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Arsenal 0 Birmingham City 2
(Birmingham won 3-0 on aggregate)
A top quality performance from Birmingham City sealed a UEFA Women's Champions League semi final spot for the first time in their history with a 2-0 away win at Arsenal.
Already a goal to the good, Blues controlled the return leg in similar style to that displayed at St Andrews with a cohesive team display which frustrated the Gunners' efforts to find a way back into the tie. More importantly, two goals either side of the half hour took Birmingham into a comfort zone where their opponents needed four goals in less than an hour to progress. Despite an improved showing after the break, Arsenal never looked capable of climbing that particular mountain.
Unlike in the first leg, Blues started confidently and were very close to a second minute opener. Emma Byrne was forced to claw away a miscued attempt to clear across and Karen Carney struck the outside of the post from a tight angle. Arsenal threatened when Shinobu Ohno was sent clear on the left after ten minutes but Rebecca Spencer was equal to her powerful cross shot. Birmingham were again troubling the Arsenal defence with their pressing game, several times winning the ball from Gunners' attempts to pass the ball out from the back.
Kirsty Linnett, who was again a highly mobile and effective front runner, struck the important first blow on 25 minutes. A clever flick saw her clear of the last defender and she finished confidently wide to Byrne's right.
Things got even better for the visitors on 32 minutes when a Carney cross found its way to Remi Allen, unmarked ten yards in front of goal, and she drove the ball beyond Byrne for her second goal in as many games.
Danielle Carter was Arsenal's main threat, having a lively battle with her namesake Jess on the Birmingham left. Despite several promising moves, Birmingham defended very soundly to hold on to their three-goal cushion till the break.
The home side needed an early goal to lift their spirits but there was little sign of weakness in the Birmingham defence and only fitful attacking invention from the hosts. Indeed only a tight offside decision on Allen prevented her from going one-on-one with Byrne after 54 minutes.
It was the special talent of Kelly Smith which went closest to reducing the arrears. A perfectly flighted free kick from all of 35 yards smacked against the bar and Ohno shot over from the rebound.
Freda Ayisi added strength to the Arsenal attack and Spencer saved well from her, Carter and Caroline Weir but the Gunners were largely forced to shoot from distance. Again it was Blues who found the clearer opening on the break with Jade Moore shooting just wide from a good position.
In the final ten minutes, England Under-17 international Leah Williamson made her debut for Arsenal the day after her 17th birthday and Birmingham used all three substitutes, including a debut for Welsh international striker Hannah Keryakoplis.
The better team over both matches had progressed with a core of young and more mature English talent, no doubt impressing the watching Mark Sampson. It would be unfair to pick out any player in the almost flawless display, every player winning their personal battles and covering for colleagues in difficulty. Arsenal will only get better as the drastically remodelled squad gains cohesion over the domestic season whilst Blues carry on against star studded Swedish side Tyreso FF in the semi finals.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Alex Scott, Emma Mitchell, Jade Bailey (sub Freda Ayisi 48mins), Yukari Kinga, Casey Stoney, Caroline Weir, Shinobu Ohno (sub Bianca Bragg 83mins), Danielle Carter, Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey (sub Leah Williamson 81mins). Subs not used: Siobhan Chamberlain, Anouk Hoogendijk, Carla Humphrey.
Birmingham City: Rebecca Spencer, Chelsea Weston (sub Emily Simpkins 85mins), Jess Carter, Jade Moore, Aoife Mannion, Kerys Harrop (sub Cristina Torkildsen 85mins), Melissa Lawley, Remi Allen, Kirsty Linnett (sub Hannah Keryakoplis 81mins), Karen Carney, Jo Potter. Subs not used: Sophie Baggaley, Meaghan Sargeant, Emily Westwood, Katie Wilkinson.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Kirsty Linnett scores the opening goal despite Casey Stoney's efforts
(middle) Karen Carney is pursued by Emma Mitchell
(bottom) Hannah Keryakoplis takes on Emma Mitchell
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