The maths (or math if you are American) going into this game for Lincoln Ladies was very simple. A draw or a victory would see Lincoln make the semi finals of the Conentinal Cup. If Lincoln bettered Arsenal's result against already eliminated Bristol then Lincoln could win the group. From a Birmingham point of view they really needed to win today to advance. They could do it with a draw, but that would only be good enough if Bristol beat Arsenal at Borehamwood (unlikely in my view)
As we saw on our last visit down to these parts, Stratford-upon-Avon looked like a decent little place to spend an hour, so the bus left an hour earlier than our first jaunt so that we could have a look round (or in my case checkout the local hostelry scene) Its a nice treat going to places like this, as all too often on my football travels at various levels of the game i tend to end up at less than scenic locations (sh*tips in layman's terms). For every Chester, York, or Statford-upon-Avon i visit, there are plenty of Hydes, Rotherhams, Frickleys, and Southends to be explored.
Thankfully we didn't have to walk far from where the bus dropped us off to the nearest pub, which was a quaint little place called the Pen and Parchment that had a cracking beer garden and which was just perfect to spend an hour drinking. If we didn't have a football game to go to i could quite happily spend several more hours outside here. For the first time this season it actually felt like a summer day.
The two sides have already locked horns at Straford this season and fought out a 1-1 draw. A repeat of that result and performance today would do just nicely from an Imps point of view. So far its been a tough season for Birmingham City ladies. Their defence of the FA cup ended in spectacular style at the quarter final stage with a 6-0 drubbing by Arsenal. In the league they have collected three points from their three games to date with all three matches being draws. So if you an optimist you can point to the claim that they are still unbeaten in the league this season or if you a pessimist (which in my experience is about 85% of all football fans) then you can make a big thing of the fact that they are yet to win a league game this season. They have two wins this season however; they have recorded a 2-0 win over league leaders Bristol in the Continental Cup, and beat Cardiff City away 3-1 in the FA Cup.
With kick off approaching it was time to drag my arse out of the bar and part with my £6 and watch Lincoln hopefully claim a semi final spot.
Birmingham got us underway and promptly just booted it straight out of play to pen Lincoln back in their own half. Knowing that Birmingham had to win this game they started at a quick tempo and forced Karen into an early save which she tipped round the post for a corner which they wasted. However they didn't have to wait long before they took the lead. Just three minutes into the game Rachel Williams latched onto Jo Potter's great through ball; breaching Lincoln's offside trap and produced a cool low finish that gave Bardsley no chance at all. Now its never great to lose a goal after three minutes but as an optimist i look at the fact that it gives us 87 minutes (plus added time) to find a goal ourselves.
The goal didn't rock Lincoln and they did start to settle down and get themselves back into the game, backed by their very vocal travelling supporters. Lincoln were getting plenty of joy down the flanks with Roberts and Clarke but the final ball wasn't quite there. Birmingham themselves weren't creating too many chances with their only real goal threats being from set pieces. Blues and England midfielder Rachel Unitt went down when unchallenged and forced the homeside into a change. As this caused a break in play i thought it the perfect time to grab a bite to eat so i took a stroll round to the snap hut. The bad news was that they had run out of chips but had sent somebody to go and fetch some more.
|Quick sketch of the goal.|
As it stood at halftime Lincoln were not only going through to the semi finals but were also on course to win the group as Arsenal were losing 1-2 at home to Bristol.
Just after halftime it looked like Lincoln should have had a second penalty when Carla Cantrell appeared to be fouled in the area but the ref waved away the protests from Lincoln players and fans. I had a pretty decent view of it as we were stood at the end that Lincoln were attacking and it looked like a decent shout to me. Shortly after Lincoln themselves had some reshuffling to do, when skipper Casey Stoney left the field with what looked like an upper leg injury to be replaced by Bonnie Horwood.
About midway through the second half we had one of the most amusing moments of the season so far. Lincoln sent a long ball over the top and although it was beyond Emily Roberts, it did find its way to Blues defender Emily Westwood, given that Roberts was bearing down on her she had to hit it first time but however she managed to shank it out off the pitch to give Lincoln a cheap corner. This happened right in front of the main group of Lincoln fans and so drew a huge cheer and a few honks for good measure. As you can imagine Westwood wasn't too amused by this response and gave us the kind of death stare that a man normally receives from his wife/girlfriend/partner when he tells them that he is only poping out for "A couple of pints" and returns 7 hours later at 2.00am, barely able to speak more than two sentences, 60 quid worse off, and with kebab sauce all down his shirt.
Lincoln however didn't take advantage of this gift of a corner as it sailed straight out of play. Oh well easy come, easy go as they say. In defence of Emily Westwood she has represented England at all levels so i think this sort of blooper must be a rarity. I have certainly shanked plenty of clearances like this in my time so I feel her pain.
As the game wore on it became more of a case of attack versus defence, but in keeping with much of the season Lincoln didn't allow Birmingham many clear sights on goal and their work rate was second to none. Karen was called into action in the dying moments however but she pulled off a fantastic diving catch to keep the scores level. Finally after four long minutes of added on time the ref blew; Lincoln had booked their place in the semi final and had knocked out the side that had beaten them in the semi final last season.
Elsewhere in the Continental Cup Arsenal staged a second half fight back to beat Bristol 4-2 and win group A; forcing Lincoln into second place. Over in Group B Liverpool slammed in 4 without reply to beat Chelsea away and win the group. Everton take the runners up spot in the group after a 3-1 win at Doncaster Saturday night. This leaves us with the following semi final line up.
Arsenal v Everton
Liverpool v Lincoln
After the game it was great to see the players come over as the players and fans applauded each other. Following this we headed over to the bar for an hour before we set off home. The players came in and were happy to mingle with both sets of fans. This kind of stuff is great to see but i must admit i was a little star struck by the whole thing. Strange thing is when i am professionally covering games i feel totally different in press conferences, interviews etc. Very strange.
On the way home i was reflecting on the cup run so far, and i think that getting out of our group this time was a far bigger achievement than last year when we won all three games including that win over Arsenal. Unlike last season we had two away games out of three, with the only home game being against Arsenal who are the FAWSL champions and always give you a hard game and we gained a point from that. Then we had a trip to the current FAWSL league leaders and FA Cup finalists Bristol, where we recorded a great 1-0 win. Last up this away game with Birminhgam, who knew they had to win, and as such we kind of knew we would be under pressure for long periods in the game. To get 5 points from these three games is in my view quite impressive.
And so Liverpool await us away in the semi final stage. They have started the season well but we have nothing to fear. The semi finals arent played till after the midseason break so a lot can change in that time. As of the time of writing, we dont have a date for the game yet but whenever it is played however, we will be ready and waiting and all set to go.
Have fun and here's your picture.