the side, with Mollie Green, Lizzie Arnot and Kirsty Hanson all given a start, as well as Ella Toone, who scored five in our last League Cup match, an 11-1 trouncing of Leicester City.
Kirsty Hanson looked a threat on the break for United in the opening stages. The winger unleashed a palm-stinger of a shot which was saved by Brooks, before a free header from a corner a few minutes later whistled just wide of the target. Birmingham did still pose a threat on the break, with Rachel Williams producing a fine save from Emily Ramsey, who had to be quick on her feet to tip the ball over the bar.
This didn’t deter Birmingham, who gave United a tap on the shoulder in the 35th minute, as they clawed a goal back. A lovely-weighted chipped ball from Connie Schofield found Williams, and the striker shrugged off McManus and Okvist to tee up Grant, who produced a low finish into the bottom corner.
With the game hanging in the balance, Stoney made a double substitution at half time. Hayley Ladd, who scored a beauty against Leicester in our previous group stage match, entered the fray against her former club, along with Lauren James.
James nearly made her mark on the game on the stroke of the hour. The tenacious youngster ducked and dived her way into the box on the left-hand side, before unleashing a rocket of an effort from an acute angle, which smashed the frame of the goal before being hooked away from danger by the Blues.
And the frame of the goal was struck up at the other end soon after. Luci Staniforth’s inviting cross raced across the face of goal, and with Ramsey caught out of position, Freya Gregory looked set to finish into an empty net, however somehow the substitute’s effort struck the post.
United’s goal lived a charmed life as the second half progressed. The hosts thought they had found their equaliser, when Gregory’s cross from the left was met with the outside of the boot by Claudia Walker, but the strike fizzed inches wide of the far post.
Despite plenty of endeavour being shown by the hosts, Stoney's side made sure the points were safe, as Toone got in on the act in the dying embers of the game. From a throw-in, a cheeky backheel from James released Arnot, and her pull back for Ella was rocketed into the top corner.
The result sees United advance into the quarter-finals, while the Blues bow out of the competition following this defeat. The two sides will meet again in the WSL on Sunday, with kick off at 14:00 GMT.
United: Ramsey; Smith (A. Turner 70), A. McManus, M. Turner, Okvist; Zelem (c) (Ladd 45); Green (James 45), Toone; Arnot, Ross, Hanson.
Subs not used: Mikalsen, Sigsworth, Galton, Groenen.
Scorers: Arnot 1, Ross 27, Toone 90+2 | Grant 35