By Richard Clarke
A towering header from Jayne Ludlow in injury time of extra time
sent Arsenal into the Women's FA Cup Final for another
Vic Akers' side dominated Charlton throughout Sunday's
Semi-Final and their keeper Pauline Cope was forced into a string
of fine saves. But Arsenal only had Julie Fleeting's header
midway through the second half to show for their efforts. That was
quickly cancelled out by Eniola Aluko and there looked like being
no addition in extra time until Ludlow met Rachel Yankey's
corner with virtually the last touch of the game.
Seconds later the wild celebrations could start.
Arsenal were quicker off the blocks in front a crowd of well
over 1,000 spectators at Bishops Stortford FC. After only five
minutes, Faye White won the ball on the right and tapped a short
pass to Lianne Sanderson. The 18-year-old floated a superb ball to
Fleeting just outside the area.
The Scottish striker cut inside her marker and fired low to the
left of Cope. The former England No 1 thrust out a hand to parry
the ball aside. It would be the first of many saves for the
A minute later, Cope was flinging herself in the opposite
direction. This time to block a long-range effort from Yankey. The
former Fulham winger was to have an influential first half.
Charlton remain hot on the heels of leaders Arsenal in the
Women's Premier League and, of course, boast that League Cup
victory over Akers' side a few weeks ago. They responded
immediately with, arguably, an even clearer chance.
Katie Chapman flicked the ball over the head of Mary Phillip but
volleyed straight at Emma Byrne as the Arsenal keeper rushed out to
block The Irishwoman deserved a proportion of the credit for
cutting down the angle with such alacrity.
Still, in general, Charlton were needing to show the qualities
suggested in their nickname - The Valiants. Arsenal could not
reproduce that early flurry for the rest of the half but, in terms
of possession and territory, they were in command.
Sanderson forced Cope into further gymnastics soon afterwards
with a long-range free-kick and Ludlow had a goal-bound shot
blocked from a corner.
Charlton stayed sharp on the break but could sustain little.
Still, on the half-hour it took a combination of White and Phillip
to smother the skills of Aluko at the near post.
In injury time the deadlock should have been broken. A Charlton
corner was cleared and Sanderson threaded the ball through for
Smith, who steadied herself at the near post but could not beat
Cope, who thrust out a right leg to block the ball. Her defence did
The Charlton keeper continued to be overemployed at the start of
the second half. After two minutes she repelled another free-kick
from Sanderson as it headed for the top corner.
In the 57th minute, Cope batted away a fierce shot from Yankey
at the near post following fine approach work from Smith and
The 18-year-old was becoming increasingly influential. Around
the hour she forced Cope into two more saves. First from long range
and then after she had collected Yankey's lofted cross-field
pass and raced into the area.
If Cope was already on overtime then the next save was worth a
bonus. Smith cleverly found space on the left and crossed into the
centre, Fleeting met it with solid sidefoot shot. It seemed
destined nestle high into the net but the 60-cap keeper
fingertipped it over the bar.
Despite Cope's best efforts, the defence in front of her was
becoming increasingly bedraggled. In the 70th minute it was
breached. Alex Scott drove forward through the centre and flicked
the ball out to Sanderson on the right. Her cross was tipped high
into the air by Cope at the near post and Fleeting had the simplest
of jobs to nod home into the unguarded net from virtually on the
The lead was thoroughly deserved. But it would last only four
Casey Stoney thumped a free-kick forward and it was nodded onto
Aluko on the edge of the area. She held off her marker superbly
before swivelling and sending a low shot past Byrne. It was a
sickener for Arsenal.
They might have re-taken the lead in the minutes that followed.
Sanderson again stung the hands of Cope, Yankey's shot was
deflected over at the far post and the keeper made a sprawling save
from Smith's free-kick. But, at the other end, Aluko could have
stolen the time at the death when she sent a diving header just
past the near post
It seemed that nothing was going to prevent extra time.
Arsenal had the first chance into the added period. After eight
minutes, Sanderson won the ball in midfield and sent Ludlow clear
in the left-hand channel. She had a clear sight of Cope's goal
but Eartha Pond raced back to deflect the eventual shot wide of the
Four minutes later, Smith fled down the right and crossed for
the unmarked Yankey at the far post. Her shot was blocked and the
ball rebounded to Smith who had a blanket of bodies between her and
the goal. She could not force through her shot.
Stoney planted a header against the Arsenal bar within seconds
of the restart. But both sides were tiring by now and they could
muster little in the final quarter of an hour.
Until Ludlow had the last laugh.
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