By Giuseppe Muro at the Ricoh Arena
Arsenal Ladies reaffirmed their dominance of women’s football as Bristol Academy were comfortably brushed aside in the FA Women's Cup Final on Saturday.
First-half goals from Kim Little and Julie Fleeting set Arsenal on their way and Laura Harvey’s side never looked back as they cruised to an uncomplicated 2-0 victory.
Little weaved her way through the Bristol defence to put Arsenal in front after 15 minutes and Fleeting’s powerful header doubled the lead on the half-hour. Only a combination of Bristol keeper Siobhan Chamberlain and the woodwork kept the scoreline respectable as Arsenal dominated.
The second period was a rather tepid affair with Arsenal seemingly content with their two-goal cushion and Bristol offering little in the way of a fightback as the Gunners brought the trophy back to north London for a record 11th time in 12 showpiece appearances.
Following a stop-start winter of Champions League adventures and a Spring that has brought an inconsistent start to the new Women’s Super League, this triumph kicks off the summer in perfect fashion.
For Harvey, who was born just down the road from the Ricoh Arena in Bulkington and spent six years at Coventry City Ladies as a player, this triumph will hold even greater significance.
Victory gives the 31-year-old manager her second trophy since taking charge midway through last season and brings Arsenal an incredible 34th major crown since their formation in 1987.
Two members of the ‘old guard’ that have played such important roles in that illustrious 24-year history - Faye White and Jayne Ludlow - were missing through injury but any suggestion that Arsenal would miss their wealth of Cup Final experience were quickly extinguished.
Jemma Rose and Fleeting might have done better when well positioned during a nervy opening with chances proving hard to come by as both sides took time to settle.
But then a moment of individual brilliance from Little put Arsenal ahead. Bristol failed to properly clear on the edge of their penalty area, presenting the ball to the clinical Scottish international. She danced her way through two challenges, shifted the ball onto her right foot to beat a third slumbering defender before thumping the ball past the wrong-footed Chamberlain. Remember Cesc Fabregas’ goal in the ’11-second derby’? This was not too dissimilar.
Cue ecstasy from Harvey on the touchline. After defeat against Everton in her first Final as manager last year, her delight was clear for all to see. The goal settled Arsenal who began to play with the freedom synonymous with their game over the years.
Rachel Yankey burst down the left before teeing up the impressive Jordan Nobbs, who was snuffed out at the last minute by a desperate Bristol block. Another last-gasp intervention prevented Fleeting getting a second after good work from the ever-willing Ellen White. You sensed Arsenal were in the mood.
More indecision in the Bristol defence allowed Fleeting time to guide an effort onto the crossbar and only a wonderful one-handed save kept out White’s low header seconds later.
But Fleeting was not to be denied for long. The prolific striker rose highest to meet a pin-point Niamh Fahey centre and, from six yards, Chamberlain was given no chance.
Arsenal were dominating possession and holes in the Bristol backline were exposed again with White and Fleeting going agonisingly close with headers. Helen Bleazard’s shot in anger sailed over the crossbar from fully 35 yards and was greeted by the half-time whistle. Arsenal were in complete control.
As has become the norm on Cup Final day, this year’s chosen venue was awash with colour as a bolster crowd of 13,885 tried to spur Bristol back into the game.
Bleazard went close from a free-kick that grazed the top of Emma Byrne’s crossbar midway through the second half but Arsenal cruised to victory in a largely uneventful second 45 minutes.
The showpiece occasion of the women’s game will be Arsenal’s last fixture until the end of the July with the inaugural Women’s Super League now taking a mid-season break for the World Cup.
On this evidence, the newly-crowed FA Cup winners will take some beating when the domestic season resumes.
Referee: Sian Massey
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