By Nick Teale
For the first time in 11 fixtures, Arsenal Ladies have lost a FA Women's Cup Final.
A strike from Natasha Dowie left the Gunners heartbroken in the final minute of extra time after Laura Harvey's side had twice come from behind to take the game beyond 90 minutes.
Dowie had opened the scoring for Everton before Kim Little hit back with a penalty. However, a Faye White own goal restored Everton's lead before Julie Fleeting drew Arsenal level again in the 54th minute of an enthralling encounter.
The Gunners had won all 10 of their previous FA Women's Cup Final appearances, though this was the first time Harvey has taken charge of the side.
Jayne Ludlow's suspension kept her out and Natalie Ross' injury meant she was also unavailable.
Torrential rain may have been pouring on Nottingham Forest's City Ground just before kick off but that didn’t dampen the atmosphere inside the stadium as 17,500 fans got into the Cup Final spirit with flags, klaxons and red and blue jester hats.
The game took a little while to come alive as both sides felt their way into the match. But with 16 minutes played Everton bagged the opener, and Arsenal almost responded instantly.
Right back Becky Easton's cross was turned around the post for a corner and though it was initially cleared, Fara Williams' effort from the edge of the area caused trouble for Arsenal.
Emma Byrne palmed the shot away but only into the path of striker Dowie. White dived in to block the initial shot but was powerless to stop the Everton striker from knocking in the follow-up effort at the near post.
Just minutes later Arsenal attacked down the right and Gemma Davison produced a promising cross for Fleeting but the striker headed a glorious opportunity wide of the back post.
The Gunners continued to push forward and Brown was forced into a one-handed save from Yankey's angled shot from the left.
But neither side took a true grip on the game in the first half and Everton too had chances to extend their lead. White blocked Michelle Hinnigan's effort before Beattie's 20-yard effort was held at the other end.
Everton came close on the half hour mark when Jodie Handley crossed from right for Williams to send her header wide despite arrowing it across goal. Toni Duggan then flashed an effort wide across goal after collecting the ball on the left.
With 10 minutes remaining until the break Arsenal created another chance to equalise when Yankey delivered a low cross from the right. It was just behind Little but fell for Fleeting, who instead of opting to shoot sidefooted the ball to Davison. The 23-year-old was on the corner of the six-yard box but was closed down quickly and sliced her shot wide.
The game was given an additional lease of live soon later when Emily Westwood appeared to push Yankey. The referee's assistant spotted the off-the-ball collision and the Everton defender was the first player of the afternoon to be cautioned. Her team-mate Rachel Unitt became the second just moments later as Arsenal found their equaliser.
Davison dribbled into the area from the right and, looking dangerous, was tripped by Unitt. It was an easy call for the referee to award the penalty
Little had scored 43 goals in 32 starts before today, and she wasn't going to make any mistake from the spot. Brown dived the right way, but the strike was perfect and nestled into the bottom left corner.
But Everton hit back immediately.
Duggan crossed into the box, searching out Jill Scott but it was White who got the final touch and the Toffees' lead was restored by an own goal from the Arsenal captain.
The sun had come out by the time the second half got underway and the Gunners started the second period brightly.
Little was at the heart of the action, causing Everton problems with her surging runs before being instrumental in the holders' second equaliser with 54 minutes on the clock.
Everton couldn’t get near the ball as the Scottish international dribbled her way through the middle to find Yankey on the left. Her low cross game for Fleeting and the striker's shot rose over the keeper to give Harvey's side the goal they had been threatening.
The Gunners deserved to be level and were persistent in their search for the lead.
Yankey and Little both cut off after making runs into the box and substitute Fern Whelan was forced into a last-ditch tackle when Davison burst into the area after intercepting a loose pass.
Little hit a free kick over and Davison headed a Yankey cross into the side netting at the back post.
With 15 minutes remaining Everton created their first real chance of the second half when Dowie cut into the area from the right. The striker, niece of Hull boss Iain, aimed for goal but he shot flashed wide of the far post.
As the game moved towards extra time both sides knew that one mistake now could cost them. Williams' floated free kick sailed through to Byrne before Little almost reached Yankey's cross at the other end. The winger then sent a free kick towards Beattie, whose header was straight at Brown.
In the final minute Arsenal could have won it. Yankey stole the ball from Easten and surged forward. She found Little in support, however the striker was crowded out as she raced into the area.
The winner wasn't forthcoming and so, for only the second time in its history, the FA Women's Cup Final went to extra time.
It was Arsenal who looked most likely to win the win in the additional 30 minutes and Gilly Flaherty was extremely unlucky when her effort was blocked on the line by Eastern after Little's low cross found the left back at the far post.
With five minutes to play before the game would go to penalties, Yankey picked out White but the captain sent her effort wide as the holders continued to look dangerous.
Little and Yankey both had runs into the area but the Gunners just couldn’t find a way through, and Everton were beginning to pose a threat on the break.
And then they did steal the lead.
The Toffees cleared an Arsenal corner and Brooke Chaplen gave chase before finding Dowie. Byrne rushed out but the striker slotted the ball into the bottom corner. It was late in the day and the Toffees' bench knew they had won the trophy for the first time in their history.
For Arsenal, it was their first defeat in 11 FA Women's Cup Finals.
- White (C)
- Grant Yellow Card
- Fleeting Goal!
- Davison 70
- Little Goal!
- Carter 70
- Williams Yellow Card
- Westwood Yellow Card
- Unitt 63
- Johnson Yellow Card
- Dowie Goal! Goal!
- Jodie Handley (C)
- Duggan 111
- Brooke Chaplen
- Whelan 63
- Evans 111