By Chris Harris
Arsenal Ladies have never lost an FA Cup Final. And they never looked like losing this one.
Vic Akers' side outclassed Leeds at the City Ground on a bright Bank Holiday Monday and ran out comfortable winners courtesy of a brace from Kelly Smith and further goals from Jayne Ludlow and Lianne Sanderson. The only surprise was that the margin of victory was not greater.
Leeds have Carly Telford to thank for that. Their overworked keeper kept the champions at bay until the 53rd minute with a string of fine saves but finally succumbed to the pressure as Arsenal ran riot. Jess Clarke's header gave Leeds brief hope but it was mere consolation.
This was the Ladies' third successive FA Cup triumph, their ninth in total and their 29th major trophy in just 16 years. Most importantly, it completed another domestic 'double' and ensured that a less than vintage campaign ended on a real high note.
The showpiece occasion of the women's game was blessed with fine weather and all the sights and sounds of Cup Final day were in place - flags, drums, klaxons, horns and the unmistakeable shriek of eager young supporters. They made up a sizeable contingent of a record Cup Final crowd.
History suggested Arsenal would have the edge. Akers' side had contested eight FA Cup Finals before today and won them all. Indeed, they had not lost in the competition since a Semi-Final exit at the hands of Everton in March 2005.
Leeds, in stark contrast, had only one Cup Final experience to their names and a chastening one at that. The Yorkshire club were thumped 5-0 by Arsenal two years ago. Leeds, by their own admission, were daunted by the occasion back then. This time they weren't cowed, but they were still outclassed.
It was pretty much one-way traffic from the off as Arsenal tore into their opponents. In the first 10 minutes alone the holders could have had four. Sophie Bradley cleared Alex Scott's scuffed cross-shot off the line, Smith shot straight at Telford, Scott's thumping drive deflected onto the underside of the bar and bounced away from danger, and Telford flew to her left to push away Sanderson's effort.
The chances kept coming. Karen Carney's corner caused consternation in the Leeds defence as Sanderson's overhead kick was headed away. Telford spilt the loose ball but it was hacked off the goal-line with Faye White lurking.
Scott's bursts from right-back were a constant menace and she squandered two glorious opportunities. On 23 minutes she was played in by Smith's diagonal ball and forced a block from Telford. The Leeds keeper got up quickly to smother Scott's follow-up. Five minutes later Smith picked out Scott again but she delayed her shot and the chance went begging.
Emma Byrne was virtually redundant between the posts as her opposite number took centre stage but the Arsenal keeper had to pick the ball out of the back of her net after 32 minutes. Fortunately for Byrne and her team-mates, Amanda Barr was flagged offside as she raced through to lob the Irish keeper.
Byrne was forced to push away Sue Smith's corner from under her own bar as half-time approached but Telford was still much the busier of the two stoppers. Her next show of excellence was to deny Carney as the winger raced clear of the Leeds defence.
Incredibly, the deadlock remained unbroken at the break but that all changed eight minutes after the restart when Smith prodded the ball past Telford from close range after Yankey ran at the Leeds defence and timed her through-ball to perfection.
Two goals in a minute effectively ended the contest. With 58 on the clock Sanderson's deep diagonal ball was guided past Telford by Ludlow. Then Sanderson herself advanced to the edge of the box and unleashed a shot which looped off Wright and found the corner.
It looked as though the floodgates had opened but, to their credit, Leeds managed a riposte with 21 minutes left. Smith floated a wonderful shot against the upright from 25 yards and Clarke rammed home a header from the rebound.
It was a brief respite for Leeds as Arsenal racked up the chances. Scott went close when well positioned, Ludlow's header was nodded over the crossbar and substitute Julie Fleeting fired inches wide before the Scottish striker set up a second for Smith seven minutes from time. Fleeting raced through in the right channel and planted her shot against the post; Smith had a simple task to tap the rebound into the net.
It was no more than Arsenal deserved. Their European crown may have slipped this year but, on this evidence, the Ladies' domestic dominance remains firmly intact.
The ladies line up pre-match
Kelly Smith slides home our opener
Ludlow guides home our second goal
Jayne turns to celebrate
Sanderson hugs our scorer
Sanderson makes it 3-0
"We've won the Cup!"
White and Ludlow lift the trophy
Mary Phillip and Alex Scott
Vic Akers with the silverware
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