By Nik Brumsack at Keepmoat Stadium
Arsenal Ladies have won the FA Women’s Cup for the 12th time in their history.
In an open and entertaining clash that did the women’s game proud, Steph Houghton’s early goal and Jordan Nobbs’ second-half header, plus Ellen White’s late third, proved enough for Shelley Kerr’s side to secure the Club's 39th major trophy.
Bristol battled gamely and created no shortage of opportunities but it was Arsenal’s superior play in the final third that settled the outcome.
The Ladies had been victorious when the teams met in last week’s dress rehearsal, a Continental Cup clash at Meadow Park.
And on a mild Bank Holiday Sunday in Doncaster, they would be again.
Their victory owed much to the way they started the game.
Kerr had emphasised the need for her players to enjoy the occasion in the week leading up to the game.
Her players clearly heeded that advice and, less than two minutes in, they were ahead.
Houghton found the returning Rachel Yankey on the left before continuing her run to powerfully head home the resulting cross.
It was the perfect start for Kerr’s team but, to their credit, Bristol responded positively.
Spanish striker Natalia pressured Byrne into missing her kick after eight minutes. Thankfully for the goalkeeper, she recovered quickly to block the shot.
In an end-to-end start, Arsenal went close again on the quarter-hour. Yankey was again the instigator, whipping in an inviting cross that was stabbed goalwards by White. Bristol goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain acrobatically parried the ball over the bar.
Some of Arsenal’s build-up play had been a joy to watch. Time after time they got the ball down and spread the play with purpose on what was a difficult surface.
They almost doubled their lead midway through the first period. Kim Little, who had scored in her three previous finals, dispossessed Alex Windell and found White, whose shot flashed wide.
The game was open and both teams continued to make chances. Former Gunner Corinne Yorston placed a shot wide at one end before Little blazed over at the other.
But while proceedings were relatively even, it was Arsenal that were creating the better chances and only the woodwork prevented them from extending their advantage five minutes before the break.
England international Nobbs has enhanced her reputation with a series of energetic displays this season and, after running half the length of the pitch, she sent in a cross-shot that cannoned back off the post and into the arms of the grateful Chamberlain.
Kerr’s team deserved their half-time lead. Their play had been incisive at times with Yankey and Gemma Davison a constant threat on the flanks.
The second period began in a similarly open fashion but any momentum built up by either side was quashed when Lucy Staniforth suffered a painful-looking injury.
Attempting to control the ball near the halfway line, the midfielder’s legs buckled underneath her. The screams of anguish were audible from the press box, with some players not able to look at the injury.
When play restarted after a five-minute stoppage, it was Arsenal that reacted the better.
And they settled the game after 72 minutes.
Davison progressed down the right before sending in a deep cross that Nobbs headed over Chamberlain and in.
Academy boss Mark Sampson introduced Spanish striker Laura Del Rio but it was Arsenal that continued to look the more threatening.
Davison sent Nobbs clear on the break but, having got clear of the defence, the midfielder took a heavy touch which allowed Chamberlain to gather.
As time ticked away, Kerr’s side kept the ball intelligently.
They added a third when a quick counter ended with White slamming home from close range after Nobbs’ initial effort had been saved.
Bristol had done themselves proud and kept attacking until the end, but Arsenal warranted victory and will now be focusing on kick-starting their Women's Super League season when the sides meet again on Thursday.
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