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Birmingham City 1 (Carney pen 90) Arsenal 2 (Stoney 23, Ayisi 69)
Arsenal dealt a blow to Birmingham City's title aspirations and put themselves on the fringe of a possible late challenge as they claimed victory at Solihull.
A goal in each half moved the Gunners to within six points of the leadership as they won a game which became fractious in the second half, not helped by an awful refereeing performance.
Birmingham started the game brightly and created the first opportunity of the game when Jess Carter found Remi Allen on the left and the midfielder cut inside before curling a shot just over the bar.
Arsenal came more into the game as the half wore on and opened the scoring midway through the half. Leah Williamson won a header from a Shinobu Ohno corner and the ball fell for Casey Stoney to crash a shot into the roof of the net for her fourth league goal of the season - taking the central defender to the joint leadership in the WSL 1 scoring charts.
The home side almost responded straight away, Karen Carney burst into the area on the left and whipped in a cross but a diving Emily Westwood could not quite reach the ball in front of goal.
The goal had buoyed Arsenal though and they passed the ball around confidently with Jordan Nobbs the orchestrator, well supported by Williamson who further enhanced her growing reputation.
As half time approached, Arsenal pressed hard for a second goal. A free kick taken short by Rachel Yankey found Nobbs in space around 25 yards from goal and her powerful strike brought out an excellent save from Rebecca Spencer, who tipped the ball over. The resulting corner, taken by Yankey, was met by Williamson was header cleared the bar.
Freda Ayisi was showing up well on the right and on two occasions she made a strong run into the centre before unleashing a shot which was just over the bar. Birmingham responded with Carney breaking down the right and her cross looked destined to float straight in but a backpedalling Emma Byrne managed to touch the ball over.
Arsenal took their lead into the break but Birmingham stepped up the pace after the restart and controversy was to strike within the opening five minutes.
First, Westwood's clever flick released Allen clean through on goal but, to the Blues' anger, play was inexplicably brought back for a free kick awarded for a foul by Niamh Fahey on Westwood. The resulting kick saw Carney dink the ball over the Arsenal defence, Yankey managing to poke the ball away as Jade Moore bore down on goal but this time it was the visitors who were to be upset as a penalty was awarded. Carney put the ball on the spot but, after consultation with her linesman, the referee changed her mind and awarded a corner instead.
It looked as though the right decision had eventually been reached but tempers were now boiling over on both sides and Birmingham threw everything they could at Arsenal.
Allen planted a shot inches past the far post and had another opportunity two minutes later when found in space in the area by a neat chip from Carter, but her shot brought out a fine reaction save from Byrne.
Carney had an angled shot saved after intercepting a pass from Fahey and Westwood headed into the side netting from a Potter free kick. Another set piece led to Birmingham going even closer, the initial corner was cleared back to Carney who drove a cross back into the area where Moore glanced a header past Byrne but Fahey was well positioned to head off the line.
Arsenal managed to weather the storm and then stunned the Blues with a fine goal which doubled their lead. Ohno exchanged passes with Yankey and made her way into the area where her low cross picked out Ayisi at the far post, the young striker stepping past a challenge from Carter before finding the far corner with a left foot shot.
The goal knocked some of the heart out of the Birmingham side although Carney was having a fine match against her former club and almost brought her side back into the game when racing onto a ball over the top from Potter but she poked her shot narrowly past the post.
Nobbs fired a dipping shot inches over the bar from Yukari Kinga's pass at the other end before Birmingham finally found a breakthrough deep into injury time. Hannah Keryakoplis burst down the left to whip in a cross from the goal line and - in another puzzling decision - Alex Scott was somewhat harshly penalised for handball. Carney wasted no time in sending Byrne the wrong way from the spot for a goal her efforts deserved but it was too late for the Blues to salvage anything from the game and the Arsenal revival continues.
Birmingham City: Rebecca Spencer, Chelsea Weston, Jess Carter, Jade Moore (sub Abbey-Leigh Stringer 77mins), Aoife Mannion, Kerys Harrop, Melissa Lawley, Remi Allen, Emily Westwood (sub Hannah Keryakoplis 77mins), Karen Carney, Jo Potter. Subs not used: Meaghan Sargeant, Emily Simpkins, Charlie Wellings, Sophie Baggaley, Cristina Torkildsen.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Alex Scott, Emma Mitchell (sub Yukari Kinga 77mins), Jade Bailey, Casey Stoney, Niamh Fahey, Shinobu Ohno, Jordan Nobbs, Freda Ayisi (sub Caroline Weir 89mins), Leah Williamson, Rachel Yankey. Subs not used: Siobhan Chamberlain, Christie Murray, Kelly Smith, Vyan Sampson, Carla Humphrey.
(top) Leah Williamson goes close with a first half header
(middle) Remi Allen fires in a shot which brings out a great save from Emma Byrne
(bottom) Jade Moore beats Emma Byrne to head goalwards
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