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Birmingham City 1 (Williams 25) Arsenal 1 (Little 68)
It's as you were at the top of the table as Birmingham City and Arsenal battled out a 1-1 draw in their vital FA WSL clash at Stratford.
Birmingham stay two points clear as leaders but Arsenal have a slight advantage with a game in hand and the Gunners are likely to be the more satisfied side with the outcome although they may also feel that they should have taken all three points following a dominant second half display.
Much could depend on the result of this match and this seemed to affect the two teams during a very quiet opening fifteen minutes with both teams taking time to settle down.
Arsenal began to carve out the first opportunities, Danielle Carter bringing out a save from Marie Hourihan from the edge of the area and the winger then went very close with a shot that was deflected just over the bar. Kim Little made a trademark run towards goal and carried the ball towards the area but her shot was off target.
Birmingham had looked nervous during the opening stages but took the lead against the run of play by benefitting from a defensive mix-up. Emma Byrne played the ball out from goal to Niamh Fahey but Karen Carney reacted smartly to slide in and tackle the full back, the ball running loose for Rachel Williams who beat Gilly Flaherty before slotting into the empty net for her 12th goal of the season.
The goal visibly lifted the Blues and a second nearly came as Jo Potter's free kick was flicked on by Williams for Kerys Harrop who headed wide. Emily Westwood was being employed as a striker alongside Williams and the versatile England international latched onto a good crossfield ball from Carney, her first touch was excellent before her shot was saved by Byrne.
Arsenal pressed forward at the start of the second half but Birmingham still looked dangerous on the break and the predatory Williams almost had a second as she charged goalwards and a powerful strike brought out an excellent diving save from Byrne. Another counter attack saw Westwood take on Ciara Grant before she blazed a left foot shot over.
The introduction of Jayne Ludlow as substitute gave Arsenal extra strength and experience whilst releasing Little to go further forward and the Scottish international began to show her class in possession.
Julie Fleeting could well have levelled matters just moments after coming on as a substitute but was not quite in tune with the game and her header from a pinpoint Carter cross was off target. Potter was then left relieved after being caught in possession on the edge of her own area but Hourihan came to her rescue, tipping Fleeting's resulting shot over the bar.
Birmingham once more came very close as Williams picked up a loose ball and set up Carney whose shot beat Byrne but struck the bar.
Five minutes later, a short period of Arsenal pressure finally paid off as Katie Chapman picked up a clearance on the halfway line and her ball forward was nodded on by Ludlow and into the path of Little who buried a first time shot into the corner of the net to level the scores.
Steph Houghton got the ball in the net a second time for Arsenal but the 'goal' was ruled out as Fleeting had been penalised for a foul.
The Gunners continue to press for a winner and Birmingham needed to stand firm under the mounting pressure. Blues captain Laura Bassett marshalled her defence superbly and was well supported by Sally Stanton alongside her, whilst Jade Moore won a number of important challenges in midfield.
Yankey flashed a shot inches over the bar after being fed by the outstanding Little, Houghton and Fahey both had efforts off target and Ludlow drove a firm long range effort just wide as Arsenal finished strongly but the Blues held out for a point which still keeps them ahead.
Birmingham City: Marie Hourihan, Chelsea Weston, Kerys Harrop, Jade Moore, Sally Stanton, Laura Bassett, Heather Scheuber (sub Dunia Susi 45mins), Rachel Williams, Emily Westwood, Karen Carney (sub Marie Ballard 81mins), Jo Potter. Subs not used: Jess Wright, Stef Curtis, Leanne Hall.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Steph Houghton, Niamh Fahey, Katie Chapman, Gilly Flaherty, Ciara Grant, Danielle Carter, Jordan Nobbs (sub Jayne Ludlow 48mins), Ellen White (sub Julie Fleeting 57mins), Kim Little, Rachel Yankey. Subs not used: Faye White, Rebecca Spencer, Jennifer Beattie.
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