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Manchester City 1 (Duggan 55) Birmingham City 0
Manchester City returned to FA Women's Super League action with a 1-0 win over Birmingham City.
A solitary second half Toni Duggan strike proved enough to secure victory at the Academy Stadium, lifting the Blues up to fifth in the table.
In an impressive performance dominated by the home side, the scoreline could - and probably should - have been more flattering, but with the team having had little time to prepare beforehand, this was not a day to be negative in front of a record breaking 2,102 vocal supporters.
The clash marked the first since the break for the World Cup and the third time the two sides had met this season. The first of those encounters - the opening game of the league season - ended in stalemate, while the second saw City produce a superb 3-1 win in the FA Women's Cup.
After entering the pitch to a standing ovation, the hosts started very brightly. Inside three minutes, Natasha Harding tested Rebecca Spencer in the Birmingham goal, after racing onto Steph Houghton's long ball. Unfortunately for the Welsh winger, her participation would not last much longer as she suffered a knock on fifteen minutes and was replaced by Krystle Johnston.
A minute later, Jennifer Beattie headed over and Duggan curled wide as the hosts pressed to break the deadlock. Nikita Parris also saw her appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Aaron Jackson.
At the other end, Coral-Jade Haines clipped the bar with a free kick and Freda Ayisi drilled into the arms of Karen Bardsley - but the away side's threats were few and far between in comparison.
The home side then had the ball cleared off the line in the last action of the half, leaving City ruing a lack of penetration and quality in the final third.
Continuing where they left off, the Blues lay siege to the visitors' goal. Johnston shot straight at Spencer and Houghton blazed over within five minutes of the second half - and then came the breakthrough.
It was Duggan who netted it but credit must go to the influential Scott, who powered her way through the Birmingham defence and then had the composure to pick out the striker at the back post, who tucked the ball away with ease.
The away side responded well to falling behind and rallied for an equaliser. Kirsty Linnett and Melissa Lawley both saw their attempts fly wide and the introduction of Karen Carney caused problems almost immediately.
Their spell did not last very long though as the home side regained possession, playing some fine football at times. Although the team had not played together for two months, some of the intricate build up play suggested otherwise, delighting the crowd.
Isobel Christiansen linked up well with Parris on 67 minutes but did little to trouble Spencer as her effort lacked pace, before the striker headed off target twice. Then, one-on-one, the forward forced the goalkeeper into a fine stop with three minutes remaining.
In the end, it mattered little as the Blues held on for the win - an important one too - to kick start their league campaign and climb up the table. After the game, the players showed their appreciation to the applauding City faithful to complete a superb afternoon for the Blues.
Manchester City: Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze, Demi Stokes, Steph Houghton, Paula Radtke, Jennifer Beattie, Jill Scott, Isobel Christiansen, Toni Duggan, Natasha Harding (sub Krystle Johnston 15mins (Daphne Corboz 83mins), Nikita Parris. Subs not used: Alex Brooks, Georgia Brougham, Emma Lipman, Abbie McManus.
Birmingham City: Rebecca Spencer, Meaghan Sergeant, Jess Carter, Aoife Mannion, Kerys Harrop, Freda Ayisi (sub Jo Potter 71mins), Remi Allen, Kirsty Linnett (sub Emily Westwood 85mins), Jade Moore, Melissa Lawley, Coral-Jade Haines (sub Karen Carney 45mins). Subs not used: Emily Simpkins, Cheryl Edwards, Alex Windell, Cristina Torkildsen.
(Report by www.fawsl.com)
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