Birmingham City Ladies 1 Arsenal Ladies 2
FA Women’s Super League 1
BIRMINGHAM City Ladies’ title hopes were dented in controversial fashion on Sunday as Arsenal Ladies inflicted the footballing equivalent of daylight robbery on David Parker’s team at Solihull Moors’ Autotech Stadium.
The Blues were the better team throughout the encounter but a combination of wasteful finishing, some sloppy defending and, most notably, debatable refereeing, saw the hosts emerge empty-handed for a second league game in succession, leaving them third in the table – three points behind leaders Chelsea Ladies with a game in hand.
Blues perhaps knew it was not going to be their day just after the interval when – trailing to Casey Stoney’s 21st minute goal – they were left enraged by referee Amy Fearn.
Emily Westwood latched on to a ball from midfield and rolled her marker before she was upended but, after midfielder Remi Allen had latched on to the loose ball to power clean through towards goal 25 yards out, Fearn blew her whistle for the earlier infringement.
A furious reaction to the decision saw Blues’ coach Marcus Bignot sent to the stands but, before Bignot had had time to take his seat there, the hosts were then left dumbfounded two minutes later in the 49th minute when captain Karen Carney chipped a superbly flighted free kick into the area and Fearn deemed midfielder Jade Moore to have had her shirt pulled, awarding a penalty to Blues.
However, after consulting with assistant referee Simon Hill, the decision was changed to a corner, and somehow the visitors had escaped an early second half battering unscathed.
If truth be told, Blues did play some part in their own downfall though, as they let Arsenal off the hook despite a dominant performance in the fifth meeting between the sides in all competitions this season.
In the fourth minute the talismanic Jo Potter went on a mazy run down the left and Carney was inches away from converting her near post cross, before seven minutes later Allen chipped the ball just over the bar after neat build-up play between Melissa Lawley and Jess Carter.
Almost inevitably, Arsenal then took the lead with their first serious venture into Blues’ territory when hesitant defending from a corner allowed Stoney to rifle a 15-yard strike into the top right corner of the net.
Two minutes later Blues were almost level when Carney’s jinking run down the left ended with a cross which somehow eluded the onrushing Westwood at the near post.
In the 27th minute Allen and some of her team-mates were demanding a penalty after an apparent shirt pull, before at the other end the impressive Jordan Nobbs saw her 25-yard strike tipped over the bar by City custodian Rebecca Spencer.
Then came the dramatic start to the second half which saw the hosts so enraged, but after that there were further chances to level, as Allen curled a 49th minute strike just wide of the far post and five minutes later Arsenal keeper Emma Byrne denied Carney at the near post.
A minute later the industrious Allen missed a fine chance to score a goal which would have capped an impressive display when Carter’s superb chipped pass found her unmarked ten yards from goal, but Allen could only fire straight at Byrne and the chance went begging.
With Carney and Potter the driving forces, the hosts continued to pile on the pressure and in the 63rd minute Carney was again the supplier, only for a last-ditch challenge to thwart the onrushing Lawley at the far post.
Arsenal’s smash and grab raid was complete in the 69th minute when some slack defending allowed the dangerous Freda Ayisi time to fire a left-footed strike into the top left corner of the net after an impressive break led by Shinobu Ohno.
Still Blues battled on and Potter’s glorious through ball released Carney on goal but at full stretch the England star’s toe-poked effort trickled inches wide of the right hand post with Byrne beaten.
In the fourth and final minute of injury time Blues reduced their arrears when Gunners defender Alex Scott was adjudged to have handled a cross and up stepped Carney to confidently send Byrne the wrong way from the spot.
However, it was too late to save the hosts from a second league defeat of the season and they head into Thursday’s visit to Bristol Academy Women keen to get back on track. Leaders Chelsea visit Arsenal whilst second placed Liverpool travel to Everton.