By Nik Brumsack at Meadow Park
Arsenal Ladies celebrated retaining their Women’s Super League title with victory over Doncaster Rovers Belles.
Laura Harvey's team were confirmed as champions before kick-off when Birmingham failed to win at Bristol Academy and they took the lead in the first half when Lyndsey Cunningham put through her own net.
Aine O’Gorman’s spectacular long-range drive levelled the scores just four minutes later but another own goal, this time from Tanya Oxtoby, restored Arsenal's advantage.
Substitute Kelly Smith extended the lead late on, firing home after Kim Little had set her up. And despite Leandra Little’s late consolation, the Gunners held on to cap a magnificent day with a win.
Harvey made two changes from the team that beat Barcelona in Spain on Wednesday with wingers Gemma Davison and Danielle Carter coming into the side for Steph Houghton and Rachel Yankey.
They were ahead within 16 minutes. A fine move involving the recalled Davison and Carter ended with the latter slipping a reverse ball into Ellen White’s path. The England international crossed low into the box, where there looked to be little danger until Cunningham sliced her clearance into her own net.
Doncaster were by no means being dominated, and they equalised less than five minutes later.
The home side seemed to be in control of the situation when O’Gorman picked the ball up just inside the Arsenal half. But after taking a touch to steady herself, the striker smashed an unstoppable effort from fully 35 yards over Byrne and into the top corner.
It was a truly spectacular goal, and one that the visitors’ bright start to the game had deserved.
Just after the half-hour mark, however, the hosts re-took the lead. As with the first goal, they were helped considerably by their opponents.
After the lively Davison had got to the byline, Oxtoby contrived to head the winger’s cross past Mary Earps and into the net.
Incredibly, despite scoring all three goals, the visitors were trailing.
With Arsenal keen to celebrate their title triumph in style, Kim Little volleyed just over after Jordan Nobbs’ delicious pass had created the chance.
Both sides then traded chances just before the break. First, Millie Bright’s loose pass saw White go through. But Earps came out well to save at the forward’s feet. Then, at the other end, Jess Sigsworth’s fierce shot flew just wide of Byrne’s goal.
The second half started high on endeavour but low on chances, though Alyssa Lagonia’s shot from 30 yards out went just over Byrne’s goal.
Then, with their first real chance of the second period, Harvey’s team went close to extending the lead.
A good move by the home side ended with Alex Scott setting up Kim Little. The midfielder, also top scorer in the WSL this season, drove her shot across the goalkeeper, but saw the ball rebound off the post and away to safety.
Houghton was introduced for Jennifer Beattie and almost made an instant impact when her shot was well held by Earps at the near post.
With Thursday’s return fixture against Barcelona in mind, Harvey continued to shuffle her pack and introduced Yvonne Tracy and Smith for Gilly Flaherty and Davison.
And Smith took just seven minutes to make her mark.
Little’s weighted pass was inch-perfect for the England striker, and she finished with aplomb, clinically stroking a left-footed effort past Earps.
Leandra Little pulled one back two minutes from time but that wasn’t enough to stop Harvey’s team from claiming the three points.
They now go into next week’s game at Birmingham just 90 minutes away from completing an unbeaten season.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.