By Nik Brumsack at Underhill
Kim Little was the hero as Arsenal Ladies left it late to defeat Birmingham and win the Continental Cup.
Little’s strike, a stunning effort from range in the 82nd minute, proved enough on a night when Arsenal created plenty but were largely frustrated by the woodwork and a series of fine saves from former Gunner goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer.
Arsenal were the better side for long periods and deserved the victory, though Birmingham did waste three good chances of their own.
Laura Harvey made three changes from the side that had drawn against the Blues in Sunday’s dress rehearsal. Gilly Flaherty was back at centre half, while Women’s Super League top scorer Little was recalled along with Rachel Yankey.
Steph Houghton continued in central midfield while Kelly Smith led the line with Ellen White.
This was probably the best way to bring the curtain down on the domestic season - each side having won a trophy and finishing as the top two in the WSL.
After an even opening, it was Birmingham who created the first chance. Rachel Williams’ pass released England international Eni Aluko, but after outpacing the defence, her shot went inches wide.
That chance drove Arsenal into action, with Harvey’s side combining some incisive passing and movement with plenty of attacking vigour down the wings.
Yankey twice went close before Little turned just outside the box and crashed in an effort that flew off target.
Alex Scott then started and finished a penetrating move that also involved Smith and White. Unfortunately for the full back, her effort lacked the purchase to test Spencer.
Continuing to stamp their authority on the game, Arsenal then saw Houghton and White have dangerous efforts cleared away from danger, before Smith’s 25-yard free kick clipped the crossbar on its way over.
Birmingham’s biggest threat was undoubtedly Aluko and, after getting away from Flaherty, only an outstanding save from Emma Byrne prevented the winger from sending David Parker’s side into the break with the lead.
After being in the ascendancy for much of the first half, Harvey’s team started the second period in the same vein - and went close to taking the lead twice within a minute.
First, Smith just failed to direct Houghton’s header on target from inside the six-yard box.
Then, after 55 minutes, White turned inside the area before sending a venomous drive that looked destined for the net until crashing against the crossbar.
Having created nothing in the first 15 minutes of the half, Birmingham then spurned the biggest chance of the match after 63 minutes.
Williams charged through after Ciara Grant had misjudged a long pass, but after rounding the onrushing Byrne, she could only side-foot her effort wide.
Arsenal continued to pour forward, and only another good stop from Spencer prevented the instrumental Smith from curling home a free kick, before Davison’s effort in the 79th minute beat Spencer but not the post.
Then, with under 10 minutes remaining, Arsenal finally took the lead with a goal worthy of winning any game.
Little picked the ball up on the right touchline before cutting inside and unleashing a fierce left-footed drive that flew beyond Spencer and in.
Birmingham were straight back on the attack and, after Flaherty had got her body in front of Aluko’s shot, the resulting corner bounced perilously around the area before being cleared.
Then, Emily Westwood’s header was cleared off the line, before Davison broke away and saw her shot yield the same result.
It would not matter though, as Harvey’s team held on to crown their impressive season by retaining the trophy they won last year.
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