Report: Birmingham City 1 United Women U21s 4
Manchester United Women Under-21s were crowned winners of the 2022 WSL Academy Cup following a 4-1 victory over Birmingham City in the final at St George’s Park.
Midfielder May then teed up Keira Barry for our fourth of the evening late on, while Millie Pullen pulled back a consolation for the Blues deep into stoppage time, but the young Reds would go on to hoist the trophy aloft at the end of an invaluable experience in the Midlands.
The encounter got off to an end-to-end start at the England national team’s training base, as both sides attempted to gain some control and settle any early nerves. It was Birmingham who registered the first attempt of the game through Layla Banaras, who intercepted a pass before drilling a right-footed strike wide of the posts.
Our first chance followed and it fell to Maria Edwards, who leapt highest to connect with Chloe Williams’s corner from the left, but the forward couldn’t quite steer her header on target.
Edwards was involved again soon after as United took the lead on 18 minutes. Karna Solskjaer was alert to win the ball back off a Birmingham goal kick, setting in the forward who saw her original effort well saved by goalkeeper Lucy Jones, but Aherne was on hand to calmly slot home the rebound.
An instant response was almost set into action by the Blues after a swift move straight from the kick-off, but Reds keeper Safia Middleton-Patel kept out Angelina Nixon’s driven shot from the edge of the penalty area. After an action-packed start to the final, it then began to set into a rhythm with physicality key to success for either side as the half went on.
United were able to challenge for possession well and often in this period and thus continued to craft out opportunities. May attempted to catch Jones out in the opposition goal with a free-kick that hit the side-netting, prior to an opening later in the half that saw Wales international Chloe Williams have an effort from around 25 yards out charged down by a defender at close range.
It was just the one-goal lead for Charlotte Healy’s side at the interval, but that was quickly added to just four minutes after the restart. Just like with the opener, Solskjaer won the ball back off a goal kick and this time set in Aherne herself, with the latter keeping her composure and slotting past the keeper to make it 2-0.
Having survived a period of intense pressure from the Blues just after the hour mark, which included two near misses from Pullen and Delphi Cole hitting the crossbar, United made it 3-0 following a moment of real quality. May, who made her senior Reds debut against Reading in February 2020, drove with the ball from the middle of park before reaching the edge of the box and picking out the bottom corner with a low left-footed effort.
Wearing no.26, the midfielder then turned provider, playing in Keira Barry and with several of her first touches having been recently introduced from the bench, Barry made no mistake in making it 4-0 with just over 10 minutes to go.
The latter then went close twice more in stoppage time as she looked to add to the score, but the game’s fifth goal would come at the other end, when Pullen rounded Middleton-Patel and placed the ball into the net to pull one back for Birmingham with one of the final kicks of the contest.
Referee Aimee Kerr’s full-time whistle went soon after the restart, confirming that the silverware would be heading back up the M6 with the young Reds, following a display to be proud of at St George's Park.
Birmingham City: Jones (Woolgar 84); Banaras, Reynolds, Cowie (c), Timms, Jenner; Baker (Wilkie 71), Nicholls, Clark (Pullen 60); Cole (Dutton 85), Nixon (Clements 60).
United: Middleton-Patel; Murphy, Lawson (c), Taylor, Simpson; Kinzett, Williams (Watson 78), May; Aherne (Sofield 85), Edwards, Solskjaer (Barry 61).
Substitutes not used: McTiffin, Ashton.
Scorers: Pullen 90+7 | Aherne 18, 49, May 72, Barry 80.