Arsenal secured a domestic cup double after late goals from Ellen White and Kim Little gave them a 2-0 victory over Lincoln in the Continental Cup final at The Hive on Friday.
A ‘strange’ season for the country’s most successful women’s team saw them lose the league title to Liverpool and miss out on the Champions League after finishing third in the FAWSL.
But a 3-0 victory against Bristol Academy in May saw them claim the FA Cup and Arsenal captain Steph Houghton believes their cup success has silenced their doubters.
“We have had a lot of people doubting how good we are as a team and to come away with the FA Cup and the Continental Cup just shows how much talent we actually have in the squad,” said Houghton.
“It is obviously disappointing that we lost the league – it is a competition that we always prioritise coming into a season. As always, we want to be competing for all three trophies and the Champions League,” added the England full-back who is eager to come back fighting for the FAWSL title next season.
“When it comes to pre-season we want to improve as much as we can to try and get our league title back.”
The favourites endured a frustrating first half with Lincoln holding firm defensively and Jess Clarke looking dangerous whenever the Imps had possession.
Danielle Carter, a constant threat throughout the match, forced Imps goalkeeper Karen Bardsley into a fine low save just two minutes in and Ellen White headed narrowly over from Rachel Yankey’s cross moments later.
The match exploded into life in the closing ten minutes of the first half and it was the Imps who almost snatched the lead in the 43rd minute when former Arsenal midfielder Bonnie Horwood had a low shot deflected past the post.
But Arsenal, who were quick on the counter, had the better opportunities and would have gone in ahead at the break but for two goal-line blocks denying Carter in stoppage time.
Lincoln’s defence survived more scares after the restart as Arsenal looked to assert their dominance from the off, Carter and Yankey again causing problems for the opposing back four which was ably marshalled by England captain, Casey Stoney.
But the Imps defence was finally breached when Little slipped a through-ball in for White to slot home from 15 yards.
Little then hit the decisive goal after a jinking run through the Lincoln midfield allowed her the opportunity to try her luck from 12-yards. Her well-placed shot nestled into the top right-hand corner of the net to give Arsenal the win they deserved on the night.
“I am a bit gutted because we came here with an ambition to win. Two lapses in concentration cost us, but you can’t deny that we defended well on the night with people throwing themselves in-front of the ball,” said Stoney.
The Lincoln skipper added: “We were evenly matched and went in after the first half reasonably happy. We started the second half really brightly but if you switch off with them they punish you and credit to them they did that.”
The win is Arsenal’s third successive victory in the Continental Cup final and rounds off their season on a high.
“It has been a bit of a strange season for us. We won the FA Cup which was a big high and then we didn’t win the league. There have been lows but there have been extreme highs as well,” said Scotland international Kim Little.
She added: “It was a great game for us in the end. We had a lot of chances – we should have scored more – but it is nice to get on the score-sheet and get the win.”
Hear more from the Continental Cup final in this week’s The Offside Rule (we get it!) podcast, out Thursday!
Hear more from Lincoln Ladies and England captain Casey Stoney here.
By Harriet Drudge