Will Birmingham be “Singing the Blues” this season?
In the second of my Women’s Super League team previews, the spotlight turns to David Parker’s “Lady Blues”. I’ve seen them at close quarters during the last three seasons, and they are one difficult side to beat. That’s in no small part to their collective team spirit (with the Donny Belles now in WSL 2 and Lincoln Ladies no more), the closest I’ve seen to that at Bristol Academy.
And not many saw this week’s UEFA Women’s Champions League first leg win against Arsenal coming. The 1-0 home victory gives Blues real self-belief and, perhaps more importantly, something to defend in the return leg this Sunday after Remi Allen’s strike. They qualified for this year’s tournament by winning the 2012 Women’s FA Cup – bear in mind the UCL runs out of sync with the WSL, effectively a year behind. And they didn’t just parachute into this position, already having disposed of Russia’s FC Zorkiy (7-2 on aggregate) and Finland’s PK-37 (4-0 on aggregate) Blues are enjoying the UCL ride. It should be a cracker at the Hive in the return!!
So just who are the current pride of the female game in the West Midlands?
Let’s start with the “Gaffer”, Dave Parker is one shrewd boss, highly respected and works within the game as a match and player analyst. So this 29 year old knows his onions alright. He’s a born and bred Brummie and has a real passion that he transmits to his charges.
Of course, the above can only take you so far; it’s players that have to do the business and Birmingham has far from the largest budget in the division. And some key players have departed. Izzy Christiansen opted not to re-sign and experienced full back Rachel Unitt has left for Notts County Ladies. And, literally, as I write this the news has come through that goalkeeper Mary Earps has joined Bristol Academy.
On the plus side striker Kirsty Linnett has really caught the eye and is a talented young player capped at all junior levels by England. Welsh international Hannah Keryakopolis is also a talented forward, though the heart and soul of the team is Karen Carney. A full international at just 17, she has great vision, touch and an eye for goal. If Carney plays well, the Blues do well. A big season lies ahead for ‘keeper Rebecca Spencer with Earps departure. Chelsea Weston’s contribution in defence will also be crucial, for what has traditionally been a miserly Blues backline.
Remi Allen could well be the next big thing for Blues and again, has plenty of experience, in spite of her tender years! Jo Potter brings that vital stability and leadership in the middle of the park and this combination is sure to excite alongside the precocious talent of 16 year-old Jess Carter – who made an astounding debut against the Gunners.
Birmingham have always been competitive in the WSL era and before. I can’t see any reason why that won’t continue this season. It may be tough to improve on last season’s 4th place and I think they need more goals in the squad to be serious contenders. But, with their record in cup competition, I could easily envisage some kind of success in the FA or Continental Cups. Especially with a Birmingham derby against Aston Villa Ladies to look forward to in the Continental Cup scheduled for Villa Park! And, of course, like Arsenal, Blues are already match-fit and up and running which should benefit them early season at least.
Prediction: Anywhere from 3rd to 8th – impossible to predict.
Key Player: Karen Carney
Birmingham City Ladies begin their league campaign against Everton Ladies at home (Solihull Moors FC) on 16th April.
Check out Neil’s other previews: