Jessy Parker Humphreys gives the lowdown on the weekend’s FA Cup action, which saw Birmingham, Everton, Manchester City, and Arsenal progress through to the mid-week semi-finals.
It looked like the resumption of the 2019-20 Women’s FA Cup would take place with more of a whimper than a bang.
In the week leading up to the fixtures, you would have been hard pressed to find a consistent set of kick-off times for the four games. Only the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham was picked up for television, whilst Brighton and Birmingham City’s meeting was unavailable to view anywhere.
Arsenal made matters worse on Saturday morning by posting photos of their men’s team looking glum because there was “no football this weekend.” It was an inevitable consequence of the club’s decision to see the men’s and women’s teams as different entities from a content and marketing perspective, but it felt tone-deaf regardless.
Yet as is so often the case with the women’s game, once the football began, it showed no signs of caring about the (lack of) focus placed on it.
Ostensibly, the North London Derby was where the media executives had decided excitement would take place. For 70 minutes, Tottenham frustrated Arsenal by harrying them across the pitch, forcing them into errors. Alanna Kennedy was imposing in midfield, happily mopping up the ball in front of defence before driving Tottenham forward.
When teams don’t make the most of their opportunities against Arsenal, it feels like only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. Sure enough, Ashleigh Neville made a sloppy pass which ended up at Jordan Nobbs’ feet. Seeing Becky Spencer off her line, Nobbs calmly lobbed the goalkeeper.
From there Tottenham fell apart and Lisa Evans wrapped up a hattrick to give Arsenal a 4-0 win. But with Alex Morgan having stayed firmly wrapped up in her coat on the bench, Tottenham’s managers Karen Hill and Juan Amoros would have seen plenty of encouraging signs from their team.
The ‘cupset’ many would have hoped for from that game did come elsewhere. Chelsea lined up for their quarter-final against Everton with Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr as a front two for the first time. However, it was much the same story for Chelsea as from their opening game against Manchester United. Chances were squandered whilst Everton took their opportunities.
With Everton sitting quite deep defensively, Kerr was unable to play on the shoulder of the last defender as she usually aims to, whilst Norweigan international Ingrid Moe Wold kept Erin Cuthbert very quiet on the left hand side. Chelsea were missing captain Magda Erikksson due to a knock, and it is questionable whether she would have allowed Valerie Gauvin to get beyond her in the way Jess Carter did to score the winner.
Emma Hayes will be concerned that for all the quality on the pitch, Chelsea struggled to create clear cut opportunities, with sloppy touches often leading to the ball running away from them. Everton, meanwhile, are already seeing their summer investments pay off.
Leicester City have also been putting their money where their mouth is, having recently professionalised their squad. As the one remaining side in the Cup from outside the top division, they might have hoped to make the most of Manchester City’s lackadaisical start to the season. City named a strong side, perhaps in the hope to see themselves get into greater goalscoring form, and they will have been pleased to see Ellen White get on the scoresheet as well as Chloe Kelly opening her account. Leicester did manage to score a penalty but City never looked likely to be threatened in a 2-1 win.
Given the way in which Brighton brushed aside Birmingham on the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League, Hope Powell’s side might have fancied themselves to do the same on Sunday when the teams met again in the FA Cup. But Carla Ward’s Birmingham seem to grow in confidence week on week. After scaring Manchester United two weeks ago, they showed incredible resilience to not collapse when Brighton’s Denise O’Sullivan forced extra time with a late equaliser to make it 2-2. They held their nerve during extra time and penalties to reach the FA Cup semi-final. For a team who looked like they could have been relegated last season, it is quite the opportunity.
The semi-final draw sees Everton face Birmingham whilst Arsenal will head to Manchester City. It means that once again we will see a team from outside the ‘top three’ in the final on November 1st, and teams will enjoy that it has come at the expense of Chelsea.
Everton’s performance should go some way to assuage fears that the league is only becoming less competitive, as Willie Kirk’s side demonstrated that they have the ability to overcome the very best in English women’s football. On the other side of the draw, an early match-up between Manchester City and Arsenal is a tantalising prospect. It will be an interesting test for new manager Gareth Taylor to face up to the tactical nous of Joe Montemurro.
Both midweek semi-finals will be shown on the BBC, it was announced less than a week before the matches were due to take place – as there appears to be a ‘better late than never policy’ in advertising the Women’s FA Cup.
Given what an exciting weekend the quarter-finals provided, and with fans locked out, it is a shame that broadcasting these games was not considered a priority.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph