September 28, 2020 by Stephen L Wright
…is what it means to earn a place in an FA Cup Semi-Final for the first time in three years:
This is what it means to have the belief and the determination and the drive and the heart and the hunger to win:
This is what this Head Coach…
…has done for this team.
Three weeks to the day since they met Brighton in the season opener, Blues came out fighting. The clock ticked to four minutes and back from injury Abbi Grant put a ball into the Brighton area which skipped past Claudia Walker to Sarah Mayling, lurking at the far post – 0-1.
The clock ticked round to end the first quarter and Brighton found their way into the Blues’ area in the person of Emily Simpkins. A well-timed tackle from Harriet Scott denied her any shooting chance.
Just before the half hour, Brighton were in Blues’ area again. This time it was Lee Geum-min versus Harriet Scott. The referee judged Scott’s challenge to have been too strong and Dani Bowman scored the resulting penalty – 1-1.
On the cusp of half-time, Mayling and Scott, who had done so much work together, nearly put Blues ahead as the former’s whipped in cross just missed the latter’s head. And that was the end of the first period of play where Blues, unlike three weeks ago, had spent the vast majority in Brighton’s half.
Carla Ward’s dressing room message was “We need to keep getting better.”
And the players took it to heart as they started the second half and kept the home side under pressure. Abbi Grant got into the area in the fiftieth minute, was pulled back in a challenge and new signing Mollie Green scored from the spot – 1-2.
Blues held on for forty-three agonising minutes, denying Brighton every opportunity, including a Hannah Hampton crucial save against a Fran Whelan shot on target. But with seconds to go to the final whistle, O’Sullivan headed in a Fliss Gibbons’ cross – 2-2.
Two minutes in and Hampton was the heroine again as she got down low to deny Rianna Jarrett.
Two minutes later it was Blues’ turn as Jamie-Lee Napier collected a through ball from Green only to see her shot slide past the post.
The remainder of extra time passed with nothing to report.
Penalties to decide.
After six it was two all. Mayling scored Blues’ fourth and then Megan Connolly stepped up. She struck the ball low to the right but Hampton read it perfectly and parried it away. No pressure then on Georgia Brougham, who stood back from the ball poised for the whistle. On the signal, she took four quick steps and hit the ball high and left out of the reach of a diving Cecilie Fiskerstrand.
Understandably, Ward was ecstatic: “I’m a bit speechless, but overwhelmingly proud. They deserved everything they got today. We had a 15-minute spell where Brighton threw the kitchen sink at us but we weathered it. I’m proud of the desire they showed to get the win. I take my hat off to them.“
And the fans were buzzing, too. “Grit.” “What an awesome result!” “Absolutely brilliant worked as a team.” “Will hopefully do so much for the conf idence of the group, work that hard AND get the result at the end.” “All round fantastic performance by the whole team.” Compare these to those from three weeks ago. Today, we saw a different team.
We go again on Wednesday, in the semi, at home to Everton after their surprise win against the Cup holders.
Preview on Tuesday. Until then…